Beijing surprised me. Coming from Hong Kong’s concrete Jungle I expect Beijing to be a similar crowded city where people walked shoulder to shoulder with busy tiny roads, crazy traffic, and loud dirty streets filled to its brim with people. (can you tell Hong Kong was not my favorite) Instead I found the capital to have a MUCH more relaxed feel to it. Its roads, that had been restructured for the 2008 Olympics, were wide, efficient and allowed traffic to flow freely. Something that also added to the improved traffic was the fact that when you get a license plate to drive you are also given travel restrictions. For example, if your plate number starts with a six you can’t drive on Tuesdays during the month of July. The restricted days switch according to the month. It definitely helps with traffic, but I would find the system to be quite confusing. I suppose you get use to it after a while.
While the Beijing skyline perspective is not nearly as impressive as Hong Kong, Beijings buildings do not suffocate the city. Instead they were spread out and gave it and its inhabitants room to breath. Yet, Hong Kong is hardly to blame for its crammed nature. Because it is an island covered with Mountains, useable land is limited. However, the contrast between the two cities is not soley due to physical limitations. There are also huge cultural differences that contribute to the city design. Unlike Hong Kong, which was developed by the English, Beijing has been purposefully and carefully developed over hundreds of years according sacred concept of Feng Shui.
Growing up in the Midwest, the concept of Feng Shui was never taken too seriously. Perhaps it would be casually and comically mentioned when rearranging furniture, but never really considered to be truly important. However, I didn’t need to spend very much time in Beijing to see that Feng Shui is no joking matter to the Chinese culture. It is taken into careful consideration for almost any designed element from city design to food placement, and even a woman’s jewelry. The art of Feng Shui started thousands of years ago and was used as a way to balance one’s Qi (Ch’i). The words mean Wind/Water and represent the polarity between heaven ( wind represented by a circle) and earth (water represented by a square). Beijing is designed as a series of several concentric squares all stemming from the central 250 acre square that is The Forbidden City.
This palace complex, which is the heart of the city of Beijing, was built in 1406 at the start of the Ming Dynasty. It was designed as a square in the new capital of China to represent the fact that it was the center of the earth according to Feng Shui. To the North of the palace there resides a man made mountain or Prospect Hill. It is the Feng Shui belief that a mountain should reside to the north of a city to promote good Qi. This massive and mysterious city housed 24 emperors and their families for over 600 years during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Forbidden to outsiders, any common citizen or foreigner who entered into the city gates were painfully executed. The mystery of the unknown has therefore captivated the minds and curiosity of outsiders for generations.
Due to changes in political powers the Qing Dynasty ended, the last emperor of China was overthrown and the palace was opened to the public in the early 20th century, however much of the city was destroyed during the cultural revolution to follow. Now days this ancient palace is filled daily with thousands of tourist who wish to see the temples and palaces of their ancient past.
The complex is simply massive. It has over 800 buildings and exactly 9,999 rooms. It could have had more, but the emperor dared not to disrupt his Qi by building a complex with more rooms than the supposed 10,000 rooms of heaven. But, I personally think 9,999 rooms is plenty. It would take a person 27 years to spend one night in each of the rooms. As I walked around the ornate city I found it incredible that such a place with such amazing detail was constructed in only 14 years. Yet, I suppose you can accomplish a lot with over 1 million builders. The color scheme was much the same throughout the complex. Red which wards off Evil, Gold which represents royalty, blue represents heaven and green represents earth were used carefully to create good Feng Shui. Careful attention to detail was shown throughout the construction with careful consideration for the number of represented elements. The number 9 represents long life, therefore many buildings were constructed with 9 windows, 9 archways, ect. Every door had a series of 9 by 9 golden nobs that promoted long life and harmony. There were also 9 animals represented at the top of the palace to represent the fact that this was the most important building. No other building has that many animals represented.
There were also large golden pots positioned throughout the complex. These were filled with water to use in case of a fire, but even these were designed to promote proper Feng Shui. They were positioned over fire pits to keep the water from freezing in the winter and therefore symbolized all 5 natural elements, earth, wood, fire, metal and water.
To the south of The Forbidden city is the famous Tienamen Square. This square who’s name means the Gate of Heavenly Peace, is known for something quite different in the United States. It was difficult to get answers about what happened on the square in 1989. I asked my guide about it and either she couldn’t say or really did not know the truth about the event, but her account of what happened was not what I had learned in school. I tried looking it up while I was in China but the content was blocked. What striked me most about the square was its size. It is the third largest city square in the world. (109 acres and 960 by 550 yd). Another interesting element was the fact that you can visit the preserved body of Chairman Mao in a nearby government building. The line to see him was longer than any line I had seen before. It was quite the site and something that was difficult for me to understand.