I must admit at first that this wasn't one of my favorite trips in the course of my travels but that was due to the extreme hot weather and air pollution. We went in June and it already was a hundred degrees on some days. 

This is unpleasant regardless of where you travel. So make sure you pick a time of the year when it is a little cooler. Please see the following link for the topography and the geographical statistics for China.

China was Hot and Humid in June.  The water and air was so polluted that by the end of the trip some people just couldn't take it any more. The Yangtze River is almost dead. It used to be a major bird nesting area but we only saw one or two birds a day. 

The crew on the ships threw all of their garbage off the back of the ships. As we went further north the air became worse. Beijing is equivalent to smoking three packs of cigarettes a day just by walking around.

But the good things about China are:

The other great thing about our tour was the Travel Agency and our Tour Guide, Marie. She made the trip a joy, making sure everything happened on schedule and the service was of top quality! Check with Marie about trips to China and Vietnam and mention my name, 'Chuck Buntjer'!

I've also been in Hong Kong about ten years ago while the British and Chinese were negotiating the treaty to return it to China. . My Hong Kong experience is on another web page on my home page!


Read on for more details on different places I visited and experiences I had in China. Here is the great group of people I met on the trip all around China!

    Travel Agent Plus

I have had many travel agents but Marie is one of the best!  Considerate and always ready to help when a problem arose which happened very rarely due to her diligent control of the tour and knowledge of the language(s), I know she speaks at least five, English, Chinese, French, Vietnamese, and Cambodian.

She also teaches the tour guides in China how to best serve, especially Americans, the needs when traveling in another country. Marie knows the best restaurants so if you like good food and like to eat as we all did, this is the trip for you!

Maries' daughter Clara went along on this trip and she and I became close friends as we traveled around the country. It is always nice to have someone to pal around with when traveling. So feel free to contact Marie for information on her Asian trips, especially China and Vietnam.


Royal Travel

888 Brannan Street - Suite 3210

San Francisco, CA 94103

    Overview of Shanghaii

City in Transition in the East -   - 1997

We crossed the International Date Line and arrived early in the evening after flying from Los Angeles with a one-hour stop over in Tokyo. The first image was nothing but buildings in the process of being constructed. Half of the world's cranes are in Shanghai along with approximately a thousand high rises going up! The third tallest building in the world was just completed and there are plans for perhaps the world's tallest building. Fantastic architecture but it seems most of the character of the old homes and businesses that are unique to the city are being scrapped at a mind-boggling rate called progress. I was surprised that the city was as clean as it is but smog is a problem and got progressively worse as we traveled west and north in China.

We drove downtown on the Nanjing Road where the old colonial buildings of England are located. This was the spot in the hay-day of English occupation where things happened. England used opium to accommodate the Chinese drug habit and saw nothing wrong in causing illness and death in the course of capitalism. Now it is only about four blocks long and needs to be refurbished. We visited the Yuyuan Gardens that consists of walls culminating with huge dragons winding around the tops. We also visited the jade Buddha Temple which set the tone for any other temples we saw, all pretty much the same.

The high light in Shanghai was visiting the new Museum of Art and History built around 1995 and in the shape of an old bronze pot! We spent half a day there and could have spent more time just looking at the pottery, from 2000 BCE to the 1800's.

Acrobatics show after our last dinner and off to the airport for Wuhan and our boat the "Beidou" at the junction of the Yangtze and the Han Rivers at approximately nine P.M.

P.S. One point of interest was the fact that at most of the stores we visited the young women would follow me around and giggle and then run to the back room. More girls would come out and giggle. We couldn't figure out why they were doing this until one pointed at my earring and they all laughed up a storm! I must have been the only man in China with an erring! I will have more to tell about my earring escapades, especially when in Beijing.

Note: As you can see by the Map, I have been all over China on this trip, and on other trips, visited Cambodia, Thailand and India!

Shanghai Skyline

Hundred Story Buildings Going Up! - Gardens in the City


Fabulous Museum in the Shape of a Pot - New Opera House

    History of Shanghai

Shanghai, China's largest city, is directly under the central government. Being on the east coast due west of the southern tip of Japan, it was the scene of countless anti-imperialist struggles for a hundred years. It was divided into foreign concessions after the Opium War in 1840 and continued to be an open port until the 1940s. During these years, uprisings against western-powers, students' demonstrations against Japanese invasions and armies' fights against Japanese attacks never stopped. It was of great importance in China's revolution. The 1st Congress of the Communist Party of China was held here secretly in 1921.

