Re-writing history

And then, as if by magic, I could once more access my blog. I very quickly updated it…

Each day, at the Emperor Hotel, we are handed a slip of paper with the weather report on it for the next day. We are also handed a little plate of sweet delights. These are lovely touches that make our visit a little bit special.

Looks like being a bit chilly tomorrow

Looks like being a bit chilly tomorrow

Of course, they don’t bother mentioning the pollution levels because, I assume, they are always well over 100%.

Two days ago there was an ‘accident’ at Tiananmen Square which, this morning, has been reported as a terror attack. I think the Chinese approach everything as if it was an accident then, following an investigation, decide whether to report what it actually was. In this case, the attack was from a terrorist part of China I’ve never heard of and involved a family suicide squad. Seems completely pointless if you ask me. Well, apart from ruining the enjoyment of other people.

However, I quite like the approach to downplaying something before you know it’s something else. I reckon we should learn to do that in the west rather than immediately assume it’s the worst possible thing.

But enough of that…today Mirinda went off with Sarah (who arrived yesterday) for a meeting with their Beijing office while I set off on my own to go and find an Apple cable and a museum and, hopefully, avoid any terrorist attack.

My first stop was Starbucks…not because I wanted to but because I had to wait for the Apple store to open. Honestly! For some reason (and I have no idea if this is a world-wide thing) the Apple store in Beijing doesn’t open until 10am on a Thursday. The reason I had to visit the Apple store, which we fortunately spotted the other day, was because I forgot to pack the USB cable and Mirinda has run out of room on her iPhone. Given this is her only camera, she’s somewhat and understandably, distressed. Anyway, I’ve now bought one and will move some files off her phone later tonight.

But enough of that…as well. Today was all about the National Museum of China which was so full of security measures that it was like entering Fort Knox. I assume. I did wonder whether this was because of the terrorist attack the other day.

And it’s not true what they say about the Chinese not knowing how to queue. I joined four of them today, with an awful lot of Chinese people, just to get into the museum and everything was orderly and civilised.

Security was so tight that not only did I have to be scanned by one of the big arch things but then given the full on sweep with a hand held metal scanner. That makes it sound like it was just me but, no, everyone had to go through both.

I noticed, in one of the many queues, that the Chinese have to show their ID card everywhere they go. They are then scanned. I guess that means the government knows where everyone is at any time. A scary thought. We nearly had ID cards in the UK a few years ago. I wouldn’t want this sort of thing to happen there.

Another thing that happens in Beijing (and maybe all over China for all I know) is that people may ask you to pose with them for a photo. It happened to Mirinda yesterday on the wall – a Chinese woman suddenly popped up and asked if she’d pose with her while the guy she was with took a photo – and it happened to me twice today.

The first time I had just taken a photo of Tiananmen Square when a young chap tapped me on the shoulder and made the universal clicky sign with his hands. I noticed he was with a young lady and assumed he was asking me to take their photo but, no, he wanted a photo with me and him. Quite odd but, why not?

The second time was in the Central Gallery of the museum. A young woman in clashing hat (pink) and coat (orange) and big clunky shoes, asked me to pose with her while her male companion took a photo of us both. I felt like quite the celebrity.

But, on to the museum galleries…

Interestingly, whenever I visit museums around the world, they tend to contain artefacts from all around the world (unless they’re specifically about one thing or person, of course) but not here in Beijing. The museum seems to only have Chinese stuff. At least I only found Chinese stuff and I pretty much went all over it in the five hours I was there.

I decided to start in ancient times. Actually, that’s where I ended up. There’s no map or guides or anything to tell you what’s where except for tiny signs near the escalators so it’s a bit like pot luck. Rather than going forwards in time, I decided to start at the end of the Qing Dynasty and work back to the Palaeolithic.

The only junk I found

The only junk I found

Having looked at almost everything and read every label that was printed in English (most of them) I have come to the following conclusion: The Chinese went from smart, world leaders in just about every field, sometime in the early 6th century AD to backwoods folk when the West rediscovered them in the 18th and 19th centuries.

It’s my personal opinion that there was far too much concentration on the very small, that led to an inordinate amount of navel gazing. Things like the tea ceremony or the finer details of the good harvest ritual, are excellent examples. It’s as if the ancient Chinese were so concerned with getting the minutiae right that the big picture just moved away without them realising.

These days, of course, they do BIG very well. The museum is an excellent case in point. This is a building on a massive scale, though for the wrong reasons. It could house an enormous collection of artefacts but, instead, it’s mostly air. The ceilings are extremely high and the whole place dwarfs anything in it…like humans.

And this is in the basement

And this is in the basement

Interestingly, the Chinese think that we introduced them to opium, causing their addiction to the drug. That’s not what we were taught. I suppose they could be correct. I don’t know for sure. They are pretty good at re-writing history but, then again, so are we.

I discovered, a little later, that the two main parts of the museum are the ancient times and the Road to Rejuvenation section which traces life in China from the end of the Dynastic period to the present day. This road is a road to glory, littered with all the bad things that tried to lure China away from the promise of greatness. Apparently, it’s now great. Mao followed by Deng has created a glorious land that is perfect for everyone.

Amazingly, there is nothing bad in China today. Everyone is free and the rule is democratic. It’s true! I saw it written a number of times today. Odd because the Chinese definition of democracy and mine are not the same. I could be wrong but the fact that they don’t have elections by the common people and they don’t have two houses to debate issues, tends to shy away from the idea of democracy.

The glorious day that China became free

The glorious day that China became free

Oddly, there’s not a lot of English translations along the Road to Rejuvenation so I can’t really tell what’s being said, however, the little English that there is, is bland and tends to lie by omission.

My overall impression is that I’m very glad I’m not Chinese. While we have had some awful struggles in the west, and while we may not be completely free, at least we don’t gloss over our mistakes and cruelties…not in museums, anyway. I know that ignorance is sometimes bliss but that’s not for me.

Even so, I was very impressed with the museum and thoroughly enjoyed my (very long) time there. Not that I walked around for the whole five hours. They have plenty of seats dotted around and I made full use of them to have little rests.

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