For the sake of security, the Emperors rarely came out of the inner sanctum of the forbidden city where they lived a cloistered life surrounded by wives, concubines and eunuch attendants. They had no first hand experience of the world they ruled but were kept informed by a constant flow of reports and petitions. Their seclusion in the Forbidden City was somewhat alleviated when they moved to their Summer Palace north west of Beijing.
This gate controled access to the second Summer Palace from the eastern shore of Kunming Lake.
The first Summer Palace dating from the 13th century was looted and razed by Anglo-French troops in 1860. The decadent Dowager Empress Ci Xi then expended scarce resources to build a second Summer Palace and extensive gardens around Kunming Lake, a few kilometers to the east.
This new palace also had to be rebuilt after being torched by allied troops during the Boxer war in 1900.
Now the Summer Palace and Kunming Lake complex is just another park where European tourists stroll and go for a cruise in these dragon boats with very little thought about its past in colonial times.
Today's Chinese also give little thought to the bad times when their country was partitioned between European colonial powers. Most of them have also forgotten the difficult years of communist orthodoxy which culminated in the excesses of the Cultural Revolution.
Unlike their ex-soviet counterparts who look to the past with sad nostalgia, modern Chinese are positive thinking and are feel certain that their children will have a better life than their own. They are hard working but they do take the time to enjoy themselves as this group does, dancing in a night market close to the Jing Hua Hotel.
Another of Beijing's historically important landmarks is the Lama Temple (Yonghe Lamasery) the south gate of which is shown here. Below left, the Wanfuge pavilion houses a 26 meter high Maitreya carved from a single piece of sandalwood. Below right, a bell tower. Previously the residence of Manchu nobles, the complex was transformed into a lamasery in 18th century to accommodate the growing number of tibetan and mongolian monks living in Beijing since both Tibet and Mongolia had become protectorates of China.
In the 17th century, the Fifth Dalai Lama (of the yellow hatted Gelukpa sect) appealed to the western Djungar mongol Gushri Khan for military assistance to crush the opposing Sakyapa sect (red hats) who, 4 centuries earlier, had benefited from Kublai Khan's assistance to establish their own dominance. Inside Mongolia the Djungar Mongols were at war with the eastern Halh Mongols who appealed to the manchu Qing Emperor Kang Xi for help. Help was provided, the better armed manchu troops defeated the Djungars, China absorbed Inner Mongolia and Outer Mongolia became a Qing protectorate. During that time, the presence of Djungars in Tibet led to a long period of intrigues and conflicts which gave pretext to Kang Xi to step in and impose his protection on Tibet as well.
Not far from the Yonghe Lamasery is the Imperial College and Confucius Temple originally established in 1306. It is said that some of the cyprus trees in the courtyard before the temple were planted upon completion of its construction. The temple is very plain, it has no statue of Confucius but only a small altar with his name on a tablet. Some of the Emperors, (who dared to step outside of the Forbidden city), used to come here to meditate and ask for guidance in their leadership.
The Imperial College was the seat of the administration responsible for the system of country wide civil service examinations by which the mandarin class of ruling public officials were selected. This building in the center of the complex housed the Imperial Library.
In this courtyard of the Imperial College courtyard stand a collection of 190 steles which record the names of the scholars who have achieved the highest ranking Chin Jin status in the examinations during centuries.
The mandarin public officials wielded considerable personal arbitrary power. The strict examination system insured however that they were the most qualified individuals available to judge, arbitrate and settle any problem arising from the daily management of the Empire. When they were honest and loyal, the Empire expanded and prospered. However, power corrupts and from time to time the mandarins would become venal. In seeking their own interest they would make bad decisions leading to abuse of power, exploitation of the peasants, internal divisions and the periodic downfall of dynasties.
Beijing's Drum tower, built in 1420 had several drums which were beaten to mark the hours of the day, time being kept by a water clock.
This 18th century Bell Tower replaces the original which was built on this site at the same time as the Drum Tower.
This battlement of Beijing's fortifications near at the intersection of Jianguomennei Dajie and Chaoyangmen Nandajie survived destruction in the '50's because it housed an ancient 15th century Observatory once used to make astrological predictions for the Emperors.
Busy modern Beijing has a number of beautiful parks such as this Taoranting Park where people can escape to rest, stroll, do Tai Chi or enjoy a little privacy to talk romance on one of these love pedal boats.
Some people come to Taoranting Park to learn to dance to the music of a cassette player.
China's wonderful parks and lakes are now open to everyone but it was not always been like that. In fact, most parks were private gardens reserved for the pleasure of the feudal lords and mandarins who ran the country until the Sun Yat Sen republic of 1911.
Qing Dynasty Taoranting Park is an exception to that elitist rule as it is reputed to have always been open to the public.
Whatever its past, Taoranting Park was definitely popular especially on a nice Saturday like this one. I was taking the trans-manchurian train that night so I glad to have come here to do my last sight seeing in Beijing.
The next morning, we had gone through the busy port city Tianjing and reached industrial Shenyang in Liaoning province. That day we passed Changchun in Jilin province, where the Japanese had installed the capital of their "Manchkuo" colony in 1933, crossed the wheat fields of Manchuria and reached Harbin the capital of Heilongjiang in the evening.
Another night and day of wheat fields brought us close to the Russian border.
Finally we reach Manzhouli, the last stop in China where the international standard width bogies used in China, are changed for others to fit the wider track spacing adopted by tzarist Russia with the intention of impeding invasions. This operation took four hours and was surrounded by needless secrecy, photos were forbidden!
It had taken two full days to get here from Beijing but I did not mind for I had good australian company all the way. Here we are, celebrating our last night in China, in the usual order, Andre Coffa, Nicole Barton, myself and Elisabeth Hurst.