Building China's New Dynasty
By HARRY MOK
Blast San Francisco Bureau
Beijing, China - Walking up the steps of the Great Wall, I can only imagine the immense power and wealth of the Ming and Qing dynasties.
The Wall was built with stone blocks and stretches for more than 1,800 miles atop the mountains northwest of Beijing. Up to 30,000 workers at a time were employed in its construction.
Something like this would be difficult to build now, let alone in the 7th Century B.C., when the wall's construction began. I was winded on my trek past six of the hundreds of watchtowers on remaining stretches of the Wall, which are now one of China's top tourist
Next stop: the Forbidden City. Built from 1406 to 1420, it served as home and seat of power to the Ming and Qing emperors. No expense was spared in constructing its more than 9,000 rooms, which cover more than 720,000 square meters of land. The surrounding wall is 10 meters high and a moat helps to keep undesirables out. It sits near the center of modern Beijing, adjacent to Tiananmen Square.
Visitors today take a straight path through the center of the Forbidden City, a tour that takes half a day. Yet, this is only a very small portion of this sprawling mini-city within a city -
where there's a room for every ceremony, every holiday and every meal. The red and golden yellow of the royal court are everywhere. The emperors lived a pampered life, with servants catering to every whim.
But famine, internal strife and war eventually brought the dynasties down. The last emperor gave up his throne in the early 1900s.
As the current Communist regime attempts to build a socialist/free-market economy, new dynasties are being built. But these modern iterations use concrete, steel and glass to house their opulence. The new palaces come with names like Ericsson, Motorola, Lufthansa, Coca-Cola, Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald's.
Just like in imperial times, wealth abounds in these modern dynasties. One telltale sign - Hong Kong's love affair with beepers and cellular phones is taking hold among China's new affluent class.
Modern palaces are springing up with reckless abandon in Beijing: office towers, five-star hotels, American-style shopping centers and a new wing to the airport. Alongside these palaces, a pantheon of American fast food. I saw a three-story tall KFC and a Dunkin' Donuts. The world's largest McDonald's was recently torn down to make way for new development, but as compensation the company was allowed to open additional restaurants in Beijing.
And just like in imperial times, beyond the gates of the new palaces lies the squalor of the common people.
Beijing, a city of 12 million, still serves as the seat of power for China's billion people. At the foot of skyscrapers, traffic clogs the streets. Fortunately, there are as many bicycles as there are cars; otherwise an already smoggy situation would be much worse. Lack of public facilities forces some parents to let their kids "relieve" themselves wherever they may be. Panhandlers thrust their children at tourists hoping to tug at the heartstrings.
The calamities that brought down imperial rule were part of a natural progression. The new socialism of China may also be part of a larger flow of events. If this change includes democracy, even better. If not, it doesn't seem like too many people will care. The effects of June 4, 1989, still linger.
After Hong Kong reverted last year to Chinese rule, politics is probably not
a major concern to the average taxi driver or hovel resident. Like most people, they
just want a better life for their families. Imagine that.