Spotlight on History: Hidden Corners of Beijing
by Reg Micklewhite
As one of the several gou-rou.com historical reporters, it is always satisfying to find something that the other reporters neither knew about, nor were aware of. Brilliantly, this is exactly what I did this month. I cannot reveal my sources, needless to say they are some of the most experienced Beijingers in the city, possibly even beyond that. They handed me the following photograph and an address.
Above: the mysterious 'gate'
Obviously I had never seen it before, but some research revealed that various historical texts do refer to a "Gugong", as being somewhere behind a "Gate of Heavenly Peace". After months of searching, and more than a couple of bribes, I stepped out of a taxi, and crossed a small bridge-like structure.
I had arrived.
How no one knew about this place I am not certain, it is actually quite big, and even visible in high resolution in Google Earth. Also, it is right smack in the middle of Beijing. Still, for those of you willing to spend the few hours it takes to find it, and the few more hours it takes to get through it, this "Forbidden" city, you will find a series of oddly repetitive staircases, halls and side rooms. Legend has it that the Yellow Architect - the founder of all Chinese architecture - declared "Just as how I have seen some buildings before, it would be nice if there were some here" (standing on the site of the current "Forbidden City"). Now, the true origins of the "Gugong" are a mystery to all historians, yet I scraped some of the stone away from several of the walls, photographed the altars and managed to sneak out with several clocks, a support pillar and a medium latte. My analysis of these artefacts is:
- The Forbidden City was probably built sometime between the death of Qin Shi Huang and the An Lu Shan rebellion.
- It was initially intended to be used as a boring punishment for prisoners...
- ...but later was used for holding German and American captives, many of whom are still there today, being forcibly led around in groups for exercise.
- it was deliberately built so as to make people think that they can take good photos within it, but the tight angles and lack of anything that isn't symmetrical make all the photos extremely boring.
- the builders who built it were fond of coffee - which suggests that coffee was also invented in China, and it didn't naturally evolve somewhere in Ethiopia, as many people think.