The Ming Dynasty was the one just before the last Qing Dynasty, and overlapped contact with European powers. Most of the dynasties that lasted several centuries did well by art, literature, and the whole country made all kinds of progress because of their stability and treatment of the people in China. There were seventeen Emperors of this Dynasty and thirteen of them were buried, with their concubines and wives and one eunuch, in one valley. in 2003, they were designated as another of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
While some efforts on the Great Wall were started way back in the Qin Dynasty, the majority of the effort to create the vast network of communication, military coordination, and safety that was the Wall was done during the Ming Dynasty.
Just overall context for this day's explorations.
One of the things we got to see was this lady vendor under a McDonald's awning doing something that was nearly the opposite of how anything is accomplished under the golden arches. She was making these huge thing pancakes, breaking an egg on them, adding stuff, flipping it over, covering it with some kind of sauce and other ingredients (from a distance we suspected scallions, some kind of meat, and other fillings), and then flipping it closed with her spatula. When it was all packed up neatly, she put a clean plastic bag over her hand, picked it up with the bag, and tucked it into a carrying bag and handed it over to her customer.
Breakfast in a bag. *laughs* And she did the whole operation while we were stopped waiting for a stop light. Now that is fast food I could get behind!
Hawk had all kinds of interesting things to tell us on the 50 km drive from city center to the north where the Ming Tombs resided. Like the fact that as a kid, it takes more than nine years to learn all 5000 years of Chinese history. *laughs* And that 900 years ago Beijing was the capitol of China as it is today, and was moved there from Xi'an by the "Yuan" Dynasty that was actually when Genghis Khan, his Mongolians, and subsequent Khans that took over the whole country. It was actually a union of Ukrainian, Russian, Persian, and Afghan troops, led by the Mongolian calvary that flooded in from the West and North and took over the whole country. Hawk said that the Mongolians actually named both Moscow (hunting den) and Siberia (stinky forest).
The Ming Tombs are to the north of Beijing, outside the density of the city limits, in a beautiful area that has mountains and a river running through the valley, which are all auspicious. They now use this area for growing fruit. There were lots of cherry, apple, peach, and other fruit trees all around the tombs area. It was very peaceful and quiet. It was also quite hot.
We also saw all kinds of fruit vendors sitting on the side of the road both coming and going, with boxes of bright, ripe fruit. But it was really interesting to just have the juxtaposition.
The whole of the Way includes the Great Red Gate, the Tablet Pavilion, Ornamental Columns, Stone Figures, and the Lingxin Gate.
The Great Red Gate was a fun start, as it has five animals on the eaves, and inside was a monolith of writing by one of the Qing Emperors, extolling the Ming Dynasty emperors and their efforts and merits. The monolith rests on the back of of a giant turtle that's a symbol for holding the entire world. Dad loved the fact that the monolith is carved with an exact replica of the Emperor's calligraphy, which meant that every stroke, curve, and line was what was made by his hand.
It still amazes me how the handwriting of these guys was so important, and the style of how each stroke was made is still being studied, in some ways, by calligraphers who are trying to create their own style. It's difficult to automate in so many ways.
It was amazingly cool in the gate, with the way it's built a breeze was always blowing.
Yes. That arm to Dad's left is a surveillance camera. They really were everywhere, and the amazing thing, for me, was realizing they probably had enough employees to be watching all of them.
I really enjoyed the walk after being in dense city for so long. We could hear birds, and I had fun whistling back to them and hearing them reply with the same song. The wind also rustles the leaves and the whole experience of living things was amazing.
This was a fairly nice one, though, and outside of it, in the usual picnic/waiting area were these. I don't think I've ever seen as ornate a set of seats around a stone picnic table as these. But they're modeled after the creatures that lined the next part of the walk.
Of course, each of the animals along the Way stood for something: lion for royalty, camels for transport, horses for victory, and elephants for peace. The thirty-six animals, in order from south to north were the lion, Xiezhi, camel, elephant, kylin, horse, military officials, civil officials, and the Honored Official. I liked that the officials are a part of all of this, but they were added later, after the original animals. The tradition of statues before tombs was started in the Qin and Han Dynasties (the most famous being the terracotta warriors for the first Qin Emperor), but the types differed according to time and the personalities of the tombs themselves.
I think, in Japanese manga, it's spelled Kirin, which is also the name of the Japanese beer.
Click any of those pictures and you can see more of the animals in detail. The animals were prefaced by a Spirit Column, and then they were depicted lying down, sitting, and standing.
