April 25
Heaven and Earth

This morning we visited the Forbidden City, immediately north of the Tiananmen square seen yesterday.

Symbolism is rife in this place, as it is in almost every aspect of Chinese culture. The city itself is rectangular, with 9.9 meter walls facing exactly north, south, east, and west (the digit nine being the highest.) Each wall has a gate, and each gate is fastened by 9 x 9 nail bosses (except the western gate, which has only 8 x 9 nails in homage to the element of earth.) Bisecting the walled city is the Meridian Line, said to mark the center of the world, and exactly dividing the compound into two rectangular halves. The most important buildings lie along this axis, and partitioning gates likewise cross it, further dividing the city into ceremonial (front/southern,) interior, and residential (northern) spaces.

It is said that only the Emperor himself could travel along the Meridian Line, using the gates that permit it to pass the full length of the city. All others must travel along on side or the other (through lesser gates) depending on their position and responsibility.

Lions Guard the Gate

A male and female lion guard these gates. The male to the east (right) holds a ball, representing the world, under his foot. The female (left) holds a lion cub.

Meridian Line

The meridian line runs due north exactly through the middle of the Forbidden City. On these grounds, with stones 600 years old, soldiers, scholars, and civil servants -- each placed according to station -- heard the orders of the emperor.

Emperor's Throne

Just one of many thrones for the emperor, this one (like all of them) lies exactly upon the Meridian Line.

Golden Lions

Two more lions, gilded, protect the gate into the inner courtyard. The damage to the gilding came resulted from invading soldiers looting the precious metal.

Qian Qing Men

The "Gate of Heavenly Purity" separated the inner courtyard from the ceremonial outer grounds.

Inner Court

Here senior officials held court and received audience with the Emperor, conducting higher matters of state.

Emperor's Throne

Yet another splendid throne, also along the Meridian Line, and spectacularly crafted.


In the far northern part of the Forbidden City, the emperor could retreat to the peace and seclusion of private gardens.

Center of the Universe

Later we visited the Temple of Heaven. If all things earthly are square, according to Chinese aesthetics, heavenly things are round, and such is this three-tier mound. In the foreground can be seen the symbolic center of the universe, where the emperor would offer prayer to heaven. Surrounding the single stone are nine others (nine having great significance.) Each successive ring has 18, 27, and so on stones.

Culture Road

A scheduled trip to a cloisonné factory had to be cancelled due to the SARS scare, but we made up for it with a trip to this little alley of shops filled with all manner of antiques. No strip mall or shopping complex will offer anything to compare to the little treasures you'll find here, where half the experience is haggling over price.