Today, Shanghai is one of China's biggest and busiest port, most important industrial and commercial center. Its population is 12 million, with a population density of 41,000 per square km. Its industrial products rank the best in quality in China. It has one of China's two stock exchange markets. Its residents are known for their business talents, quick wit and sophistication. Its fashions and standards of products and services are more international than other Chinese cities. Its shopping is the best in China.

For tourists, Shanghai is a museum of 19th-century European and Japanese architecture, though some of the buildings are not well-preserved. Its most famous garden is Yuyuan Garden, laid out between 1559 and 1577. It now covers an area of 20,000 square meters. The top of its Rockery Hill used to be the highest point in the city before Shanghai's skyscrapers raised up. Visitors will note the dragon walls, beautifully-shaped doors, bamboo groove, winding walkways and elegant furniture's, all in a typical South China style. Nearby is Yuyuan Market, once the busiest in the city. You can buy almost everything for house use here, delicious food, utensils, arts and crafts. Shanghai has an excellent museum: the Shanghai Municipal Museum, where visitors can see a large variety of ancient relics, the demonstration of bronze casting and pottery making. In Shanghai Art and Handicrafts Research Institute, top artisans develop new crafts. The Jade Buddha Temple was founded in 1882. It housed 2 Buddha's, one of which carved from one piece of white jade in Burma. Longhua Pagoda and Temple is also a noted scenic spot. It is the oldest temple in the district. There are Former Residence of Dr. Sun Yat-sen and Tomb of Song Qingling, Dr. Sun's widow. There is Museum and Tomb of Lu Xun. Lu Xun was a great writer and philosopher, honored as China's national hero. Residence of Chou En-lai is also in Shanghai. In the outskirts of the city are 48.5-meter-high Square Pagoda, Confucius Temple, a Roman Catholic cathedral, Grand View Garden, and Dingshan Lake. Shanghai's Kunqu Opera is more melodic and graceful than Beijing Opera. Its food is sweeter, lighter and prettier than other Chinese foods.

    Overview the Many Rivers in China

China has over 1,500 large rivers, including the Heilong, the Yellow River, the Huaihe, the Yangtze, and the Zhujiang. Seventy-nine of these rivers have a catchment's area of over 10,000 square kilometers.

Most rivers in China cover great distances. The Yangtze River and the Yellow River are famous rivers throughout both Asia and the world. The overall length of the Yangtze River is 6,300 km, third in the world after the Amazon of South America and the Nile of Africa. The Yellow River flows for 5,464 km, just a little shorter than the Mississippi, putting it in fifth place. In addition, the Lancang River (in its lower reaches known as the Mekong) in southwest China and the Heilong River in northeast China rank seventh and ninth respectively. If we linked all these rivers within the boundaries of China together, the overall length would be 430,000 kilometers.

The Yangtze is the longest river in China. It originates in western Qinghai Province and flows through the middle of China, passing through Qinghai, Tibet, Sichuan, Yunnan, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi, Anhui and Jiangsu, and empties into the East China Sea at Shanghai. Its drainage area is 1.8 million square kilometers, making up one-fifth of China's total area. The Yangtze River valley, with 24.67 million hectares of cultivated land, has always been an important agricultural base in China. Grain and cotton outputs make up more than 40 percent and 30 percent of China's total respectively, and rapeseed, sesame, natural silk, tea and tobacco also flourish here. The Yangtze River is a main artery of water transportation between eastern and western China. The cruising range of its trunk stream and tributaries make up 70 percent of China's total inland navigation. Its water transport capacity accounts for 80 percent of the total inland water transport capacity. Many cities along the Yangtze River, such as Chongqing, Wuhan, Nanjing and Shanghai, are not only important ports on the river, but also the economic centers of the regions in which they are located.

    Overview of Wuhan and the Yangtze Rivere

Wuhan and the Yangtze River  

Not much to see here, the Crane Temple and we settled in the "Beidou" cruiser and departure for our cruise on the Yangtze.

First stop at Yueyang and went ashore to see the Yueyang Tower. Many of the sights we saw were of towers that were built on hills as look outs for enemies and most were built in the same manner. The water is very dirty and it seemed to get worse as we traveled up the river. Welcome banquet this evening.

The first thing we saw on the river was the new dam they are building. Chongqing will become the leading inland sea port of China after its completion. They someway are going to build a contraption to lift ships 60 stories to enter the man made lake, which will be 300 miles long. Millions of people must be moved, as all of the cities built along the river will be flooded. They are building new towns hundreds of feet above the old towns, sometimes on the tops of mountains with new roads and bridges hanging in the air like some mirage. It was especially spooky at night as we walked the decks of the ship and saw these sights in the moonlight.

