Beijing 1989


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China is a fascinating country, and it has fascinated the west for centuries. Its exoticity and relative inaccessability by sheer distance from Europe means that it is not a top holiday destination for Brits, and you couldn't have a place more different, it's like another planet. The world's most populous and third largest country, China bears little but increasing resemblance to the Western world. Its history goes back five thousand years, such things as paper and the rocket were invented here, and it was the Chinese who discovered and made use of coal, as recorded by Marco Polo. Today anything that is made is made in China, and the world's insatiable desire for cheap manufactured goods has fired China's economy into one of the fastest growing ever.

My first visit to China was in April 1989, a matter of weeks before the infamous demonstrations and controversial response in Tiananmen Square. We stayed in Beijing for 5 nights, and visited such places as the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, Ming Tombs and the Temple of Heaven amongst others. There were very few cars, rivers of bicycles, and most people were still wearing their communist blue overalls.

The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China. Built to keep the Mongols out it has stood in various forms for over a thousand years. The main length and spurs of the wall total over 4000 kilometres, much of which still stands today. There are sections however which remain collapsed after attacks by invaders, or simply through neglect. It is said that the Great Wall is the only man-made object that can be seen from the moon, which is a nice sentiment, but personally I don't believe it as the wall is only 15 feet wide. Even with shadow, you are more likely to see the M6.

The Temple of Heaven in Beijing, with my Mum. In China, earthly objects are square, and heavenly ones are round.

The Temple of Heaven

Chinese Soldier

A Chinese soldier next to an old statue of a dragon. There were innumerable soldiers everywhere in Beijing.

A small Chinese boy dressed in military regalia, perhaps just for the tourist cameras, but I am not sure. Note the blue Mao overalls in the background.

A Chinese Boy

My Dad in China, dressed for the holidays

My Dad in China, looking like he does in almost all holiday photographs past and present. I think this is within the Forbidden City.

Me posing for a picturesque shot with a temple behind.

Me in China 1989

Sarah at Ming Tombs

Sarah by a large statue at the "Spirit Way", part of the Ming Tombs, outside Beijing.

Sarah in Tiananmen Square, central Beijing. The square is outside the Forbidden City, where the portrait of Mao-Tse Tung hangs.

Sarah in Tiananmen Square

A very large cauldron

Here I am leaning into one of the many large pots that sat around the various temples we visited. Most were full to the brim of water, and if you could float a coin on the water, you were brought good luck and a wish.

Tiananmen Square, full of people. It was two months after this picture was taken that student demonstrations in the square turned into a disaster when the Chinese military brought in soldiers and tanks to try to clear them out. In the distance the entrance to the Forbidden City and the portrait of Mao can just be seen.

Tiananmen Square

Lama Temple

An example of the fabulous artwork adorning the Lama Temple in Beijing. The amount of time and effort that has gone into these creations is really quite amazing.

An ornamental ship ostensibly carved entirely from solid marble, sits in the lake at the Summer Palace. Probably carved for the delight of the Emperor, it shows the kind of luxury they could afford even in those days.

A solid marble boat (doesn't float)

Chairman Mao's Mausoleum

One of the sculptures flanking the entrance to Chairman Mao's mausoleum, Tiananmen Square.

There were many street vendors working in Beijing everywhere you go, and my Dad was all too keen to sample them. He bought some meat sold on a bicycle spoke, and gave me a piece. I am not the greatest carnivore that ever there was, but I knew this was not good meat, it was particularly chewy. "It's dog, Ross" he told me. Think about that next time you stuff down a hot dog...

Selling meat on bicycle spokes

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Copyright © Ross Wattie 2001