The Gate of Continuing Harmony – if only it were that easy
President Barack Obama took a break from business during his four-countries-in-eight-days Asian trip on Tuesday to turn tourist with a quick visit to Beijing’s Forbidden City. He seemed to relish the sightseeing trip, which took about 45 minutes, squeezed in after negotiating sessions with Chinese President Hu Jintao and before a meeting with U.S. embassy staff and a state dinner.
The sprawling Forbidden City, in the heart of Beijing, was built in the 15th century and home to China’s emperors for 500 years. The 980-building complex was called “Forbidden” because no one could enter without the emperor’s permission. Now a museum and a UNESCO world heritage site, it is normally thronged with visitors, but it lived up to its name when Obama visited, as no one was allowed in except his party, journalists and lots of security.
Guided by the Forbidden City museum director, Zheng Xinmiao, Obama walked through doorways and courtyards with names like “The Gate of Continuing Harmony,” a soothing thought after talks on trade policy, global warming and denuclearization. However, he ended the visit in a spot with a name perhaps less benign, given that China is the largest holder of U.S. debt: “The Courtyard of Loyal Obedience.”
“What a magnificent place to visit,” he said. “It’s a testament to the greatness of Chinese history.”
A Chinese journalist asked if he would like to come back. “Of course,” Obama answered, “with my girls and my wife,” referring to his daughters Sasha and Malia and first lady Michelle Obama, who are not on the trip.
Obama, who was been in Alaska, Singapore, Shanghai and Beijing since leaving Washington on Thursday morning, leaves Beijing for South Korea on Wednesday and spends one night in Seoul before heading home.
Reuters photos by Jim Young (Obama tours the Forbidden City on Nov 17, 2009)