Somewhat outside the city stands the Summer Palace or more accurately the new Summer Palace. The old one having been ransacked, looted and burned to the ground 150 years previously by a joint Anglo-Franco force as a reprisal during the Opium wars. Interestingly or ironically the leader of the mission was the son of Lord Elgin who notoriously ‘acquired’ the Parthenon statues from Athens years earlier – must run in the family.
The Chinese haven’t forgotten this humiliation and while this cultural destruction is little known in the UK every Chinese school-child learns of the ignominy suffered at the hands of foreign powers. Indeed the Chinese government goes after looted summer palace artefacts when they come up for auction on international markets with varying degrees of success.
It’s not without irony that in the new summer palace one of items is a marble boat commissioned by the dowager empress Cuxi. The funds used to build this white elephant (which was too heavy to ever move) were supposed to go to actual Chinese navy ships – which gives some indication of the priorities of Qing dynasty which led to Chinese domination by foreign powers.
Once finished at the palace we swung down on the Beijing metro to where Tim had arranged dumpling making class in a local neighbourhood hutong. The scale of infrastructure investment in China is almost unbelievable 17(!) new lines constructed in the last 13 years in Beijing alone.
The hutongs are low level residential areas typical of old Beijing and are under threat from rapid re-development. With winding alleys and communal toilets (which you smell before you see typically) they are a bit of a maze of working class city life. After introductions and lashings of tea we were shown how to expertly make the different types of dumpling.
We were then let loose and tried our hand at making both dumplings and also stretched noodles.
In all honesty some dumplings looked more appetising than others!