In many ways, they were, too. As a working cavalry was the main technical difference between the Chinese and the Mongols and why the Mongolians won over all of China. This particular path led to the Changling Tomb, which held Emperor Zhu Di and his Empress Xu. It is the largest and best preserved of the tombs. It has three courtyards and a Treasure City at the back.
Each of the tombs were a small model of the Forbidden City, with the Empress and Emperor buried in the center, and various treasures around them. Depending on the emperor, some had all their concubines and servants killed when they died, so that they could be buried with them to serve them in their afterlife. Others decided not to do that, and let them all die naturally, and gave them a burial site for when they did die.
The bus came to get us at this far side, and there were the usual vendors, but it was nice not to have to walk the whole length back. We got onto the bus and it took us over to the Ming Tombs Muesum, which mostly was devoted to Zhu Di, also known as the Emperor Yongle Chang Mausoleum. Yongle means Forever Happiness, and he was the third Ming Emperor. He had a group of people create the very first Encyclopedia somewhere around 1403-1404, and it contained 22,877 volumes of information.
The one eunuch was one that had been raised by Zhu Di to do explorations and go out to foreign lands for him and to negotiate trade deals. Zheng He went everywhere, including SE Asia, Africa, and as far west as India and Iran. He connected with 30 African and Asian nations, and went on seven diplomatic journeys in a ship that was modeled in the center of the museum.
Three walls were devoted to his history and times, another wall was for a few of the other Emperors, and there were a few artifacts in cases scattered across the floor
The biggest building for each of the tombs was above ground, made from teak, which preserves well, and these are 600 year old buildings that have worn quite well.
The Zhoaling Tomb was for one of the lesser known emperors, who didn't have a lot of stuff or accomplishments, so it's rather smaller than the others.
But I don't think it actually is one of the tombs, just a building built to look like the above ground buildings for the various tombs, and set to hold the relics that were uncovered and could be displayed.
I'll admit that the roof work in that building made me think about it all again. And inside was a scale model of one of the above ground tomb buildings, which looks a lot like the building itself. Sometimes quite a few things do get lost in translation when I'm looking at too many translations.
The shop was also our lunch stop, and there seem to be quite a few Chinese Tourist spots where they try to sell you things and feed you in the same space. It's an interesting setup, for me.
It was amazing to see them do this super-fine work in such detailing. Peter, one of the grandfathers of the Panamanian family, caught my ear while we were standing there watching him work and he said that since he'd last been to one of these shops, they'd added the cubicle partitions for the workers. He said that it's cause they don't really want the tourists to speak directly with the workers.
The next step in the process was adding enamel to all the spaces between the wires. They mostly use eyedroppers to get it in thickly enough, instead of using brushes. They fill the gaps with the viscous fluid that clings and dries to surface. The dusty colors reminded me of all the glaze colors we use at our local paint-your-own-pottery shop. It's a color that reminds one of what the resultant colors will be, but chalky when the results glow with molten clarity.
They're fired multiple times, depending on the colors or types of glazes, and then it's all polished. There was this one amazing room where a guy wearing rubber from head to toe was sitting on a bench texting during his break. But the room was just covered with the after effects of water blasts and polishing residues. There was one company outside of China that used to do the full cloisonne process, and it was in San Francisco, but the costs of labor were so high in comparison to what the pieces could go for that the company closed down a few years go.
You can see in the background a flame colored one in the way back, the flowers to the left, the old style characters written in white to the right. There's chrysanthmums in all the shades of blue and purple, and a dragon in deep sapphires and gold. They were all tens of thousands of US dollars, too.
I half-wished I'd had the money for one of these, but the other half knows that I wouldn't have had anything to PUT in one of these vases, either. Nothing that could match their splendor.
Of course, there were smaller pieces, too, plates, and bowls and the like, but the quality wasn't nearly the same. I got a few small things that I really liked and thought people could use, but then went upstairs with everyone to an okay lunch in a very crowded diningroom.
Way back 3000 years ago, just before the Qin Dynasty (that first one, remember?), there was an era called the Warring States Period, and there were seven warring city-states. This period was made famous by a history written in the Han period (after Qin), and more is known of the manuscript than of the actual events themselves, but the seven city-states were the Qin, the Three Jins (Han, Wei, and Zhao), the Qi, the Chu, and the Yan. All of the city-states had their own walls around their own cities and were using them to defend themselves against each other. So when Qin won over the other six, he started connecting up all the walls so that they could defend themselves against all outsiders.
It was in the Ming Dynasty, however, after they'd wrested the country back from the Mongolians and all the other invaders, that they put it all into practical use against and enemy that they knew they had to keep at bay.
So, all 4000 miles of the Great Wall was built and maintained and used as much for transport and communication as it was for actually keeping people out.