Continuing the cruise through the upper Yangtze, we visited the 230-foot Gezhouba Dam at Yichang. With three locks and 21 power generators, it is currently the largest dam in China. We now begin our passage through the Three Gorges. First is the Xiling gorge, a long winding passage through rushing rapids, landmark caves, and temples. The next day we went through the Wu Gorge with the Twelve Peaks soaring above us.Then we continued to Wushan and boarded small boats for the trip up the Daning River to see the Three Small Gorges that will be covered with water when the new 60-story dam they are building is finished. This river was the only clean one we saw and the scenery was fantastic. Fields of corn everywhere, I didn't realize so much corn was raised here.

The boats held about 80 people and there was a partition between the tourists and the oarsmen, two, on the front of the boats. They had a large ore that they used to direct the boats around the rocks and also around the steep curves in the river. I became friendly with the crew while waiting for the rest of the group to get back into the boat, gave them chewing gun and chatted away and secretively asked them if I could ride in front with them. They said, "Of course, as long as I held on and didn't fall out!" After everyone was on board and saw me in the bow with the best seat in the house, several tried to get out of the boat. The guide said "No!" Everyone has to stay in the same seats they had going up the river. I could stay in the front because the oarsmen said I could. This is another example of how to take advantage of a situation and have an experience no one else has. The trip back was fantastic, wind blowing in my hair, waves breaking against the bow and spraying over us as the oarsmen directed the boat through rough waters! Another great day! Back to the ship and we continued through the last of the Three Gorges, spectacular, sheer cliffs thousands of feet high, mist, and mystery.

We landed at Chongqing and took a tour but it rained and was told her sister city is Portland because it rains all year round.

Important! As the biggest dam in the world is being built, Chongqing will become the premier inland seaport. As we visited Chongqing, they were building huge high rises to accommodate the new inflow of products and businesses associated with shipping that will happen. Its sister city is Portland and we could see why, it was cool and rainy, they said it rained most of the time. Everything was very green but rather depressing. We visited a farmers market in the middle of town and the meat was cut and placed on wooden tables with flies and bugs all around. Rain fell through the center atrium of the building so mud was tracked everywhere. But the people were very friendly and would laugh at us as we checked out the produce. There were eggs piled up on the floor maybe two feet high!  There were all kinds of herbs and soups and thousands of packaged products in cellophane whose contents were unknown. Many sellers had their feet propped up and were snoozing. We wondered how they ever made any money; each vendor had around 15 square feet and was jammed on top of each other. The building was about six stories high and each floor was like that. I suppose it is like shopping anywhere, if you know what you want you usually know where to go to get it. A great experience!

Went to see the Pandas at the zoo but they were all ill but one and that one was asleep. The only thing we saw was its butt hanging out of a doorway! We had a farewell dinner on the boat and transfers to the airport. Then we took a short flight to Xi'an and checked in to the Hyatt Regency, 5 Stars, in the heart of the city.

Stops Along the Yantze River

Temples Along the Yantze - Pearl Farming


Visiting the First Temple - One of Thousands!

Start of the Worlds Biggest Dam!

Moving Mountains - Hauling the Rocks Away!

Ride to a Village on Rapids - What a Ride!

This River and Village are Now Under Water!

Rough Ride! - Great Steering!

Our Captain and Pilot! - High Cliffs

Sailing into the Three Gorges

The View Tells it All!

Shell Collecting - Family Home on a Boat!

    Xi'an & the Terracotta Warriors

Xi'an known as Chang'an in ancient times, is famed all over the world for it's glorious history. Specialists and scholars regard it as an inexhaustible treasure house of literature while heads of state from many countries and people from all walks of life turn their eyes to this tourist attraction, trying to broaden their knowledge of Chinese civilization.

This city has the oldest medieval wall in China, in perfect condition. Revolving Ying/Yang The Bell Tower and Drum Tower in the city of Xi'an date back to the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). Four streets radiate from the Bell Tower, extending to the north, south, west and east. The Drum Tower is at a short distance, to the northwest of the Bell Tower. The city wall of Xi'an, 11.9 Kilometres in circumference, was rebuilt in the early period of the Ming Dynasty. Previously built of rammed earth, it was surfaced with gray bricks in 1568, it has 5,984 arrow-shooting holes and 98 ramparts. this is the biggest and best-preserved city wall of ancient China. The city is busy day and night. Food every where! Outdoor cooking every 20 feet.

Full day touring Xi'an and the burial site of the army of lifelike terracotta soldiers. The first Emperor of China had three pits built with soldiers to protect him in his life after death.

The Terra-cotta Army, pottery warriors and horses are located at a place 1.5 kilometers east of the Mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shi Huang. It was discovered in 1974 and more excavations were made in the subsequent years. Vault 1 covers an area of 14,200 square meters and houses more than 6,000 life-size pottery warriors, chariots and horses arranged in battle formation as the main force. Vault 2, to the north of Vault 1, contains formations of pottery soldiers as the flank force. Vault 3. to the west of Vault 2, appears to be a military headquarters.

