Atop the City Wall, Xi’an China, ©2014 Jeane Vogel Studios
There’s something about standing on a 700-year-old wall, peering out at the moat through an archer’s window, taking in the ancient while dwarfed by the modern high rises towering overhead, that is humbling and a little terrifying. What does this wall mean to me? What does it matter?
And what are national treasures, really? I just toured the Forbidden City. (Sorry, photos will have to wait until I return to the States… the iPad refuses to import more photos, though I will try again!)
It was crowded and boisterous. I was in awe of the artistry, the history, the stories of emperors and concubines and lives ruined or elevated on a whim. This expansive complex, with a garden I could spend a lifetime admiring, all for one emperor. Who needed walls? And gates? And 27 bedrooms to shuffle his sleeping habits so as to foil assassins?
The Forbidden City is a magical mystery tour. Yet, this treasure, this planetary historic masterpiece, had trash dropped carelessly on the marble courtyards, and bottles tossed in the ponds and moat, and one teen mindlessly attacking an ancient wall with a frozen water bottle. Thank god he wasn’t Western. But I wanted to run up to him and demand he stop, before more of the tiles cracked. This is our human heritage! This is one of those places that shapes our worldview. If we don’t understand the nuances of the culture and history, it’s too easy to go to war. And the artistry! How DARE you attack the art, just because it looks like a common wall.
We shamelessly treat the treasures of our species like common tourist traps. It will hurt our hearts.