The Palace Museum in Beijing [Photo by Jiang Dong/China Daily]
Since the first day I became a correspondent covering the Palace Museum in 2014, I’ve been expecting this special moment－the 600th anniversary marking the Forbidden City’s completion. I always wondered how marvelous it would look by then. Today, “then” is now.
Nevertheless, to be frank, as this monumental anniversary actually arrives, it doesn’t appear in the most marvelous way possible.
No one expected 2020 to be like this. The COVID-19 outbreak has largely disrupted the planned celebration schedule, leaving many highly anticipated national treasures resting in warehouses for longer than expected.
Yet few people can resist the allure of the fact that its collection includes over 1.86 million items－paintings, porcelain, bronze ware, gold and silver, furniture－you name it. About 42 percent of China’s Level I cultural relics－the highest-status national treasures－are housed in this single institution.
But don’t forget－as the world’s largest surviving palatial architectural compound, covering 720,000 square meters in the heart of Beijing, the “city” is perhaps the museum’s most precious “exhibit”.
It has survived so many wars and social upheavals over the centuries. Indeed, the very existence of the Forbidden City is a miracle.
I can’t remember how many times I’ve been to the Palace Museum in the past six years. One-hundred-and-fifty? Maybe more.
But the magic is that I never feel bored.
I don’t regard it as a mere museum.
Because of the architectural splendor, sometimes I feel like I’m wandering through a historical theme park. And I still feel like a curious first-time visitor every time I visit.
No matter how many times I’ve been to the same spot, I can always find something new in a previously neglected corner.
After I finish my work in the Palace Museum, I often spend some time sitting in the Imperial Garden to meditate or standing in front of the Hall of Supreme Harmony to bathe in the breeze. It’s a way to listen to the history from the bottom of my heart.
However splendid the palaces are, they were created by people－many anonymous masters. And the Forbidden City is “alive “because every room you walk in and every brick you step on can connect you with human warmth.
I’m not talking about the emperors sitting on the throne in the old days.
What really touches me are the “new residents”, who care for this place like their home.
They seem to redefine time in the Forbidden City. It’s not measured by months or years. It’s counted by lifetimes.
I met Huang Yongfang, a carpenter who spent over 40 years renovating the roofs and pillars. He worries about how new generations of carpenters can master their skills after all the renovations are completed. I encountered Wang Jin, who sits in a small workshop fixing antique timepieces every day but seems to not realize that nearly half a century has passed in real time.
I met Chang Fumao, who has spent over 30 years progressing from a security guard who was afraid of “ghosts” to the leader of canine patrol during the quiet nights. And I met Du Yandong, a firefighter stationed in the Forbidden City around the clock over the past decade. His wife is in Beijing, but he can only see her a couple times a year.
Thanks to these devoted people, the Forbidden City stands as gorgeously and solidly as in its best years. I’m fortunate to listen to their stories and witness history.
Six years are still too short to fully understand the Forbidden City. Compared with 600 years, it’s fleeting.
However, compared with the five millennia of Chinese civilization, the centuries-old Forbidden City still looks young.
Although time will continue to change its ancient face, the “city “will retain a young heart, as long as the civilization it represents is robust.