Terra-cotta Army

Thousands of Individual Soldiers and Horses Plus all the Necessary Weapons and Clothing for each Warrior!

Dinner and a Floor Show

Last night a Dumpling Dinner and a Tang Dynasty song and dance show was extremely well executed. Next a flight to Beijing on a Russian plane that had seen better days. We were seated in row 12. Several couples got on and told us they were happy their seats were in row 10 as they didn't like to sit in the back of the plane. We told them that they were sitting in the back end. They wondered why we though that, well the seat rows went from 1 to 8 - then 12 to 54 - then 10 and 11! Needless to say there were some unhappy people!

   Ancient Chinese's Map Overview

It also has been brought to my attention that Egypt has some of the oldest maps but a map in China has been found that is the oldest map with actual distances shown on it!

A group of scientists appraising artifacts in the Hebei Provincial Museum at Shijiazhuang, Hebei Province, have discovered that a quarter-inch thick copper plate bears the world's oldest map clearly marked with distances. The 2,300-year old map marks the locations of buildings in the five mausoleums of Wang Cuo (344-313 B.C.E.), his queen, and his concubines. Called the Zhao Yu Tu ("map of the area of the mausoleum"), it was excavated in the late 1970s in Pingshan County, Wang was the fifth king of the Zhongshan Kingdom, one of dozens of principalities that flourished during the Warring States period (476-221 B.C.E.).

It is not only the oldest map found in China but the oldest numeral bearing map in the world. Thirty-seven inches long and 19 inches wide, the map marks more than 70 locations, symbols, numerals, and epigraphs inlaid with gold and silver. South is on the top of the map and one-half inch is equal to 16.5 feet on the map's scale.

Also found on the map was a 42-character imperial edict ordering the construction of the mausoleum. The king also asks that two copies of the Zhao Yu Tu be made, one to be stored in the Zhongshan imperial court, the other to be buried with him. The second copy has not been found.

   History of Beijing

King Wu was the first to declare Beijing the capital city in 1057 BC. Subsequently, the city has gone by the names of Ji, Zhongdu, Dadu, and finally Beijing when the Ming Dynasty Emperor ChengZu chose the name in 1421. Beijing City is an independently administered municipal district. She is situated in the northwestern part of China at an elevation of 43.5m above sea level. The climate in Beijing is of the continental type, with cold and dry winters and hot summers. January is the coldest month (-4 Celsius), while July the warmest (26 Celsius). Beijing has a whole area of 16808 sq km (about 6500 sq mi), stretching 160 kilometres from east to west and over 180 kilometres north to south. She has 18 districts and counties with Dongcheng, Xicheng, Xuanwu, Chongwen, Chaoyang, Haidian, Fengtai and Shijingshan in the surburbs and Fangshan, Mengtougou, Changping, Tongxian, Shunyi, Daxing, Huairou, Miyun, Pinggu and Yianqing in the outer suburbs. Population in Beijing is about 12 million. Panorama of the Forbidden City, which occupies a total space of more than 720,000 square meters. The buildings in this palace complex are measured in 9,999.5 bays. The surrounding palace walls are 10 meters high and have a total length of 3,400 meter, and are protected by a 52-meter-wide moat.


    Beijing and the Forbidden City


Finally in Beijing, a 100 degrees and smog, enough to be equivalent to smoking three packs of cigarettes a day.

First to Tiananmen Square where we saw the Electronic Count Down Clock for Hong Kong to become part of China again. This was the only place we saw any mention of the move! Mao still has his picture on one wall and we wondered how long that will last.  Of course by now, 2004, this is a thing of the past as I review my web pages!

Next we saw the Forbidden City which was large but most of the buildings looked alike after a while.

The next day we went to the Great Wall and it and the location are spectacular.

We also sent to a cloisonné factory to see how they make those fantastic items. After we saw how they manufactured them we went to a huge show room where they sold every item that could be covered with cloisonné. When I went to pay for some items I bought, two young women, clerks, kept pointing at my ear and laughing. I paid and when I tried to leave they kept chasing me around. Finally a couple of people in our group told me to stop running around and let the clerks do what ever they wanted to do. Excuse me! Well, when I decided to stop and talk to them they pointed to my ear and showed me they had a cloisonné earring to give to me as a present. How very nice of them. Diplomatic relations all because of an earring!

The following is a description of each place that we visited along with some photos.

