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Tuesday, 01 March 2022

China: Profound, Unique & Extremely Interesting

Written by Russ and Emily Firlik
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We pushed our comfort zone to explore another continent. China has a landmass about 2.2 percent larger than the United States, and a population 4.35 times that of the states. The country's Gross National Product ranks second only to the US. Our purpose was to explore several of the most important historic sites in China and familiarize ourselves with the culture.



Beijing & the Great Wall


We spent time in one of the oldest cities in the world, three thousand years old to be exact. The Peking Man lived in this area over 500,000 years ago. Beijing is the home of seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites.


In the center of Beijing lies Tiananmen Square. At one end is Mao’s Tomb, and at the other end of the square is Mao’s portrait, which looms over the imposing Gate of Heavenly Peace. Beyond these walls lies the Forbidden City Imperial Palace. The 15th century Forbidden City was a cloistered imperial residence with a sense of ceremonial grandeur in every detail of this precise maze of red walls and yellow tiled roofs – colors symbolizing Good Fortune and Happiness. These magnificent structures are made of ancient Phoebe zhennan wood from the jungles in the south of China. This harmonious structure was built using only interlocking joints, no nails, as that would make the structure unharmonious. The monument to the People's Heroes stands in the century of the square as does the Temple of Heavens. The stone lions, female and male, besides the gates symbolize power and strength.

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A short walking distance northwest from the Forbidden City is the Temple of Heaven. The finest example of imperial Chinese ritual architecture. Built around 1420, and according to Chinese tradition, the Earth is represented by the square and the Heavens by the circle, symbolizing the connection of Heaven and Earth. This beautiful structure is open to the public and has an expansive park.

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En route to the Ming Tombs – where thirteen Ming emperors are buried (and an UNESCO Site) – we drove along the Avenue of the Animals- an inspiring array of twelve statues lined the road on both sides - lions, camels, horses, tortoises and two sets of mythical beasts.

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Onward to the Great Wall! Yes, it is beyond belief! We climbed up the steep, uneven width stairs about 4,500 feet or .8 miles. However, I have to say, retreating down was much easier. This is the longest structure made by humankind, and some 5,500 miles that began in 476 BCE. However, most of the Wall was rebuilt by the Ming Dynasty around the 1500's. The Wall is one of the only human-made objects that is visible from outer space.  


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We then explored a few of the famous hutong neighborhoods that are spread out in Beijing, a most fascinating and informative experience. There used to be over 6,000 hutongs, but now there are only a few under preservation. Expansion, population growth, wider roads and rising land values have replaced the traditional architecture and ways of life. This is a classic study of social anthropology - as many residents would like to keep their dwellings, even as a shrine to the clan of several generations - they don't want to lose their neighbors, friends and way of life. The sale of these dwellings could be a small financial benefit if they chose to sell to developers. There are still a few preserved original lanes of buildings which have become tourist streets. We were invited into one small house and received a cup of green tea and a buttery Matcha cookie. The kink lady of the house showed us her small functional kitchen and her pet cricket on her patio. Many syeh-syehs were given in thanks.

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Speaking with a young student who lives in one of the small dwellings, she indicated that hutong for her is less expensive (than high rise apartments), she is able to talk to people in the street, and know her local vendors and neighbors. The student, Shihan, sensing our enthusiasm about this traditional way of life, emphatically suggested visiting and spending time at the Shijia Hutong Museum and the Beijing Hutong Zhang Folk Art Museum. Fortunately, we were able to spend time learning more about this cultural tradition at the Shijia Hutong Museum. The eight exhibition rooms had various displays showing hutong life as it was several decades ago. The most interesting of many displays were the two rooms of typical domestic furnishings from the 1950-1960’s and 1970-1980’s. The room consisted of a bed, a table, two chairs, dressers, all made of wood, a small kitchen, and a cook-burner.

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Last modified on Tuesday, 01 March 2022

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