Tuesday, 27 April 2010

northern capital

This is not a discussion about collateralized debt obligations, credit default swaps or other larcenous forms of financial legerdemain. In fact, ‘northern capital’ is the literal translation of Beijing, where my wife and I have spent the last five days, just as ‘southern capital’ is the literal translation of Nanjing, the Chinese capital during several important periods in Chinese history, most recently immediately prior to the Communist victory in the Chinese Civil War in 1949.

Over the next few days, I will be explaining why we almost didn’t get to see the Great Wall, reporting on ‘The Social Contract of Beijing’, telling you about the two essential food items that any self-respecting visitor to Beijing should seek out, commenting on the capital’s transport system (including an explanation for the odd fact that versions of the top-of-the-range models from Mercedes, BMW and Audi for the China market are six inches longer than the equivalent models sold elsewhere), noting in passing that you should keep off the grass in Beijing’s parks, and remarking on a few other curious observations that I made along the way.

Meanwhile, here are a few photographs to whet your appetite:

What is happening here? Answers on a postcard to the usual address.

Great Wall.

Another great piece of wall.

The obvious question is this: in terrain this rugged, do you really need to build such a bloody big wall just to keep people out?

Doorway, Forbidden City.

Ceramic wall plaque with dragons about 1.4 metres high, Forbidden City.


  1. Been there and done that. I think I know what's going in the photograph, but I'm not sure if you're joking or not about the postcard. Sorry if this angers you immensely - but I'm going to go ahead and guess that it's an outdoor barber's?

    If it's not, then you've got me.

    The thing about that great 'piece of wall' is that it's just a wall cut up into 'pieces' after countless years of conflict and degradation. Sad, really, and it was sadder when Yang Liwei said he couldn't see it clearly from space.

  2. Spot on Michael. It is indeed a pair of barbers plying their trade in the street (and, yes, I was joking about the postcard).

    The real tragedy about the Great Wall of China is the thousands who perished during its construction: and for something that from a strategic military point of view was a complete failure.


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