   Tiananmen Square

Here I am in front of one of the temples in the Forbidden City which lies on the edge of Tiananmen Square.  Formal access to Tiananmen Square is through the Zhengyang Gate, which marks the boundary of what was once an enclosing wall of grey stone and brick. The tomb of Chairman Mao is centered in the path of the gate. The square itself is fairly recent. It used to be filled with shops and alleys, as the streets surrounding it still are today. Tiananmen is large enough to diminish the impact of two enormous and recent additions to the center of the city.  On one side of the square lies the People's History Museum and on the other, the Great Hall of the People. The Great Hall is used for major meetings of the government and State occasions. Elaborate receptions are held there for foreign dignitaries and it contains over 50 rooms, each dedicated to a particular province or minority. The square serves as a setting for the Imperial City in which lies the Forbidden City. The red walls, golden roof tiles, and the portrait of Mao Zedong contrast strongly with the surroundings of grey and buff. Thousands of tourists from all over China visit the Forbidden City daily. Fred observed at this point that we were of as much interest to the Chinese as was the Forbidden City. Westerners still are a rare sight. At one time there were vast gardens and parks adjacent to the Forbidden City where the elite could walk freely. Although urban encroachment has swallowed many, we visited Zhongshan Gongyuan, named after and anchored by a statue of Sun Ya-tsen. If that is confusing try this; Sun Zhongshan is the formal name for Sun Yixian which is the new spelling of the informal name of the person we call Sun Ya-tsen or Sun Yatsen. Sun is the family name and Zhongshan is the given name. In China, to indicate respect, admiration, and fondness the given name is often used. Therefore, Zhongshan Gongyuan is Sun Ya-tsen Park. By whatever name, the park was beautiful. It was a Sunday and the place was filled with the laughter of children and the sight of couples strolling among the trees. Children were often dressed in their finest so that their parents could take their pictures. There was a long winding covered walk that ran through the trees. A path eventually led us to a building which housed a formal garden. Kay discovered the magic and shed off the fatigue of 35 hours of traveling to relax and discover China.

Tiananmen Square and Mao


This is the Huge Assembly Meeting Hall and Chuck! 


Entrance to the Forbidden City and Mao! - Friendly Guard!

Side Walk Busines


 Lots of Smiles as We Walked Along the Streets!



 Keeping the Streets Clean and of course, a Beauty Salon on the Sidewalk!

   Forbidden City

The Forbidden City consists of two parts, the Outer Court and the Inner Court. The Outer Court centers around the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the Midway Hall of Harmony and the Hall of Military Prowess. The Inner Court centers around the Hall of Celestial Purity, the Hall of Union and Peace and the Hall of Terrestrial Tranquility, which are flanked by the Six East Palaces and the Six West Palaces. The layout is orderly and symmetric. The picture shows the Forbidden City viewed from the east. The Gate of Supreme Harmony 657 X 382, 106Kb During important ceremonies presided over by the emperor, guards of honor lined up on the square between the Meridian Gate and the Gate of Supreme Harmony, the largest square in the palace complex. The Hall of Celestial Purity 534 X 480, 151K The three main halls in the Inner Court are the Hall of Celestial Purity, the Hall of Union and Peace, and the Hall of Terrestrial Tranquility. The picture shows the front chamber of the Hall of Celestial Purity, where the emperor attended to state affairs almost everyday. The Hall of Preserved Elegance 576 X 404, 109K The Hall of Preserved Elegance, one of the Six West Palaces, once served as the residence of Empress Dowager Cixi. Pavilion of Cheerful Melodies 409 X 544, 111K The big stage in the Pavilion of Cheerful Melodies in the eastern section of the Forbidden City. With a height of 20.71 meters, the three-story stage was equipped with trap doors for actors to present scenes in heaven, in the human world, and in the nether regions. Beijing Although Beijing is an ancient city and was often used as the capital by one warlord or another, its modern history as a capital begins in the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368) with Kublai Khan, grandson of Ghengis Khan. It is here that Marco Polo made his base as he visited and traveled with the Khan. He spent over 20 years as a guest of the Khan before returning to Europe with his vivid descriptions of the great civilization to the east. Most of what we see today in Beijing was built during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). It is a city built to inspire; to awe the populace with the power of the emperor. Built for the rites and ceremonies performed to maintain the Mandate of Heaven as well as for defense, it achieves grace through power and size rather than through ornament and variety. The Ming's looked to the past for their design. Beijing, like most major cities in China was built with a series of concentric walls. The outermost wall surrounded what was the Chinese city. A major highway which provides access to the outskirts and links the city with the major arteries to the rest of the country sits on its bed. At various points along the highway you can see the guard towers which loomed above the old gates to the city and provided early warning of invasion. One might regret the loss of this ancient wall, but the alternative would have been to raze whole neighborhoods in one of the most densely packed cities in the world.

