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Thinking Makes It So: The concubine's new clothes

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By The Staff

What do we forbid in America? Same as they do in China: emperors.

But in pre-Mao China, the rules were different, and the word “forbidden” meant something slightly different as well. In fact, it meant you needed the emperor’s permission.

The Forbidden City, built in the 1400s in downtown Beijing, housed 24 Chinese emperors over 500 years, although “housed” would strike any visitor as a feeble, utterly helpless verb in the face of these surroundings.

The emperor was bedecked, glamorized and sequestered by some 900 buildings and 9,000 rooms, not to mention a moat. Each archway framed the emperor in vivid red, purple or blue and always shimmering gold. The massive staircases and bas-relief-carved bridges adorned his feet better than the most expensive shoes.

Or rather, they prettified the feet of those who carried the emperor, and, of course, the concubines, as they pattered between the palaces of Heavenly Purity and Earthly Tranquility.

My tour group liked to hear about the concubines. We giggled and cracked little jokes that maybe seemed funnier to us because we were being naughty in a foreign county, while representing our native land.


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