This was another one of those things that I'd heard so many stories about, but had never experienced, and it was amazing to just be up there, in the breeze, with the mountains all around, and thousands and thousands of people all going along the same walk with us, over paving stones that were older than my country, probably by two or three times.
The sheer scale is immense. Jevons spoke, later, of going to Japan and seeing all the historical sites over there, and always feeling like "is this all there is to it?" The sites were just so much smaller than these immense things here in China, simply because of the scale of the land and the sheer number of people who could be conscripted to make them happen.
All three of us brought water, and as you can see in the first picture, we had our hiking boots on, knowing that it was going to be slope and stone was useful that way. We all had our hats against the sunshine and rain, if that was going to happen, and it turned out that we were lucky that way. There was also a nice breeze, and the temperatures were in the high seventies instead of the nineties the way it can sometimes be, here, in late May. So on all parts the weather gods were favoring our little endeavor.
It was hard work going straight up. Many of the flagging stones and especially the stair stones were worn from so many feet. It reminded me of the Chichen Itza pyramid stones, which were uneven, worn down so that each step sloped down, which made it even harder to climb them as the feet really wanted to be at the opposite angle to get hold enough to climb up.
One thing you can clearly see in this picture is that to the right is the Outside Wall, the higher one with the arrow slits. To the left is the Inner Wall, which is lower, smooth railed, and while there are gutters, there isn't the same cover for someone trying to see out without getting shot.
There were a lot of people out there, too. It was pretty obvious that a lot of families came here to spend the day walking the Wall as far as they could from the central park area. They brought picnics and all kinds of things to just enjoy the day and the views and go as far as they could.
John and Jet took the high road and got into the cool dark of the towers. They were all also built of stone, and inside, under cover, the slits and passageways always created a breeze through the towers and the stone cooled beautifully as well. My path, rejoined theirs a little way down, and I saw the visual representation of a map that said so, but I couldn't read the words.
Not that much further up and we saw the top station for this. It's a sky ride, but we couldn't really read enough to figure out if we could get on from the top or if we had to buy tickets at the bottom. But it was pretty clear that it really was just to go down on, so that might be the usual solution for the girls in high heels.
There was other construction right near that site, too, and when we got back down, the guides said that they were building more attractions up here to entertain people that got that far.
I was pretty blown by that point, but the view was absolutely amazing. We were mildly short on time to get down, but the breeze held, and it felt really good to go down compared to going up. It was pretty hard on my old knees, but a lot easier on my lungs and heating system. *laughs* I still had plenty of water left, which was good, and I drank a good deal of it at the top.
There used to be seven beacon towers, all laden with charcoal, to signal when an enemy was coming, and this was one of those towers, since it was at the very top of a peak and the two pieces of Wall coming to it ran along the topmost ridge of the mountains that led there.
It makes sense, now that I think about it, that it's all one continuous stretch, but it had sounded like the seven towers going up from the park was all that there were. It was pretty awesome to just see how it kept going off into the distance, though.
The stairs were pretty good going down, but I couldn't see doing this in the rain. It wasn't nearly as steep as Chichen Itza, I"ll admit, and there were the walls on both sides that could be used as handrails on the mildly tricky parts. And the misty mountains were beautiful.
In Colorado we nearly never get haze or mist, and nearly all of the Chinese-style paintings of mountains always had mist or haze, and the far-off mountains were always a lot fainter than the ones close up. In Colorado they do get fainter, and the front ones have much darker shadows in sunset, but not nearly as much as in the paintings. It as pretty obvious from our view up here where the Chinese painting convention came from.
One poor girl was just paralyzed on the steps. She couldn't take a step down because it was so steep. I remembered feeling exactly like that on the pyramid, because it was so steep and there was nothing even resembling a handhold. I mimed leaning harder on the handrail and her boyfriend edged her over to the extra handhold. One of the guys on the side who was sitting on the steps went down a step that way, and she looked at him wide-eyed and then she sat down and started going down that way.
Of course then my child went bounding down next to her like some mountain goat kid, but she just smiled and took another step.
One thing I really liked from this vantage was being able to see the whole of the park down there, along with the courtyard before the first steps up to the Wall. You can see the street, too, that led to all the shops and stores below. We made it down to them just in time. Just two minutes to spare, and I had plenty of time to buy a t-shirt that said, "I climbed the Great Wall!" *laughs* I figured that by doing the whole thing I'd earned my tourist badge of silliness.
