Tiananmen Square viewed from the north
Tiananmen Square is the largest open-urban square in the world (constructed 600 years ago during the Ming Dynasty), and is capable of holding 1,000,000 people at one time, yet today the law limits the number permitted to congregate at no more than 10. As a result of what the Chinese term as an “incident” in 1989, heavy monitoring of peoples’ movements and actions can be detected throughout the square.
The Man is watching
Despite this freedom found in the square, everyone in China seems to pilgrimage to Tiananmen Square to have his or her picture taken with Mao – including us. The Chairman’s face, which has been plastered on the northern most building of Tiananmen Square since he came to power in 1949, has been replaced every few months due to weather conditions (as well as a few cases of vandalism).
The Fulbright-Hays Group Project Abroad Obligatory Mao Group Photo
We climbed, possibly at times crawled, the Great Wall. It is steep, uneven, and slick! As one of our fellow participants aptly summed up, “Climbing up the wall was an adventure, getting down was an accomplishment.”
We climbed this!
Some parts of the Great Wall do flatten out, however, we were not in those sections. Our major obstacle in climbing and descending the wall was how incredibly uneven the steps were – sometimes you would step up one brick, sometimes three or four. Thousands of footsteps later, the stones are also slippery and indented, and necessitate that you grip the railing provided.
Check out those steps!
Despite the obvious need for caution, we saw one woman march right up the center holding a newborn baby! You’d think if you are only allowed to have one child, you would be a tad bit more careful. Yet, some warnings could be found, even if not addressing children in particular:
…isn’t that the point?
Ultimately, we made it to the top, and looked down and groaned at what proved to be a very slow and methodical descent.
Diane's view from the top
View from Beijing Hotel Room
20 of the 30 most polluted cities in the world are in China, and Beijing is the greatest offender. The disastrous effects that the rapid industrialization has had on air quality have seemingly gone unchecked, and as a result, impressive sites in and around Beijing are slightly less so.
Great Wall is there somewhere
Even on a day when the sun shone through the smog, the sky was simply brighter, but still a pall of gray hung over the city. With the exception of two years ago, when the government went to great lengths to improve the air quality during the Olympic Games (including cutting off electricity to certain parts of the city), the pollution in Beijing has gotten noticeably worse.
Murky gray at best
Wild Goose Pagoda
This pagoda was built in honor of Monk Xuanzang, known for travelling to India during the Tang Dynasty, and returning with Buddhist scriptures. The story goes that there was not enough food to survive, and geese fell from the sky – as a result, he was fed, and was able to bring Buddhist thought to China – thus, the Wild Goose Pagoda.
The pagoda was beautiful, and the sky was blue and bright. We have since moved on to Beijing, and have yet to see even a peek of blue in the sky. In large part this is due to the rampant industrialization across China.
Industrialization in Xi'an
Scattered throughout China is the Hui minority. These are people the government categorizes as both ethnically Chinese and Muslim. The government will no longer call an individual Han Chinese if a person converts to Islam, instead, they will be called Hui. This is not the case for any other religion.
We visited the Muslim Quarter in Xi’an, which is populated by the Hui. We spent our time milling about the markets as well as taking in the interesting blend of Chinese and Islamic traditions in the hard-to-find mosque in the center of the Muslim Quarter.
Chinese Muslims working in the Muslim Quarter
Hui Woman sitting inside the mosque
Hui Boy inside the mosque
Exterior of mosque in Xi'an
Arabic sign at the entrance to Chinese gardens of a Hui mosque
The Hui coexist peacefully with the Han Chinese, and have no known affiliations with the Uighurs, Muslims in northwest China leading a separatist movement.