City of Heavenly Tranquility: Beijing in the History of China

City of Heavenly Tranquility: Beijing in the History of China

City of Heavenly Tranquility: Beijing in the History of China

City of Heavenly Tranquility: Beijing in the History of China

Synopsis

When the world descends on Beijing for the 2008 Olympics, it will find the results of a helter skelter rush for modernization and wealth. In the course of a thousand years, temples and shrines, palaces, and gardens had filled the walls of old Peking. Its narrow, twisting streets held the collective memories of five dynasties and turbulent events of the 20th century. It has now all been swept away to make way for a new city filled with dull, boxy high rises, rows of shopping malls, office towers blocks, and residential housing developments marching down uniform streets. The City of Heavenly Tranquility explores how and why the Chinese buried their history and destroyed one of the world's most fabled cities, virtually extinguishing the culture of one of the greatest and oldest civilizations within the span of a single lifetime.

In a tour de force by a long time resident, British journalist Jasper Becker brings to life the strange and exotic lives of the emperors, eunuchs, courtesans, and warriors who for centuries ruled from behind the red walls of the Forbidden City. Becker mixes his own experiences with poignant stories from those who were destroyed in the tornado of destruction as they tried to rescue something from the past. Writing vividly and with passion, Becker shows how ruthless officials and a fiercely nationalistic government set itself the monumental mission to change the fabric of a nation - and succeeded. He also explains how those currently in power, Mao's former Red Guards, remain determined to modernize China by jettisoning the past and clearing space for the future, evicting over three million residents in Beijing alone.

Excerpt

The sales agent had a brisk, confident air, a pageboy haircut, and a demure matching skirt and jacket ensemble. She carried an executive leather case containing a sheaf of gold and purple folders with publicity brochures neatly tucked inside. Sunshine had chosen her own English name, she explained, because she thought it made a good impression.

‘This outstanding property’, began Sunshine Xiao in a loud and commanding voice, ‘is an advanced, modern high-quality project which offers European royal elegance … In 1999 it was chosen as one of the ten landmark buildings that comprise Beijing’s Central Standard Index and in 2000 it was also awarded the first Beijing “Best Property Honour” … We call this development the Middle Sea Purple Gold Garden. It contains the most luxurious waterside apartments in western Beijing. A world-famous international architect designed it with the motto “The harmony of man with nature”.’

I moved over to a large plate-glass window and down below could see the white marble of the Grand Canal, built in the Yuan dynasty some eight hundred years ago, and fed by water piped from the ancient Jade Spring. Many emperors, reclining in a dragon barge, en route to the Summer Palace, had come this way. A little further along stood the red walls of the Wanshou Temple, or Longevity Temple, built in the sixteenth century by a powerful eunuch during the reign of the Ming emperor Wan Li. It became a favourite stopping place for the great Qing emperor Qianlong (1711–99), a prolific poet. In one of the 20,000 verses he composed during his sixty-year reign, he describes stopping at the lock for a few moments one year, and noting the green fragrant crops growing on either side of the canal, before celebrating . . .

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