Entering the Forbidden City

Main Gate to the Forbidden City

Various Temples

Centrol Court Yard

This is the great Marble Staircase, the center was Carved out of One Piece of Stone! 


View on the Outside of the Forbidden City from My Hotel Room!

The Imperial City

The Imperial City As you cross the bridge in front of Mao's portrait and enter the Imperial City through Tiananmen (Gate of Heavenly Peace) you see the Meridian Gate which leads to the Forbidden City. Only those who had official business with the emperor or one of his ministers were allowed inside the Forbidden City. That doesn't mean that it was a quiet place. It was the center of vast empires. There were hundreds of ministers who had offices there or in the immediate area, there were probably over a thousand servants, and then there were the palace guards . . . At one point there were over 70,000 eunuchs attached to the Forbidden City in one capacity or another. Today the area is filled with museum offices, ministries, tourists, small souvenir shops, and restaurants. The first Ming capital was at Nanjing. The first Ming emperor Hung Wu wanted to rid the country of Mongol influence just as he had rid it of Mongol rule. Traditional rites and ceremonies of the Chinese were brought back and celebrated. Nanjing was close to the supply routes from the southern breadbasket and provided much better communication with the provinces both for defense and administration. Yongle (Yung Lo), the third Ming emperor, overthrew the second Ming emperor from his stronghold in the northern provinces. He gave up the advantages of the southern capital and moved his capital to Beijing for political support. He continued to emphasize Chinese and Confucian principles and incorporated them into his design for the new northern capital. The design of the city reflects a return to Confucian principles of order, ethical conduct, and the importance of rites to express filial duty. The emperor was the Son of Heaven and this was the source of his Mandate to rule. All others owed filial duty to the emperor. Yongle sent a survey team to catalog the city of the Yuan dynasty and then he had it destroyed. The new city would be Chinese. Over two hundred thousand workers dedicated 20 years to the building of the new city and palaces. The Palace wasn't finished until 1421. As you go through the gates and penetrate the depths of the city, it is still possible to feel the remove, the isolation from common concerns required by and of the emperor.


Hall of Supreme Harmony

As you cross an open courtyard, you approach the Hall of Supreme Harmony where vigorous final examinations were given to scholars during the early Ming dynasty. The Ming emperors revived and expanded the civil service system which required mastery of the classics to enter government service. If a family could educate a son to this level, the entire family benefited and the scholar became a revered figure among the ancestors in following generations. The system continued until the early 1900's and provided stability to successive governments. After the Supreme Hall of Harmony, you encounter two more major structures; the Hall of Middle Harmony and the Hall of Perfect Harmony, which were also used for public functions. Only as you retreat further and further into the center of the palace do you find some sort of quiet and repose. The actual quarters of the emperor are rather simple by palatial standards. The low slung buildings have large rooms, but not so large as to uncomfortable for daily living. The Imperial family would never be alone. There would always be someone in attendance. The emperor ate with an attendant at his elbow to remind him not to take more than three bites from any dish. If he had a favorite dish, he had to keep it to himself and hope that by accident it would show up again. Poison and assassination was a constant presence in daily life by dint of the measures used to prevent them. Imagine living and accepting a life of such paranoia that your fears of those close to you were as great as the fear of threat from outside. Mao Zedong lived a similar life in his compound adjacent to the Imperial City. His thorough knowledge of classical history led him to adopt many of the same personal safeguards developed through the centuries of dynastic reign. The Temple of Heaven -- Tiantan Park The Forbidden City and the three Halls of Harmony look directly south, toward the Temple of Heaven. Twice a year at the Winter Solstice and again in the fourth lunar month the emperor would proceed from the Forbidden City to the Temple of Heaven to ask for blessings for the people. He would dress in the Hall of Middle Harmony and then go to the Hall of Supreme Harmony to form the procession. The streets between the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven were cleared. All doors and windows would be shuttered, the people closed in behind them. It was forbidden that a commoner look upon the person of the divine emperor. The procession, made of all high ranking ministers marching in order of importance, would go through the Meridian Gate, out through the main gates, and cross what is now Tiananmen Square. Only the emperor could use the center doors. The two side doors were designated for either the military or the civil ministers. Separating the military and civil ministers was a custom which arose after many squabbles about rank and order of precedence between the two branches of government. When they arrived at the Temple of Heaven, the emperor would retire to the Hall of Abstinence to meditate and pray alone for the night. Sacrifices would be prepared in the triple roofed Hall of Prayer for a Good Harvest. Just before dawn, he would rise and prepare. Each ritual, movement, utensil, and costume had purpose and symbol. The emperor wore a blue gown embroidered with gold, the roofs of the buildings were tiled in blue -- a sacred color symbolizing Heaven. Just as the gold roofs of the Imperial Palaces were only used on buildings of the emperor, blue was reserved for Heaven. The procession passed down a long elevated concourse to arrive at the Altar of Heaven. Three tiers of white marble glistening in the false light of predawn lent beauty and majesty to the ceremony, the only roof -- the Heaven above. There, as the tip of the sun shown over the horizon, the emperor would offer the animal, grain, and silk sacrifices which had been prepared the previous day. This ceremony was first performed in the Zhou dynasty (1100-771 B.C.). The last time it was performed (December 23, 1914) a republic had been founded and Yuan Shikai, the President, wore the imperial robes of the emperor. These rites linked culture and tradition through multiple dynasties. The cost of this heritage was painful. Hundreds of thousands of workers labored to build the palaces and fortifications at Beijing, Xi'an, Nanjing and other major cities of the Ming dynasty. Taxes were deep and production was diverted to provide material for the construction. Due to graft and corruption, much of the good farm land was used by the nobility for pleasure sports or mismanaged until it was barely productive. By the end of the Ming dynasty, the population of the country had been reduced by about half through starvation. While reviving Neo-Confucianism the rites and rituals, they forgot the Confucian ideal that good government takes care of the needs of the people first. Today the grounds of the Temple of Heaven are a welcome relief from the dense crowding of the city. Each day, but especially on Sunday, thousands come to walk, play, practice Dai Qi, listen to or play music and fly kites. I spent an hour listening to a group play selections from the Beijing opera. An elderly woman sang. I was told that she had only studied for the past four years -- after her retirement. Her voice was as clear as a bell; she easily sang some of the most difficult trills. The long covered walk which leads to the main Temple is a meeting place, gaming room, private club, and way of life. Mahjongg and dominos are the most popular choices, but you also find Chinese chess , card games, and dice. A group of women were doing complicated march/dances in formation while playing a straightforward beat on their drums. They may or may not have been practicing for some future performance; just doing it is enough for many groups. Watching is also a popular pastime. Activities from a game of mahjongg to the women marchers were surrounded by groups of spectators.