On the way back into the city, Jevons regaled us with his woes of how the Chinese wedding system of honor and expected payments worked. He told us about how the Wall's slabs of stones were transported to the Wall in winter. The villagers would pour water on the streets, creating ice, so that they could slide the slabs across. He told us of the Pi Xiu, another mythological animal, the ninth son of the Dragon and the Phoenix. It's supposed to attract and keep all wealth, and eats everything with a voracious appetite but has no means of eliminating anything from its system, thereby the legendary ability to hold and keep. He said that a lot of investment firms keep statutes of the Pi Xiu in the office.
The place was enormous and has been converted into a park for everyone to use. The facilities hold all the national competitions, and there were thousands of people in the open air park just outside all the buildings as well. The bus stopped across the freeway from all of that, so we'd have some vantage to take some pictures, but that was about it.
One interesting thing we found was a cultural museum and park right next to the bus, which held a small, ancient building and garden. On the way back to the hotel, Jevons outlined the marching orders for the morning. We had to have our luggage by the door at 8:30am, and we should report to the lobby at 9:30 with all our carry-on luggage as well, because we were going to do the Temple of Heaven and then head to the airport for our 1:40 pm flight. Everyone else got off at the hotel, but everyone that wanted to do Beijing Duck stayed on the bus, because we were already a little late for our appointed time.
Of course, I had to ask Hawk if we were supposed to call it Beijing Duck or Peking Duck, and he laughed and said that these days, they definitely called it Beijing Duck.
We were all seated at a banquet table with a lazy susan, and they began with a dozen dishes, about half of them cold and half of them hot. Four types of cold cucumber in various types of salads or pickles, a duck liver pate sliced thin, deep fried duck with a sweet and sour sauce, a steamed and smoked duck with onions and peppers, a tofu leather dish, and a couple of vegetable dishes as well as the usual rice. The quality of the dishes was actually quite superior to a lot of the food we'd had up to this point, and was well worth the buying.
Then a lady came to show us how to pick up the thin pancakes, use the duck slices to spread on the hoisen sauce. She added the finely sliced white scallions, rolled it up, and let us at them. *laughs*
Jet said, later, that he wasn't paying any attention to the conversation, he was too busy eating as much duck as he could get. They had two entire birds at the table, so there was plenty for everyone that wanted to get at it. When the ducks were mostly gone, they served the duck bone soup. It was a simple white soup, rich with duck fats. It was a truly amazing meal. When we got back to the hotel, Jet was tired enough that he just asked John to put him to bed. So John went up to the room with Jet.
We saw break dancers over in one corner as well as these more traditional swing dancers. *laughs* It was a lovely riot all over the churchyard. Dad said that with the apartments being as small as they are, nearly everyone just gets outside at night to dance, meet up with people, shop, and basically spend time outdoors socializing with everyone else rather than being cooped up in very tight and hot quarters on summer nights.
It was so pleasant outside, too. It had cool to the low seventies. Warm enough for a stroll, cool enough to enjoy it with everyone else, and I was amazed by the sheer numbers of people who were out at 10 pm at night.
Dad told me about coming to this very mall with Mom nearly a decade ago, and how they'd gone into one of the department stores, with its thousands of little shops all crammed into one bright building. They'd been so bewildered by it all that they hadn't bought anything, and I passed on the experience. There wasn't much I wanted to buy, anyway. I just wanted to experience walking through the warm, summer air, listening to all the Chinese being spoken, and just see what it was like out there.
I asked Dad if he liked being in the visible majority there, and he shook his head. "I'm in the minority here, too."
I remembered going to Hawaii, and finally being in a place where I blended in, and I'd thought then that it was because my skin color was the same. But now I remembered that the Hawaiian locals had thought that John was a local too! I remember an article by another American born Chinese who said that he wasn't going BACK to China as he'd never been, and to his relief, he'd felt no kinship, no tie with these people who were so different than him. I'd expected that for me, but I hadn't for Dad, but it made sense, too. He'd spent most of his life in the US.
And I knew that I really didn't feel like I fit in here at all. I was an anomaly here, just like my Dad, an alien in many ways. With different values, different expectations of life, and a very different history and background. I might understand what they say, but sometimes it really escaped me as to why they said it.
That was kind of cool to know.
Right on the corner was a brilliantly lit electronics store with a white Apple on it, but I didn't actually see much Apple gear in there. And it certainly wasn't set up the way the Apple stores in the US were. There was a lot less gear and a lot more people, but it may well have been the Chinese equivalent.
On the way back, we wandered a little further around a corner of the hotel and saw a book publisher's office. The name of it was one that Dad knew pretty well, so we decided that we'd get up at the usual 7:30 and spend the time between having our luggage ready and when we had to get to the lobby checking out the bookstore.
Next: The Temple of Heaven and Getting to Xi'an.