There is so much about Forbidden City you can read up, my version of the experience does not even count. Afterall, some 14m visitors throng to the World Heritage Site each year. The day I visited, I was one among 75, 000 visitors – the max allowed per day is 80,000 – a mere drop in the ocean.
The experience of visiting the Forbidden City is not entirely fulfilling – not because the place has little to give; instead because the place has so much history but so little is available to be appreciated.
For example, of the 9,000 rooms, barely a handful are now open for visitors, some converted into show, some that can be viewed only from behind the barricade. The royal throne is nothing but a photo opportunity – you jostle your way through the crowds, all for the sake of 1 picture, now taken from a selfie stick.
I was hoping to re-enliven the magic of The Last Emperor. Shame to even liken it to a movie but so enigmatic was the film way back in 1987, before China emerged from behind the Iron Curtain, that it made a mark on me forever.
Even though the Forbidden City is full of people, the place seems devoid of its soul. You make your way through the 72 hectares of space, admiring and often “wowing” its grandeur. All I was thinking of was where the last gem from the emperor’s necklace might be now.
I decided to write this blogpost about the insignificant details that make up for the hugely significant role the imperial palace played in the history.
The lone soldier at the Forbidden City
The glorious gate – I think there 5 in all
The imperial roof decoration – Apparently the number of figures on the roof denotes the importance of the building
I must be in someone’s picture – a drop in the ocean
Dragons – the sign of power represents the emperor
The emperor’s throne – a big responsibility I’d say
Gold cauldrons – only 19 in total, were placed outside the buildings and filled with water to fight fire as the imperial palace was built using wood and lacquer – both good conductors of heat
The gold guardian lions – the eyes are covered and the ears are low to denote that those with secrets were expected to guard them with their lives. Any exchange of royal secrets will meet death.
The rock carving outside the concubines’ chambers (apparently the emperor had 3000 concubines and 72 wives) – the dragon denotes the emperor, the phoenix are the concubines yearning for the emperor’s attention
The Qing rulers changed the name plates to bilingual: Chinese and Manchu (the last emperor was a Manchurian)
In Chinese belief system, often the lion, dragon and horse are considered important – never an elephant. I wonder why! Here the elephant is bowing down, a mark of respect and subservience to the emperor
The Golden Water River surrounds the palace on one side, the river of people flows cacophonously on the other side