   Summer Palace

It takes three days to get to the Summer Palace if you go by barge along the canals and river to Kunming Lake in an imperial convoy. It takes about a half-hour by bus. The Summer Palace seemed like a remote "get-away" for the emperors who were enclosed in their own stifling prison. The "palace" is actually a garden encompassing a small mountain, a lake, a river, and innumerable buildings. Most gardens in China are places to enjoy the shape and contour of nature. The gardener creates a perfection of nature and tries to encourage appreciation of its beauty. It has little resemblance to what we would call a garden. Qianlong of the Qing dynasty, built a garden here in honor of his mother in 1750. He expanded an earlier Ming temple, enlarged the lake and called it Kunming Lake, and renamed the mountain the temple stands on from Jug Mountain to Longevity Mountain. His name for The Summer Palace was the Garden of Pure Ripples. In 1860 the British and French destroyed the Garden of Pure Ripples as well as Yuan Ming Yuan (what we call the Old Summer Palace). Yuan Ming Yuan comprised acres and acres of buildings housing the treasures of China. The British and French were "negotiating" with the emperor to get better trade agreements. Victor Hugo wrote an open letter at the time, deploring the action and calling it one of the great tragedies of history. The Dowager Empress Cixi began rebuilding the Summer Palace in 1873 for her retirement and renamed it Yi He Yuan -- Garden of Peace and Harmony in Old Age. That remains it proper name in Chinese.

The Dowager Empress Cixi served as regent and was able to channel funds from the treasury which had been targeted for the navy. She is often blamed for the easy victory won by the Japanese navy and the subsequent humiliation of the Chinese government in 1895. It was burnt again by Russian, British and Italian troops in 1900 as retaliation for the Boxer Rebellion. Cixi began rebuilding in 1902 and actually got to use it for awhile. She died in 1908. We entered the grounds through the back door to visit "little Suzhou" in full sunlight. This village was build to replicate one near Shanghai to give the emperor the illusion of shopping and exploring its beauty. Eunuchs and ladies from the court would play the roles of shopkeepers and artisans while the emperor meandered through the stalls. There is still a feeling of play-acting as you go from shop to shop. The only thing that seemed quite real was the river. We climbed Longevity Mountain to the Lama Temple at the top. On the way you could begin to appreciate what Cixi had planned. The entire garden is laid out to create moments. Cixi would have an entire wall built so she could put a window in it. As you walked along the wall, your senses would relax and the sudden view framed by the window would recall the freshness of the view.

