China has a long history of being dominated by outside forces and oppressive leaders. When the Italian explorer Marco Polo visited China in the 13th century, the Mongol warlord Khublai Khan was the Chinese Emperor. The Mongols were expelled a century later when the Ming Dynasty came to power, only to be replaced by the foreign Manchus. The Manchus ruled from 1644 to 1911, in what is known as the Qing Dynasty.
During the second half of the 19th century, the European powers forcibly opened trade with China. The Europeans took over large tracts of the country as their own spheres of influence. Finally, the native Chinese (Han Chinese) had had enough. They organized themselves into a cohesive group; first a republic, then as the communists. They successfully rid themselves of an obsolete emperor, their Japanese invaders, and the Europeans once and for all.
Revolutionaries proudly guard Mao's tomb.
The communists, under the leadership of Mao Zedong, became top heavy. Not long after the revolution, the oppression started once again. Mao allowed no checks or balances in the government and the people found themselves powerless and right back into their historic subservient role.
Which brings us to the near present. By far, the most haunting vibe I felt on my three year world tour was in Tienanmen Square -- site of the June, 1989 massacre. Hundreds of students protesting a corrupt and bloated government were indiscriminately cut down by the Red Army. Right in the middle of Tienanmen Square, quite ironically, is the Monument to the People's Heroes -- devoted to the freedom fighters of the revolution. Obviously, the monument didn't do much in the way of detouring Chinese tanks from rolling over its own citizens.
The Monument to the People's Heroes in Tienanmen Square.
Another strange feeling I felt in Tienanmen Square was that I was being watched. Sure, there were goofy guards staring with mouths agape, but there was something else. Upon closer examination of the tall light poles I discovered the reason for my apprehension -- hundreds of hidden video cameras monitoring all gatherings and insubordinate activities. Big brother was most definitely watching.
The front gate to the Forbidden City.
Directly adjacent to Tienanmen Square is the mysterious Forbidden City where the emperor of China lived for many centuries. Today it is open to the public and stands as an excellent testament to China's royally splendid past. The Forbidden City is a virtual maze of halls, courtyards, gates, and palaces all surrounded by a moat and high wall. Most impressive is the immense size of the city, and congruous symmetry down to the smallest detail.
A lion intimidates evil spirits from harming the emperor.
As much power as the emperor wielded throughout China, he was a prisoner of his own system. Governed by staunch regulations and an inability to do anything that wasn't deemed god-like, he became a role model for oppression. This sentiment lasts today.
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