Inside China’s Forbidden City

Inside China’s Forbidden City
April 12 16:32 2016

BY FEMI FALANA

[T]here’s something in human beings that makes them crave forbidden things. Give them liberty to eat fruit from every tree in the garden, but forbid them to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and they won’t rest until they eat from that outlawed fruit-just like Adam and Eve did.

Ban a book, saying it is not edifying to read, just as it happened to Lady Chatterly’s Lover by D.H Lawrence, and the book becomes a bestseller. Why? Because people love the forbidden. Or put NTBB (Not To Be Broadcast) on a piece of music in radio stations, because of lurid lyrics. That is when the song becoes a monster hit, topping the charts for months on end.

Again, declare a film as salacious, and injurious to society. Then watch it become a box office hit. Why? People love the forbidden, whether young or old. Tell your young son to stay off the cookies on the table, and when you turn your back, you hear the lid of the cookie jar rattling. Give an obstreperous child an instruction not to do something, and he asks why. The fact that you forbade him becomes an attraction, a strong pull. There is often an insatiable craving for forbidden things in human beings, be it liquor, sex, food, whatever.

As a young undergraduate of the then University of Ife 35 years ago, I had offered an elective course in Religious Studies. It was taught by a great scholar, Professor S.G Oseovo Onibere. He told us of the concept called mysterium tremendum et fascinas. It is a Latin expression, which means, mysterious, tremendous, and fascinating. The more forbidden a thing is, the more mysterious and fascinating it becomes. And that is why you can’t visit Beijing in China, without wanting to visit the Forbidden City. And that we did, so I’ll tell you about it. But first, business before pleasure (if you really can call an educative excursion pleasure).

The morning of Tuesday, April 12, 2016, was for opening ceremony of China-Nigeria Forum on Production Capacity and Investment Cooperation. It was organized by China-Africa Development Fund, alongside the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in China. Venue was Meeting Hall of Diaouyutai State Guest House. The event drew a large number of participants from both China and Nigeria.

As usual, there were many speeches. Xu Shaoshi, Chairman of National Development and Reform Commission x-rayed the potentials of China in production capacity, saying the country sees Africa as potential for deepening production capacity.

Qian Hongshan, Assistant Minister of Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said China was the second largest economy in the world, and the third largest investing country, while Zheng Zhijie, President of China Development Bank, declared that Nigeria was the first country to have its leader visit, after the Forum of China Africa Cooperation, which held in Johannesbourg, South Africa, last December. China had pledged $60 billion aid for African countries in the next three years, at that event.

Our own Okechukwu Enelamah, Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, noted:”The fact that President Muhammadu Buhari would be meeting both the President and Premier of China on this trip, shows the mutual respect between the two countries.” He said the fact that China was able to lift her citizens from poverty in one generation is something for Nigeria to admire and approximate.

“If China can do it, Nigeria can also do it,” Enelamah opined, adding:”Friendly business climate is key requirement for robust investment. We are working on improving Ease of Doing Business in Nigeria.”

And then, our President spoke to tumultous applause. This President Buhari commends the respect of Nigerians and non-Nigerians alike. He went down memory lane, tracing the diplomatic and business relationship between the two countries, submitting that it favoured China more in terms of balance of trade, and it needed looking into. He added that Nigeria must not be a consumer market alone, but also an investment destination.

I have heard unfounded comments that President Buhari often runs Nigerians down abroad. True? Not so. He is only always factual. And hear this:”We are committed to supporting investors looking to set up manufacturing facilities in Nigeria. This is evident by the appointment of a former investment banker and private equity specialist as my Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment. As someone with experience of investing in Nigeria, he has firsthand knowledge of the challenges investors face when coming to Nigeria. “

Did the President say that of a Nigerian or foreigner? And did he run him down? You decide.

Now, I know some people can’t wait any longer. So, to Forbidden City. Here we go.

The city was built from 1406 to 1420 in the reign of the Ming Dynasty Yongle Emperor. It served as the seat of power for 24 emperors, over the course of 491 years. And why is it called the Forbidden City? Because it was not just for anybody. Not for the hoi polloi, nor the flotsam and jetsam of society. Not for the proleteriat, but only the privileged and dignified. The poor enter at their own peril. It was off limits to them.

But then, the Hausa say “Seriki goma, zamani goma” (Ten kings for ten epochs) and then times and seasons would change. The Forbidden City, located over vast hectares of land, with over 8,000 buildings and 1,800,000 sets of artifacts, fell to the 1911 Revolution led by Dr Sun Zhongshan. Yes, the good does not last forever, neither does the evil last forever. The Qing Dynasty (which was ruling then) came to an end, and the city was turned to a museum. Millions of tourists throng the place today from differnt parts of the world. A place that was once forbidden to commoners is now host to anybody and everbody. That is why it is good to belong to everybody, rather than to a privileged few.

A tour guide took us round the Forbidden City, with its galleries of ceramics, clocks and watches, and other treasures, most in pure gold. Members of the dynasty really lived it up, drawing the wine of life to the full, and “the mere lees is left the vault to brag of.” (William Shakespeare).

The palace museum is believed to be the largest surviving wooden palace structure in the world. Most of the treasures, in gold, silver, jade, pearls and other precious materials, represent the highest artistic level of their time, and the splendour of the imperial family. Those of them who had died before the Forbidden City became a public place, would turn in their graves, if they know what has become of their much vaunted royal abode. The good does not last forever, neither does the evil last forever. Seriki goma, zamani goma. The pauper can become a prince, while the prince can become a pauper. Time and chance pertains to them all.

Tuesday also saw a colourful official welcome ceremony by President Xi Jinping for President Buhari and his team, followed by bilateral talks, and signing of agreements and memorandum of understanding. A State Banquet rounded off the day.

Wednesday Apri 13. A loaded day. Meeting between the Nigerian President and His Excellency, Zhang Dejiang, Chairman of the Standing Committee of National People’s Congress, then a visit to Tiananmen Square to lay a wreath, and then bilateral talks with His Excellency, Li Keqiang, Premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China.

Done? By no means! The President proceeds to address African Ambassadors accreditted to China, then he goes on to commission the new residence of the Nigerian Ambassador to China, and thereafter meets with the Nigerian community.