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Beijing May 28, 2002 - A Day of Sightseeing

By Bob Van Leer

  (BEIJING, CHINA - Tuesday, May 28, 2002) - Today was a day of sightseeing, too much sightseeing, starting with a visit to a jade manufacturing plant and then a 50-mile trip to the Great Wall.

  The road to the Bodaling section of the wall, one of four sections open to tourists, has been greatly improved since Betty and I visited the wall in 1991. Much of the wall not accessible to tourists is crumbling, our guide said. There were no traffic jams at all this time on the way to the wall. The Bodaling area is steep, rocky, mountainous and dry. In 1991 much of the area was freshly reforested with pine and cedar. I was interested in seeing how the trees looked 11 years later. The pines, the fewest planted, have done the best. The cedars have grown from about three feet high to 9-10 feet in 11 years.

   Even out of Beijing the air is hazy. The China Guidebook says, "The hazy sunlight of the North China Plain is diffused by billions of dust particles borne by prevailing winds from Central Asia".

  The wall was begun in separate sections in the period 403-221 B.C. under the first Quin emperor (221-206 B.C.). The segments were later connected. The wall runs east-west and measures today about 3,750 miles in length from near the sea to the Gobi Desert.

  The wall here averages 21 feet high and 18 feet wide at the top, broad enough to accommodate 5 cavalrymen or 10 infantrymen marching abreast. The wall is built on steep ridge tops and is reputed to be the only man-made object visible from satellites in orbit.

  After lunch we visited the Forbidden City, located across Chang'an Boulevard from Tianenmen Square in the heart of Beijing.

  The Forbidden City is the grounds of the Imperial Palace and was forbidden to ordinary people until the Communist takeover in 1949. It covers 250 acres and is .6 miles long and is surrounded by a wide moat and a 35 ft. wall. It was built originally in the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) and was reconstructed in the Ming Dynasty and finished in 1420. During the 14-year period hundreds of thousands of workers participated in building the palaces.

  It was sacked by the Manchus and restored under the Quing Dynasty. Nearly all of the buildings are two story. The complex contains six main palaces and many smaller buildings. Together they total more than 9,000 rooms. The grounds are divided into two sections. The south gate is the main entrance. In the south section are the three public halls from which the Ming and Quing emperors conducted state ceremonies. The north part of the complex was the living area of the 24 emperors. The emperors rarely, if ever, left the palace complex. Our guide said they were not actually called "emperor", but "son of Heaven", the emperor was the ruler of the Middle Kingdom, the center of the universe.

  In the evening we went to a Chinese acrobatic show and then back to the hotel 13 hours after we left.

  Tomorrow is our last full day in China and the schedule promises to be longer.

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