Today on our first day in Beijing, we visited Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. As the home to emperors throughout the Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties, the city is one of the most culturally and historically rich sites in all of China. As a history major, it was an amazing experience to see firsthand much of what I had studied about imperial China.
While the city no longer fulfills its original function of housing the emperor and his court, it still has much political significance in modern China with communist regime. It was at the gate overlooking Tiananmen Square that chairman Mao proclaimed the People’s Republic of China in 1949 and this gate continues to serve as the symbolic pulpit for China’s leadership. Also, the famous picture of Mao Zedong continually hangs on the south gate, forever staring out into Tiananmen Square.
Inside, the city is absolutely enormous and consists of a system of gates with massive courtyards that served a number of various ceremonial functions. For example, we were able to jockey for a position to see the Hall of Supreme Harmony where numerous emperors would celebrate royal festivals such as Chinese New Year or to celebrate victory in a major military campaign. Also, we had the opportunity to enter into a number of various smaller halls such as the Hall of Mental Cultivation where the emperor would read accounts of how to rule from previous emperors, and the chamber where the emperor would sleep and receive his various concubines. Lastly, we walked through the emperor’s private garden which was filled with a variety of flora and fauna and also contained special rock formations that were taken from a specific lake in Southern China and were prized for their aesthetic beauty.
Overall the tour of the city complex was truly something that made history come alive for me. It is difficult to fathom how much history the place contains because our country is so young relative to China. Despite battling middle-aged Chinese men for a good vantage point of the sights, I think I can safely speak on behalf of the group that it was something that we will not forget.