Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Tour: Day 3 09.04.10 Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, Kung Fu Show

ceiling decoration in the Painted Corridor at the Summer Palace

Summer Palace pagoda

Summer Palace garden from the lake

The Summer Palace was where the reigning emperor would spend the warmer months from April to August to enjoy the rest and relaxation of the beautiful landscaped surroundings of the parkland and lakes constructed by the Ming emperor Zhu Di when he moved the country's capital to Beijing. It has been made most famous by its occupance of the Qing Empress, otherwise known as the Dragon Lady. She ruled from 'behind the curtain'. Her son ascended the throne when he was very young so she controlled his doings by dictating to him from behind the curtain of the imperial throne. We were lucky enough to view this yellow silk swathed throne with accompanying yellow silk curtain on display in the Forbidden City. She is known as the Dragon Lady because she was a very harsh character and viewed herself as the most powerful in the state. Everyday she would be pampered with pearl cream to keep her looking younger and for her meals, 126 dishes were prepared separately for the health of the mind and body. She would pick only a few to indulge in. She had complete control over her son and when he died young she claimed the throne for her nephew and pushed him into marrying her niece for his empress. The ceremony of choosing a wife and a chief concubine involved the emperor being presented with a vast selection of girls picked from upper class families. Once he'd chosen he would give the jade sceptor to the one he desired as his empress and the corazon sceptor to his chosen concubine. The Dragon Lady forced him into choosing her niece who was fiercely ugly (in Chinese eyes, she had a long 'horse face') for his wife and he was able to elect his preferred lady, Lily as his concubine. The Dragon Lady then proceeded to imprison the Emperor and his wife in the Summer Palace and reigned as an Empress in her own right. She would take walks down the 'painted corridor' by the lake's edge (the longest corridor of its kind in the world) to contemplate her actions as ruler and for general exercise in the pursuit of longevity of life. In Chinese culture, a long and healthy life is the main goal for one's existence. Herbal teas such as ginseng and jasmine are drunk on a daily basis because of their health restoring qualities and regular exercise in the form of Tai Chi is a favourite among the older generation for suppleness and general fitness. The pharmacies in China supply Chinese herbal medicine as opposed to Western style, with an array of goods, including dried mushrooms and fish as well as traditional tablets and liquids. When we visit the Temple of Heaven to the south of the Forbidden City we encounter Chinese people from all walks of life participating in communal pastimes such as card playing, dancing and hackysack. In the covered walkway leading up to the entrance gate of the temple people fill the place with their laughter and music. Cobing informs us that Chinese people tend to prefer loudness and communal activity than seeking solitude. When many of the low rise village style houses in the city were demolished and the residents rehoused in apartment blocks their sense of community and neighbourliness was lost so this is why they come here now. The Temple of Heaven houses sacred slabs on which the accomplishments of the emperor are inscribed and it has a circular mound with a prayer stone in the centre, used by the emperor to pray to the heavens and to his ancestors.