Tiananmen – The Gate of Heavenly Peace
You didn’t think we’d leave Beijing without marching you through the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, did you?
Truth be told, neither spot is among our favourites on the Beijing Tourist Trail. Too much concrete; too many tour groups with bullhorns, hawkers with souvenirs, predatory art students. It’s not a good choice for a relaxing afternoon. People-watching, on the other hand . . .
Tiananmen and the Forbidden City are, however, two of those places you can’t go to China without going to. Tiananmen Square is the birthplace and symbolic center of the People’s Republic of China; the Forbidden City was the symbolic heart of imperial China. The first time you visit them, they will inspire you – with awe, or fear, likely both.
I don’t know but I’ve been told, standing still gets kinda old
Tiananmen Square goes on, and on, and – it can seem inhuman, but it is, well, big. If you’ve managed to forget you were in a Communist country while sipping Starbucks coffee and shopping at all the high-end boutiques in Oriental Plaza, Tiananmen Square is always there to remind you.
Now, what are the party colours again?
This year they even displayed nice floral representations of the Three Gorges Dam and Potala Palace in Tibet specially for National Day. Subtle, guys.
A miniature Potala Palace, just like in Lhasa!
And a miniature Three Gorges Dam, making the desert bloom
Lest you think the CCP stole their impulse toward monumentality from Stalin, the Forbidden City will reassure you that it’s just a Zhongguo thang. Here the hard edges of socialist architecture are replaced with curves and flying eaves, but you’ll see the thread from past to present in the expansive courtyards and imposing buildings.
Unlike Tiananmen, though, the Forbidden City does have its quiet side. If you can elbow your way past the crowds, the gardens and smaller buildings on the north and west sides of the palace complex are worth a visit no matter how many times you’ve been. Here, you actually have the space and time to pay attention to the finer details of the gardens.
And when you want a bit of reflective quiet time, you can find that, too (if you’re patient enough to let the wave of tour groups move past you).
But don’t just jump into one of the waiting taxis when you leave the gates of the Forbidden City. The ancient site is right next to a beautiful residential area of alleyways and canals, where old men fish, play chess, fly kites, and stroll along huge red walls in the afternoon light.