Our third day in Beijing was spent visiting the Forbidden City and learning about the lives of emperors. By 7:00 we were all ready to head to a delicious breakfast at a local restaurant. Everyone thought that the noodles and fried bread there were delicious. We got on the subway, or 地铁 (dìtiě), for around an hour to head to 故宫(gùgōng), the Forbidden City, where we met our tour guide Suzie. She was very knowledgeable on the history of the Forbidden City and the emperors of China.
The emperors’ histories were interesting because they were, as Suzie described it, like Game of Thrones. There was a lot of murder and backstabbing for the power. For example, Suzie told us about the Empress Dowager 慈禧（cíxǐ） or Dragon Lady, a woman who murdered the empress, got his son to be emperor before telling him exactly what to do and say, and ended up manipulating and poisoning her way to power over and over again – even killing her own nephew, while in her seventies, three days before her own death. I found it extremely interesting to see how even though women couldn’t be emperors, she participated in the Game of Thrones and became an extraordinarily powerful person in China through manipulation.
The Forbidden City had many beautiful buildings with intricate design painted on the entirely-wooden structure. They were very big, and also very pretty – 很大，也很漂亮. I personally recently saw the movie “The Last Emperor,” so it was really cool to see the place where it actually takes place and have a little more context. It was super awesome to see the place I’d recently heard so much about in person. One of the main character’s big conflicts at the start of the movie was his insistence on escaping the City, despite not being allowed to. He was angry and tried over and over again because he felt that he wanted to leave, but it was one of the only things he was not permitted to do.
Suzie also explained to us the meaning of the number 9. The number 9 was especially important because it was the highest number that the Emperor could go. the emperor could not go any higher because the number 10 meant perfection, and only their gods were perfect. For simplification, Suzie showed us that the door had 9 ornaments on the door and nines statues on the top of the roof. The value of detail in this was amazing.
I thought that the history of the Forbidden City and the emperors of it was very interesting because of how the emperors weren’t allowed to leave the Forbidden City and had a very strict day-to-day schedule with little time to be alone. They had a lot of power, but in another way had little. They could rule over the entire, powerful country of China, but couldn’t leave their own towns. They had to act in such specific ways and had to do such specific things, but they had control over their entire nation. I found this interesting also because it seems difficult to lead and do the right thing for one’s people when one can’t even see their people or their living situation. The emperors lived their whole lives in the Forbidden City, and rarely even met their people. I thought that was interesting, because I know that if I were emperor, I would hate never being able to leave, and would always want to see the world outside the walls of the Forbidden City.
We went to lunch pretty late and had some good food at a nice restaurant. We got back to the hotel and had a debrief on how to act in our homestays. We were allowed to leave for our own dinner somewhere nearby. We returned at 8:30 and went to our rooms to relax, pack, and sleep after a long day. I thought that walking around and seeing how the most powerful people in China lived was incredible, and the day was overall very interesting and cool.
– Lucie 王璐 and Joseph 穆海德