Whispers in the Forbidden City

Beijing, China. April 2013.

The thing is, sometimes I need to pay better attention. Or else make notes. We took a walking seminar through the Forbidden City and our docent taught us many things; she painted such a big, rich picture of imperial China that I can hardly hold on to all of it. The details slip away. I remember that she talked about the Chinese valuing the constant stars more than the variable sun and moon. And so the north star is China’s star, and because the star is purple, purple is the royal colour and the word for purple is also the word for star, and consequently, it is also the word for forbidden, which doesn’t so much mean forbidden as it means so exalted as to be untouchable by ordinary people. So the Forbidden City is also the Forbidden Palace, which is also the Star Palace and the Purple Palace, even though it is mostly red. But the red has to do with fire because fire gives birth to earth, which gives birth wood which gives birth to water which gives birth to metal. Which somehow explains why the roofs are gold. And there were stories of emperors and concubines and concubines who ruled from the shadows behind their sons who were heirs to the throne. And the story of the last emperor, the one that lived through the cultural revolution, and about the isolation of his childhood and I got thinking about the ghosts of this place, the whispers of the past. And despite the thousands of people wandering the grounds, the Forbidden City felt to me like a lonely place. A place of history, a place of memory. A place of echoes and whispers.

A parallel set of non-blurry photographs taken by my partner, Monna McDiarmid, can be found in her post, The Red Wall of China, at monnamcdiarmid.com.


1 thought on “Whispers in the Forbidden City

  1. Pingback: The Red Wall of China | Monna McDiarmid

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