But while I'm there, you can travel to China again here at Words and Pictures and see some more of the extraordinary craftsmanship on show in the Forbidden City, Beijing. As always, remember you can click on the photos for a larger view - though as some of these were taken on maximum zoom, I'm afraid the focus isn't always brilliant... I prefer getting in close up!
You've seen some of the buildings and admired the rooftops. Today we're going to be getting up close and personal with some of the skill and artistry on display nearer ground level. (Catch up with The Forbidden City Part I here if you missed it.)
I will confess I had mixed feelings as I made my way through the palace complex. It is awe-inspiring, but it's hard not to be aware that this display of power and wealth was built on the back of virtual slavery - not of the 100,000 skilled artisans perhaps, but almost certainly of the more than a million labourers.
(At one point, one of our Chinese interpreters launched into a furious diatribe about the human abuses involved in the construction of the Great Wall - a trip I missed unfortunately, because I had to be in Shanghai a day earlier than most of the company to do some schools' workshops.)
And I suppose it was having the intended effect on me...
... I felt small and powerless in the face of this immense demonstration of authority and power.
However, I also became angry at the inequality of distribution of wealth. Anger at authority - not a luxury afforded to the people of Imperial China.
Still, you can't help but admire the work itself (even if it's a bit full-on for my minimalist tastes!).
It seems as though every surface - doors, floors, ceilings, window-frames, railings - is gilded, or carved, or decorated in one way or another.
There are the motifs we think of as traditionally Chinese: the dragon - the symbol of the emperor...
(Those within reach are worn away by being touched by millions of fingers for luck - yes, millions... more than 14 million people visit the Forbidden City each year.)
... and the lion. Look at this magnificent chap - symbolising dignity and authority - guarding one of the many stairways.
(And just wait til you see the lion sitting in the Emperor's private garden in Part III!)
I fell in love with this elegant bronze crane - he symbolises longevity apparently. I don't know... are cranes particularly long lived?
More bronze, this time an incense burner, more than six feet tall. They are everywhere, particularly surrounding the Hall of Supreme Harmony.
You can just imagine the intense fragrance wafting around the courtyards, whilst the burner must also have provided a little additional heat and light.
There are also vast cauldrons at regular intervals (308 of them in total, according to my sources) which would have been full of water to be used in putting out fires. Since the halls are constructed chiefly out of wood, that must have been a vital precaution.
(This one is iron, I think, and you can see one of the brass cauldrons in the Part I post, in the quartet of smaller photos all together, top right.)
Though the halls themselves might be made largely of wood, they sit on immense plinths of stone, or in some cases marble - and again the carving is exquisite, and there are tonnes upon tonnes of marble and metres and metres of carving.
This is the ceiling inside one of the Halls - carved, painted, gilded and with some more of the beautiful ceramic mouldings I mentioned in the previous post.
(I'm sorry I don't know which hall this is... I bet there's a way to annotate photos on the iPhone so that you have a note of the details later but I haven't found it.)
You probably spotted it in the background on some of the window carving photos above, but how about some crackle, folks?!
Yes, my crackle obsession found expression even here. Amidst all these glories, I've got lots of photos of crackled paint!
It is part of another magnificently decorative doorway...
At some of the entrances, the huge doors have these brass knobs - nine rows of nine making 81 in total, nine being the most auspicious number according to Chinese superstition, and therefore 9x9 being extremely lucky.
I read somewhere that nine was also associated with the emperor, and that the five claws on all the dragons' feet are also an Imperial signifier.
According to one guidebook, any commoner displaying the nine knobs or a five-clawed dragon could face execution.
Another lion looks on ferociously, with extra dragons at the ready, just in case you needed a further deterrent... and yes, more crackle!
Take another look at the brass window decorations near the start of the post - they do have five claws. And this dragon's foot, carved into the side of a large wooden cabinet has too, though the "thumb" is a little stubby!
This was an phenomenal piece of carved artwork, with the dragon hovering over the waves of a turbulent sea. Sadly, it was behind a glass window, and the other photos, including the one I tried to get of the whole cabinet, are too full of reflections to see much.
Just outside one particular doorway, I was rather taken with this huge lantern - again more than six feet tall in total.
Notice also the very high threshold to the doorframe... that's to keep out evil spirits and ghosts, and it's not reserved to emperors. You have to step high to step over a traditional Chinese threshold even outside the Forbidden City.
So, that's another selection of highlights for you... I hope you'll be able to join me again for Part III soon, when we'll make our way into the Emperor's private garden to see what and who he keeps there!
Thanks so much for stopping by, and I'll see you again soon.
The difference between something good and something great is attention to detail.
Charles R. Swindoll