China - Beijing, Jinan, Mount Tai, Chufu, Souzhou, Shanghai

This is our guide Richard. He has become a very good friend. His brother, Chunsheng (Born in Spring) spent 6 months at the U of IL in 2003 studying "governance" since he is in the Shandong province government. We became so close to Chunsheng, we (well, I) decided to "adopt" him. He was thrilled with the idea, but, then, Richard told us we (or, rather, I) should have checked with their mother first! Problems in cross-cultural communications, here.

Our hotel in Beijing was right on the main drag. It was gorgeous! There were cars speeding along the boulevard, unlike when I was in China in 1988 when all there were was bicycles. The boulevard was lined with tall hotels and fancy shops. However, about 2 blocks behind the hotel were the old-type cinderblock apartment buildings. I understand that for the 2008 Olympics, the gov't is doing a real "urban renewal" and clearing away ugly buildings for approximately 8 blocks on either side of Tienneman Square (it appears they believe tourists won't venture farther than 8 blocks in either direction).

After we looked around Tiennaman Square (just a huge empty place flanked by government buildings and Mao's tomb), we walked over to the Forbidden City. To get there you need to cross a number of marble "moon" bridges. Only the Emperor could use the color yellow, so the roofs of his palaces had yellow tiles and the buildings had yellow paint.

The palace complex has been rennovated fairly recently. It's really just a hollow box, with additional boxes inside. Along the outer walls are closed rooms (of course I peeked) where lots of old Mao-era photos are kept. Before the Revolution in 1948, it was not forbidden to enter the Forbidden City, but if you didn't have business there, it wasn't a wise idea. Depending on your status, you used one set or the other of the the side doorways.

This is the throne room. You may have heard the expression "the power behind the throne". We were told (true or not) that this came about because the Dowager Empress used to stand behind a curtain behind the thron and whisper her instructions to the underage Emperor(s). After her husband died, her underage son became Emperor, and when he died, her underage nephew took over. However, no matter who occupied the throne, she was running the show (and the Empire).

The Forbidden Palace is chock full of "stuff" -- some of it gifts to the Emperors from foreign governments. You can also look at the concubines' rooms which are interconnected. The rooms are simply furnished with a bed-couch and a small table, and that's about it. Were there more things before the Revolution? Nobody told us.