During the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods, (722-221 B.C.E.) as a show of power and to defend against their enemies, the various feudal lords began to build “long walls.” But it was only the First Emperor, “Shi Huangdi,” of the Qin dynasty who, having brought the feudal warlords to heel and unified the country, used the military ideas of “defense as offense,” and “passive control” to construct the Qin Great Wall. From that time onward each emperor carried on for longer or shorter periods of time Qin Shi Huangdi's dream of peace. But no matter how strong the Wall was, it was unable to stop the invasions of the Tatars and for many years bitter fighting raged on as the beacon-fires remained lit. As Voltaire once said: “The Great Wall of China bears witness to the great patience of these people.” From the historical viewpoint, this tall and rugged, strategic vista, like a “crouching tiger and coiling dragon,” that greets the visitor's eye is a tragic monument to an age-old hope of peace.
Fair God of Beijing
Time imparts the dignity of history but it is moonlight that, like moths eating away at a heavy blanket, reveals the bare bones that lie below. Wandering the old streets behind the Drum Tower alone at midnight, the pealing, mottled walls of the courtyard homes, the curled branches of the dead pagoda trees and the diseased willows...when 17 million inhabitants have drifted into dreamland, suddenly I am transformed and walk the streets as the great men of old Beijing once did before me. Are the old roofs of the ancestors still there? Do the crickets in the door mounds still sing their song? The moon wrapped in a halo, the old streets with dust hanging in the air...as the Drum Tower lies deep in slumber, my feet walk among the silent shadows as I look at Old Beijing.
I grew up in the “hutongs” (“alleyways”) of Beijing. “Entryway,” “mounting stone,” “door pier,” “door staff, “hutung enrance” -- all these are important words from my youth. And catching crickets, cicadas, and dragonflies, using a slingshot....Today, not only is the spinning wheel of my youth just a memory, even the courtyard house at No. 1 Xueyuan Hutung, whose every detail I could sketch at the drop of a hat, has been buried beneath bustling Jinrong St. When I see these photos done by our Hungarian friend, those grey walls and narrow passageways and quiet but restless purple-red sky, suddenly a wordless, melancholy feeling of “ imminent passing” comes over me. Still, it is a time to celebrate some good fortune. The two carved front gate doors my younger brother rescued are resting peacefully on the upper storey balcony.
The pedicab is Old Beijing's taxi. In the past for delivering coal or food, getting old people to see a doctor, or sending kinds off to school, it was hard for a Beijinger to escape it. Today the pedicab has become a charastistic item for scenic tours, squeezing visitors through the small hutungs surrounding the Imperial Palace. There you will see Elderly Old Beijingers who often enthusiastically come together and start up leisurly conversations, with no lack of literary allusions in their exagerated story-telling, even less are they able to supress their pride in being residents of the capital city. But the ear peircing sound of the pedicab bell and the monotone organge vests of the drivers cannot help but give the sense of a “fake folk custom.” So, if possible, you're best off just “grabbing a couple wheels” and wending your way through the labyrinth of hutungs yourself on a bicycle.
Is it a small river, the trickling flow of the Moon River, or a moon created out of the river's water? Strolling in the evening outisde the majestic Forbidden Palace, we see the stately and magnificent Imperial Garden as if locked away in a bank vault and transformed into a guilded bonsai scene. The tree shadows play about outside the dusty Imperial City where peddlers had been hawking their wares, the Moon River like silver, a quiet hush hangs over the landscape. Everything that meets the eye, the rockery, the pavillions, small bridges, the flowing water, though they are modern productions of today's Beijing, they embody the spirit of harmony of the traditional Chinese garden. The garden space to the mind of the observer may be restricted or may be without limit, it is always changing, never the same, it is both real and ephemeral.
A book that comes along once in a thousand years, The Dream of the Red Chamber, and a park that is indescribable, the Daguanyuan (“Grand View Garden”)--here the tragic love story of two young lovers was played out, a story in microcosm of societal collapse and the helplessness of an age. There will probably never again be a novel able to leave posterity such a rich tapestry or such a blank canvass like The Dream of the Red Chamber. No matter how much intelligence or imagination could be brought into play, all that might be done is to analyze a dream, to re-create the scenes of a past world. The Dream of the Red Chamber is a “Daguanyuan” than never ends.
The World in Miniature
For those of us born during the Cultural Revolution, the world was a circle centered on the image of Tiananmen. And where were the boundaries of this circle? We never thought about them, and we had no way to know about them. The ignorant pride we were imbued with since childhood made us comfortable with our ignorance of the world. I remember once when I was in high school I saw an Egyptian pyramid and the Arc de Triomphe for the first time. They were pictures on a calendar a colleague of my mother had sent us. From that time onward I cherished a dream: to travel the world “barefoot.” Kids today are really lucky. With a bottle of mineral water in hand, they can laugh and play and make a trip around the world.
Red Flags Rocking
Since the founding of the new China in 1949, the sound of the red banner fluttering in the wind has been heard each “10/1” in the city of Beijing. The red color represents the bold march toward the future, the gold star, the guiding North Star. Through all the trials and hardships, through all the years, through all the changes, it has always been there. And now the China of the 21st century is in the midst of earth-shaking change. Behind the red flag, huge buildings reach and touch the sky; beneath the five stars, people sing and dance and there is joy and peace. Today's China is a red flame casting its reflection on the sky, filling the Chinese people with pride and drawing the attention and focus of the entire world.
The first panorama photo album of Beijing, the capital of China
with 360 degree panoramic images by Tamas D.Varga