Sizing Up Beijing

Beijing itself seems to be built without any reference to human scale – buildings, squares, museums and roads and city blocks are super-sized. This is, I expect, no accident given its role as historical imperial capital and communist China nerve-centre.

First stop was Tienanmen Square – unfortunately Mao wasn’t receiving visitors by the time we got there but his portrait was there as always over the entrance to the Forbidden City.

There were double layer of controls to the square and large amount of uniformed and reportedly undercover security officials keeping a close eye on proceedings. Chinese nationals needed to swipe their smart-ID cards to gain access – not a particularly relaxed place.

Mao wasn’t the only attraction to Chinese tourists – taking pictures with Tim and Eugene became something of a free for all as people lined up to have their or their children photographed with the tall westerners. Myself and Pedro amazingly remained unharrassed.

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Eugene and Tim competing with Mao for snaps

We headed to the Forbidden City to see the full expression of Chinese imperial architecture. Again the scale is as overwhelming. I was once given a coffee table photo book on China when I was 8 or 9 and every so often walking around I would get flashbacks to photos of things I had seen as a boy.

Trying to meet up with Tim inside the palace was a bit of a nightmare the gates and halls all have very grandiose but similar sounding names! (gate of tranquil longevity, palace of benevolent tranquility, palace of earthly tranquility, etc.)

Just off Tienanmen square is the Museum Of Chinese History – a gargantuan new building where clearly no expense has been spared in highlighting the 5000 years of Chinese history.

Some of the political considerations behind the building were evident in the separation of this into Ancient (pre-historic to about 70 years ago) and modern (i.e. communist) era.

Given they had to fit 5000 years into one area and about 80 into another it’s an odd mix but I suppose he who pays the piper calls the tune.

That said China has quite a rich past and there were so many artifacts which were absolute masterpieces.

The communist section was very propaganda-laden with bombastic rhetoric on panels and clearly aimed toward a domestic audience. There were a few interesting insights to the communist era. Needless to say the hardship and chaos of the ‘Great Leap Forward’ and the ‘Cultural Revolution’ respectively were given minimal billing.

We then retired for some Mongolian hotpot which we were at pains to point out to Pedro was nothing like a Lancashire hotpot! Afterwards we headed to an ancient tea house to sample some green tea.

I have to admit I got great sport from watching Pedro picking up peanuts with chopsticks and practice sipping tea without swallowing lots of floating leaves. In a super-sized city sometimes it’s the small pleasures!