The iconic face of Mao Zedong hangs high above the tall red gates to the Forbidden City. Slogans either side of the avuncular chairman invoke 10,000 years of glory to the People’s Republic of China. From here, the Great Helmsman gazes serenely across Tiananmen Square south toward the long lines of ordinary citizens who have come from all over China to pay their respects to his pickled remains. Farther across the world’s largest square, facing toward Mao, is another familiar portrait: Colonel Sanders, founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Your learning journey has now officially begun.
Walk under Mao through the rostrum where once only the emperor could walk and enter the first splendid courtyard of this 178-acre palace complex. Commissioned in 1407 by the third Ming dynasty Emperor Yongle, it took 14 years to build and for almost 500 years, no commoner was permitted to penetrate this exclusive residence to 25 emperors. From here each emperor until the very last little boy supervised the cryptic machinations of Ming and Qing Dynasty government, developing an inscrutable imperial bureaucracy run mostly by eunuchs. The buildings begin grandiose and formal, built on a scale to impress visiting dignitaries. As you wander north across the giant, polished flagstones toward the emperor's personal quarters, smaller pavilions and gardens emerge reflecting the intimacy of imperial private life. Look over there: the Empress’s Palace of Celestial Purity. Opposite? The Emperor's Palace of Terrestrial Tranquility. Between them? The Hall of Terrestrial and Celestial Union. Interested? Imperial Tours can arrange an exclusive visit to the private boudoir of Emperor Qianlong – “China’s Louis XIV” – who ruled here from 11th October, 1735 to 8th February, 1796.