The Marble Boat was built by Qianlong who compared the boat to the state and the water to the people. The people keep the state afloat and without their support the ship sinks. Cixi changed the top of the boat, adding the superstructure and paddle-wheels. She also installed a large mirror in the cabin so she could sit gazing at it on rainy days. The mirror would act as a frame for the different views behind her. The names of the sights at the Summer Palace are as much a part of the experience as are the structures themselves: Hall of Dispelling Clouds, Strolling through Painted Scenery, Floating Heart Bridge, Gate of Welcoming the Moon, Hall for Listening to Orioles Sing. While the Summer Palace is not a simple thing, part of its purpose is to enhance the perception of and enjoyment of simple things.

Summer Palace

The Royalty Went Here During the Hot Summer Season to Cool Off!

The Marble Boat for an Outing in One Place - Tea Fit for an Emperess!

    Chuck on the Great Wall

As I approached the Great Wall I saw several blocks of shops selling all kinds of souvenirs.

Everything you never wanted. I and several friends escaped the shops and walked to the wall. There beside the wall which is at least 50 feet high and miles long is a street sign. It of course states "Up the Great Wall", like we couldn't see it! Then we heard a lot of screaming and laughing. At the entrance was a sedan chair in red with two men carrying it. They gave rides for a price. Inside was a German woman about 28. She had a big balloon under her dress so she looked pregnant. Her boy friend, dressed in a gingham dress, combat boots, and a leather World War I flyers helmet, was taking her picture. There were four other Germans and they all were crazy.

We decided it was time to tackle the wall! After the first half mile there was hardly a soul on the wall. Three of us decided to see how far we could go. Signs all over stating that the wall was a national treasure and not to ruin it. The Chinese didn't seem to care. One man around 60, was sitting there carving his name into the wall. We three were irritated and the woman with us, a Chinese American let him have it. He acted like he didn't understand her. She knew the language though. Anyway, he just sat there and looked at the wall. Every once in a while he would look up and after we had gone over the next hill, he scratched his name all over the wall. When we came back we had to laugh as it looked like all the Chinese were scratching their names and what ever all over the wall. So much for history!

We met a Chinese soldier and a student who was going to a technical school and when they found out we were from San Francisco, they had to have a picture of all of us together to show their friends. Both were about 24 years old and we though they were old friends but they said they had just met. People all over the world get excited when you say you're from California. They all want to come here!

We were lucky as it was smoggy and 100 degrees in Beijing but here it was about 75 degrees, a breeze, and blue skies. Hated to go back. The drive was very nice into the mountains, curving roads along the edge of the mountains, great views, but down below we could see a freeway being built, looked like six lanes that would cut right through the valley to the wall. Of course this will ruin the beautiful drive and get that many more tourists there in less time for more shopping.

The Great Wall

Fabulous Views of the Length of the Wall! 


Huge Crowds along the Way!

    History of the Great Wall

Here I am on the Great Wall of China, also known to the Chinese as the '10,000 Li Wall' (5000 km), is about 70 kilometers from Beijing and is at an elevation of about a 1000 meters. 

This section of the wall was restored in 1957. It stretches from the Shanhaiguan Pass on the east coast to Jiayuguan Pass in the Gobi Desert.  It was begun 2000 years ago during the Qin Dynasty (221-227 BCE) when China was united under Emperor Qin Shihuang. Note: he also had the stupendous (8000 plus) terra-cotta warriors and horses made for his burial site in Xi'an, standardized the currency and written script. 

Separate walls were constructed by various independent kingdoms and then were joined to keep out invading marauding nomads. Hundreds of thousands of people, many political prisoner took ten years of hard labor to complete under the direction of General Meng Tian. An estimated 180 million cubic meters of rammed earth was used to form the core. The wall never did perform the function it was designed for.

Genghis Kan stated, "The strength of a wall depends on the courage of those who defend it". Since people could be bribed it didn't do much good as far as keeping out the nomads. As a matter of fact, some people think it kept the Chinese inside the country more than other people out. It could be used as a highway though and by using fires on the watch towers, messages could be passed back to the capital within a remarkably short time so it was good for something!

During the Ming Dynasty the wall was rehashed by facing it with bricks and stone slabs - some 60 million meters of them! The Ming project took 100 years to complete and caused hardship and many deaths just to appease an emperors desires. 

The wall was largely forgotten after that and much has returned to dust. Most of the rest was carted off by peasants during the cultural revolution to construct houses and other buildings.

The wall probably would have disappeared if it hadn't been for the tourist industry. Several sections have been refaced and now instead of it being a symbol of tyranny, it is a symbol of beauty!

  Charles Walter Buntjer

San Francisco California
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Updated on: 2020.11.01