Beijing's Forbidden Kingdom and the electronic guide Part 1

If you're traveling to Beijing, the Wall and the Forbidden Kingdom are probably on your list of places to visit. As someone who works in the capital and has a background in Chinese history and culture, I have mixed feelings about tourists visiting the Forbidden Kingdom. On the one hand, the immense palace has great significance to Asian history and has played a part in several global events prior to 1947. I always learn something new on every visit despite my reduced interest in history of late. On the other hand, most of the details and relevance of the Forbidden Kingdom are lost on most Western tourists, as evidenced by the Europeans and Americans I saw leaning against the western wall of the Hall of Preserving Harmony during my last visit to the Palace Museum.

Unlike the national museum in Taipei or Shanghai, the palace museum really isn't a museum in the traditional sense of the word, as foreign visitors just follow the crowds or wander around looking out for English signs. Like most historical sites, it takes a few visits, or at least prior study of the Kingdom before you really gain an appreciation of the nuances of the site. The Osaka Castle provides detailed accounts and explanations of every single item and event that occurred within its walls, but the Forbidden Kingdom's long history, notwithstanding the language barrier, prevents the Chinese government from making the site easier to comprehend and friendly to incredibly ignorant tourists. Despite the wealth of China today, the palace museum doesn't have the same polish as historically significant locations in Japan, the USA, and the UK.

Considering the hundreds of mainland Chinese that visit the Forbidden Kingdom daily, and the utter discomfort those crowds may elicit from foreigners unused to their occasionally crude behavior, there are times when I would almost call the ancient site as a 'tourist trap', particularly if you have no awareness of Asian history and the role ancient China played in the larger scheme of Sangoku, Indochina, Japan, Mongolia, Xizang (Tibet), Baekje/Silla (Korea), Southeast Asia, and even India.

Note: If you're earnestly curious about Asian and Sino history, by all means visit the Forbidden Kingdom. But if you're just going to bitch and moan about the locals, the heat, the crowd and the lines, skip it and just check out the numerous virtual museums and free ebooks online.

Most tourists skip the side pavilions and halls and just follow the main route. You can actually take really good  photos of the carvings and the aged cobblestones if you don't follow the traditional path the emperor takes from one palace to another.

The electronic guide rent fee is 40 RMB (approximately 6 USD).

The electronic guide offered at the entrance is available in several languages. It's a bit cumbersome to hold and clearly nothing more than a printed circuit board with a plastic casing with soldered lights. A signal chip allows its to detect short burst transmissions from extenders located in specific points of the palace museum. Ideally, a recording plays back when you hit these triggers.

Continued in Beijing's Forbidden Kingdom and the electronic guide Part 2


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