Today was a study in contrasts. We started the day at the Temple of Heaven, one of four such temples in Beijing. The other three ore the Temples of Earth, Sun, and Moon. The Temple of Heaven is set in a large, lovely park, a green oasis surrounded by the tall buildings and hustle and bustle of this huge city. We arrived about 9:00 and discovered the park filled with people, mostly those we would call senior citizens, starting their day with informally organized activity–tai chi, singing, dancing, and a lovely racket ball game whose name I don’t know. We thought of what a great way to start the day–it is social, it is community, it is outdoors, it is active. Those senior citizens appeared to be in good health and to be happy, and we couldn’t help but think that their early morning gathering contributes to that.
This afternoon we visited the Forbidden City, the home of the emperors of two dynasties spanning more than 500 years. It is a huge space, with an inner courtyard of 9,999 rooms, and it’s just grim. There are no trees, no plants, no earth. The earth has been covered over by at least three meters of rock and brick over the centuries, to prevent anyone from tunneling into the inner courtyard and attempting to assassinate the emperor. Elaborate systems of bridges, moats, and watch towers were constructed for the same reason. The emperor slept in a different room every night, to decrease the likelihood that someone in the inner family would assassinate him. The emperor (and I believe there were 24 that reigned during these two dynasties) may have been powerful, but the emperor’s energies were greatly occupied with avoiding assassination.
Of the two, I believe the senior citizens we observed in the Temple of Heaven are living a far more enjoyable and satisfying life than did the emperors….
Posted from Beijing, Beijing, China.