After a long tour round china am finally back in the centre of power for National Day. Although unplanned it was a rather poetic end.
There was no other choice but to spend the day at the Forbidden City and Tian’anmen Square with the thousands of Chinese tourists.
The Forbidden City is like a hand reaching down through the centuries from one of the cradles of civilisation through the dynasties to today.
History has not been kind to the physical manifestations of Chinas past. From Lord Elgin’s destruction of great Summer Palace complex, and the looting of it’s contents, the Japanese destruction of Shanghai and Nanking, and the destruction of most Buddhist Temples during the Cultural revolution, there is little left of old China.
The Forbidden City is therefore the one place that the Chinese can go to dream about their great past. And quite frankly no modern architecture has anywhere near the magic. Modern glass towers are juvenile penaphernalia compared to the thought and planning that went into this serene space.
The Chinese are a deeply nationalistic people and rightly revere their past.
China is one of the independent cradles of civilisation and singular in the way that the main others, commencing with the Mesopotamian and followed by Egyptian, Greek and Roman civilisations, were linked, while China was really unkown in Europe until the Roman period. Even in the middle ages it took the invention of printing some three hundred years to reach Europe. Now an I.Phone can roll out of the sweat shops of China and be in some techno junkies palm within a couple of days.
Today some talk about the cultural differences between a northern Christian Europe and the Islamic eastern Mediterranean being almost unsurmountable well if that is so, given China’s development in near isolation for most its 10,000 year history it is not surprising that the cultural differences between China and Europe today are a gulf. Linguistically Europeans and here I mean me, can get the hang of other European languages and it’s even possible to pick up and get your tongue around Arabic but Chinese is so different.
But family transcends all and National day is family day, that is something that links all civilisations from the highlands of Papua to the Bronx.
On my way there the crowd was like a juggernaut winding itself up.The crowds started small and more joined with the young, lovers, the old and those in wheelchairs, until it took on a life of it’s own. The crowd grew bigger and at the exit of the metro it was a surge with the army in full parade uniform, at all points to help, control, advise and keep an eye on the multitude.
The army was supplemented by the ubiquitous video surveillience and where there was no pole or building to stick the cameras on, for example the middle of Tian’anmen then out come the little vans bristling with cameras.
The bright sunshine, and I hesitate to say blue sky as it is really a steelysmog grey–blue, really added to the festive atmosphere, where everyone was carrying at least one flag and the children had national flag transfers on their faces.
Inside the ochre red walls the families, lovers or organised tours whistled round the beautiful palaces absolutely enthralled with the mandatory snap in front of each and every marble stairway, wooden door of deep red highlighted in gold or green.
The arches, the columns, the covered gateways into the next part of the complex, the crowds swirled on.
Here the hall of clocks, and now the examining room for the civil service. Ah the first so called meritocratic civil service, except you had to be very wealthy to get there initially.
The layout is so wonderfully simple, it is the layout of a state. Vistors from Alpha Centauri could hover in their spaceships, above the Forbidden City and understand more about our society on earth in an inkling than anywhere else on the planet. Actually they might have more in common with the Chinese than the average European does.
Over in Tian’anmen where Mao where in the autumn of 1966 gave eight speeches to over 11 million people, the families were out in force.
Nearly two months before when I was in Tian’anmen there was no portrait on the plinth in front of Mao’s mausoleum but now there was a typical heroic leader painting, which without thinking presumed it must have been Chou en Lai, who takes a distant second place in the portrait gallery of the National Museum of China on the square. Who in fact these days seems to be tops in the favourite leader contest. But know looking at the photographs I realised that its not Chou en Lai and after some research found out it is in fact Sun Yat-sen.
This one of great things about China, lift up one stone and there is another, who is Sun Yat-sen and what is he doing here. In March 2011 the Taiwanese president suggested Sun’s portrait was put up in Tian’anmen but the CCP rejected. On the morning of April 27th Confucius’s 10 metre statue disappeared and Sun’s portrait went up. Sun was the father of the 1911 revolution that created the republic. He was linked in a personality cult with Chiang Kai-shek hence popularity in Taiwan. It gets clearer when factions in the party want to reintegrate Taiwan back into a greater China. The other faction in the party though surppresses all commemorations of the 1911 Revolution.
Just as the History of the Revolution Gallery in the National Museum is nearly always closed for revisionism.
Anyway there has to be a good backdrop for the millions of Chinese to have in their portraits.
At the end of an exciting day I follow the crowd eastwards, as it the direction of the Forest and Land Hotel, and just by luck arrive at the Wangfujing Night Food market. The noise level rises again as the mainly middle class Chinese attack the kebabs, hunks of lamb and duck plum sauce pancakes.
The starfish, Scorpions, and other exotic foods that are mainly aimed at the foreign tourist are ignored by the Chinese.