Four UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Four Days: Day 3 and Day 4 in Beijing (Part 1 of 2)

The third day, 23 December, the temperature continued to drop.

We were warned the night before that the temperature would reach up to -7 degrees. Jayson even asked everyone to wear our warmest clothes.

The Tiananmen or the Gate of Heaven and Peace is also the mausoleum of Mao Tse Tung and the gateway to the Forbidden City (Photo: SAP Tiatco)

The itinerary of the day began at the Tiananmen Square, a city square in the center of Beijing named after Tiananmen (literally, the Gate of Heaven and Peace), a huge edifice to the north of the square.

Surprisingly, the square was filled with thousands of tourists despite the very cold weather. More surprisingly, many of the tourists were Filipinos. I guess a lot of Filipinos wanted to experience winter in December, which would never happen in the archipelago unless the earth would tilt and would bring the Philippine islands up north. Or perhaps, they, like us, took advantage of the group tour provided by Royal Kites Travels and Tours. Jayson mentioned that the Chinese counterpart of Royal Kites is expecting around 200 tourists from the Philippines within that week. But most probably also, the Philippine tourists were hiding from their inaanak (godchildren). It was the Christmas season. Philippine Christmas meant aginaldo (money as gift) or as they practice in China during the Chinese New Year, ampaw giving. Often, an inaanak expects money from their godparents during the Christmas season.

Nonetheless, domestic tourism was also very rampant that day. Facing the Tiananmen Building, to the east is the National Museum of China. Chinese tourists from the provinces queued to enter the museum. I was envious that many of them were my age if not older. Nothing similar will ever be present in the Philippines, methinks. How much value do Filipino people give to their cultural heritage? On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 as the highest, I think it is between 1 and 3. There is a need for a shift in paradigm for the Filipino people to give higher value to cultural heritage. If only, for instance, our educational system teaches children to value cultural heritage from a younger age until senior high-school, the Philippines could even exceed China.

Anyhow, a lot of Chinese tourists were also lining up at the Tiananmen (the gateway of the Forbidden City).

The Monument to the People’s Heroes located at the center of the square (Photo: SAP Tiatco)

At the center of the square is the Monument to the People’s Heroes, an obelisk-like sculpture made of granite and marble and designed by Liang Sicheng with the help of his wife, Lin Huiyin.

For a strange reason, I had always associated the monument to the 1989 protest that happened in Beijing after Hu Yaobang died.

Jayson informed us that the monument was a commemoration to the Chinese people who were killed in the First Opium War (1839), Taiping Revolution (1851), Xinhai Revolution (1911), May 4th Movement (1919), May 30 Movement (1925), Nanchang Uprising (1927), War or the Resistance Against Japan (1937 – 1945), and the Chinese Civil War (1949).

There was no mention of the 1989 student-led demonstration. Then, I remember my history teacher in college mentioning that the reforms Hu Yaobang wanted for China are still being suppressed by the government up to this day. In other words, there may be an ongoing historical revising happening in China. I did not bother to ask Jayson about it. Deep inside me, I wanted to know. But I was also adamant. I was afraid. Perhaps because I knew very well, I might be accused of crossing the line should that historical moment come out of my mouth. Besides, my group seemed to be uninterested with that piece of history.

Together with my group-mates, we posed in front of the Tiananmen and soon walked our way to the Forbidden City.

Visitors passing through the second gate after the Tiananmen leading to the Palace Museum (Photo: SAP Tiatco)

Sadly, we were only given 30 minutes to access the Forbidden City. I remember in 2007, I spent 3 hours to tour the complex and I definitely did not even complete the tour. For 30 minutes? What would I see? Anyhow, my partner and I decided to visit the palace. It was cold. We were limited with time. Then, the complex was also crowded. I was told, the Forbidden City is one of the most visited tourist destinations in Beijing. However, I remember very vividly, there were only a few visitors when I visited the complex the first time in 2007.

One of the 980 buildings of the complex (Photo: SAP Tiatco)
Another building inside the complex (Photo: SAP Tiatco)

Anyhow, the Forbidden City used to be the official residence or home of the emperor. For a long time, no ordinary citizen was allowed to enter the complex or even to peep in through any of the gates, hence, the moniker Forbidden City.

Constructed from 1406 to 1420, the complex consists of 900 plus buildings and covers 72 hectares. The palace exemplifies traditional Chinese architecture, developed for many centuries and based on Chinese cosmology, popularly called feng shui, and on Chinese religious tradition of Taoism. The arrangement, height, colors, shapes are all in accordance to these traditions.

Since 1925, the Forbidden City has been under the care of the Palace Museum, whose extensive collection of artwork and artifacts were built upon the imperial collections of the Ming and Qing dynasties.

Together with the Imperial Palace of the Qing Dynasty in Shenyang, the Forbidden City was elevated to the status of the UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 (with boundary extension and modification in 2014). Collectively known as the Imperial Palaces of the Ming and Qing Dynasties in Beijing and Shenyang, the inscription says that the palaces “represent masterpieces in the development of imperial palace architecture in China” (criteria i). In addition, the imperial palaces “exhibit an important interchange of influences of traditional architecture and Chinese palace architecture particularly in the 17th and 18th centuries” (criteria ii).

The inscription was also based on criteria iii which reads: the imperial palaces “bear exceptional testimony to Chinese civilisation at the time of the Ming and Qing dynasties, being true reserves of landscapes, architecture, furnishings and objects of art, as well as carrying exceptional evidence of the living traditions and the customs of Shamanism practised by the Manchu people for centuries.” Finally, these palaces also “provide outstanding examples of the greatest palatial architectural ensembles in China. They illustrate the grandeur of the imperial institution from the Qing Dynasty to the earlier Ming and Yuan dynasties, as well as Manchu traditions, and present evidence on the evolution of this architecture in the 17th and 18th centuries” (criteria iv).

The eastern side of the Palace (Photo: SAP Tiatco)
Visitors entering the palace (Photo: SAP Tiatco)
The Main Palace as viewed from the second gate (Photo: SAP Tiatco)

After 30 minutes, Jayson congregated the group at the Eastern gate of the Forbidden City. But something terrible happened. The same individuals who arrived late at the Juyong Pass meeting point during the second day went missing. We waited for one and a half hour for these ladies. We wanted to leave them but Jayson insisted to wait for them. Such patience! But for sure, he was really upset.

After one a half hour, Jayson decided to leave them behind but he was still hoping that they would contact him. Bottom line: we let go of the visit to the shopping district and immediately went to our lunch.

The afternoon was spent in the Temple of Heaven. But this post seems to be a long one already. In the next post, I will talk about the Temple of Heaven and the end of the four-day trip.

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