China Travel Story - Forbidden City, Back in the Day

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Back in the Day

I have been to the Forbidden City three times, in 1989, 1997 and 2001. Each time I was astounded at the scale and grandeur of the place.

It is absolutely huge, to the point that calling it a City is not exactly an exaggeration. Each time, however, I found the place a bit run down (faded paint, dust everywhere, broken stuff). This did not detract all that much from how impressive the place was, and the descriptions and text displays, although minimal, did convey the use and meaning of the rooms that were open to viewing.

What has happened over time, however, is that more and more of the Forbidden City is open to see. When I first went the only access was to the large buildings that run down the center of the complex, along with the Emperor's Garden at the back. These large buildings are the ones you often see in depictions, huge traditional buildings with a long set of white stone steps leading up to them. Each of these had a particular purpose, often for audiences of larger or smaller groups.

Now there are a number of other areas open to the public, including the compound where the Emperor's wives lived and where the last emperor lived as a child. Also included is the audience chamber where the Empress Dowager would sit behind a screen and dictate decisions while the young emperor sat on this thrown in view and listened.

Also available now are those audio walking tours you see at many tourist destinations all over the world these days. I have found those useful in other places but did not purchase it here. Quite a number of apparent tourists were using them, though. A number of men and some women will accost you outside, especially if you are white, offering to serve as a guide. Do not accept unless you are satisfied that their English is excellent. Even then I was not all that impressed with the information I overheard conveyed. It was more than the written explanations, but likely less than the audio tour.

What was apparent on going in the winter is that almost the entire place is outside. It can get quite cold in Beijing, and the majority of your time there will be spend walking from place to place outside. The huge scale of the main buildings means that there is a long walk, and lots of steps, between exhibits. And visitors should know that there is no such thing as handicapped access in China (no ADA), so visiting in a wheelchair would be quite limited, or require extensive assistance.

The bottom line is that the Forbidden City is an amazing place, and worth seeing. I simply cannot imagine what kind of impression that place created back in the 15th or 16th century, when my own ancestors were marching around in tin cans and beating each other over the head. It gives a sense of the ancient history and sophistication of the Chinese culture, often not so apparent these days.

Story Courtesy to Jedison

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