Africa Locked up in Beijing

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PekingAfrikka

Yesterday’s post brought up the subject of stains and maps which reminded me of this rust spot on an unidentified utility box in downtown Beijing. We were on our way to the Beijing Ancient Observatory which, by the way, is an excellent place to have a little peace and quiet away from the hustle and bustle of the megalopolis: the inner court is cool and quiet and the ancient astronomical instruments are, well, simply beautiful. Most of the pictures online don’t do justice to the intricacy of the metalwork. You really need to get up close to appreciate the waves and dragons and clouds. And in addition to that it was only 10 yuans in 2010. Anyway, this spot of rust caught my eye as we walked eastwards towards the observatory. You know how it is: suddenly something in the stream of information bombarding constantly your brain just pops up and a usually trifling detail lights up like a beacon. There was a lot to experience in Beijing, trillions of details that are so different from my everyday environment, but somehow this shadow of Africa caught my eye. Could there be a more accurate random rendering of a continental form?

There seems to be some symbolism in play here. China is currently investing heavily in Africa taking advantage of its rising markets, but regardless of the rising star of many African countries and communities, equally many places are still in a kind of lockdown, stuck at circumstances that are beyond words while there are untold riches just around the corner.

Universe has a fanny way of pointing out things.

The Square of Peacemaking

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Memory of this encounter popped up recently. I visited Beijing two years ago with our group of tai ji (or tai chi alternatively) practitioners. One day we went to see Tiananmen Square, of course. Our shifu or master, who was born and raised in Beijing, had told us stories about how he and his family used to go to fly a kite there then when his was just a wee boy. And it is a strangely alluring place with the guards, the monuments, its contradictory history as the space of power and of Sunday fun; the gates of the Forbidden City on one side and the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall, seen here in the background, on the opposite side.

We wanted to have a group photograph and these high school kids stopped to help us. After one of them had taken a picture of us Westerners they spontaneously grouped around each of us for more pictures. We had such fun even if we had only a few common words to exchange. Of all the magnificent things I got to experience during this trip (the Great Wall, Forbidden City, the food, ah!) this turned out to be the most affecting one.

I wish I knew their names and where they came from. I so much would like to send this picture to them.

Tiananmen, the Gate of Heavenly Peace, is actually the gate leading to the palatial complex of the Forbidden City. But this translation of the gate’s name is not an accurate one. A more appropriate translation would be the ‘Gate of Heavenly Peacemaking’, the counter part of the gate on the south side of the square, Dianmen, the ‘Gate of Earthly Peacemaking.’ In between these two gates now exists an open square, a space, a void.

We filled it up for a moment. And every day the people, the ordinary and the power wielding, share that space with each other.

Evan Thompson

Professor of Philosophy, University of British Columbia

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