Construction workers overlooking the Forbidden City.
I was in Jingshan Park, on a hill overlooking Beijing. In front of me were a few construction workers, still in their work uniforms. I wondered what the old royalty would think, of laborers looking down upon their Forbidden City.
Across the world, rulers have built awesome and extravagant things for themselves. Yet in time, all of these edifices return to the masses. From the Forbidden City to the pyramids to Machu Pichu, these imperial preserves are now tourists spots. People by the thousands tromp through them, taking photos and lolling about like they own the place. I assume the imperials would be horrified, but it seems about right in the end.
In a way, you could look at these excesses as long term investments. The pyramids were an immediate waste of capital and labor (and life), but over the following thousands of years they have become priceless, generating countless tourism dollars and becoming a national pride. That seems to be the pay back period.
A view of the Summer Palace.
I was wandering around the Summer Palace (again in Beijing). The scale is immense, a huge artificial lake best viewed from a huge artificial hill. The story is that Empress Dowager Cixi diverted a huge sum from the Chinese Navy for its reconstruction. At the time that may have been unwise, but now the Summer Palace is a huge tourist draw and a lovely recreational park as well. At the time it would have been only for royals, essentially only for the Empress, but now the masses are traipsing through her dressing room and the places she use to worship. It’s like the people’s time and capital reverts to the people, in time.
The Forbidden City.
Sitting atop the Forbidden City, that’s what I thought. Here I was, a foreigner, looking down into what was once the Imperial Court. I’m pretty sure civilians weren’t allowed within kilometers of the place. As you go further down, there’s Tianamen Square, where lakhs once gathered to once protest before they were machine gunned and run over by tanks. A bit further there’s the pickled body of Mao Zedong (or a wax copy), the son of a farmer who rose to be the bloody midwife of modern China, after destroying as much of the past as he could. Then, only then, do you get to the gate that commoners were supposed to stay outside.
But it’s all common now. Unbelievably so. Some of the people had come from far afield and were shocked to see someone dark like me, smiling and saying hello. These royal places have all gone back to the people. Even thought the Communist Party has asserted its control over Tianamen, one wonders if their time behind gates is limited too. Looking back on history, it seems that everyone’s time on top is limited. In time, whatever and wherever elites held dear will be full of tourists, smiling and snapping photographs, reclaiming what the powerful tried to claim for their own.