I have kept many secrets in my life. One which I never tell is that I don’t like the Forbidden City. But not in a visceral and elemental way; my dislike is completely intellectual. Maybe for some people this is the biggest problem: I have nothing to feel for this old city. I am totally indifferent to it.
And so what now? I think it is just a shell. But as much a shell as when it was built to shield the Chinese people from the nomad herders who ruled them and who still slept in tents on the ground within the City’s walls. And so many objects have been taken from it: the clothes, paintings, weapons and even the clocks. If you want to say I am being too materialistic, then what about the people who made them? Where have they gone? Kings who slept on the ground now slept beneath it. But time does not seem to change anything; distance does.
I looked in the mirror yesterday. Things had been out of sorts for a very long time, but then they were made clear. I looked and I saw myself. The eye could see itself. And it could see the illusion of distance of all my possessions poised behind me, an arsenal of burnt out and second hand lives. This is what we inherit and which now clutters our homes. Why did those nomads build walls around themselves? To keep their “stuff”? To keep demons out and peasants in? -They and their horses went the same way as all the rest: into the deep belly of China.
I saw a building today, a temple of sorts, or rather, I saw its reflection against a filthy backdrop. The missing chunks of the wall were the missing body of the world which they could no longer reflect. All of this hurt, all of this trauma which the blue, blue sky above and the red, red sun in my heart weren’t honest enough to admit, I saw in this filth. The wall stretched on and on, like some mirror of truth, or looking glass which exposed the distorted and ugly reality of everything it reflected. With this mirror I saw everything so clearly. But it itself was totally blind. How funny it is that Prophets should be their own worst examples: am I the only one who knows Confucius did not have a happy family life? This is the culinary wisdom which comes from starvation.
There are many things which should not be told. But what of the thing without a voice? What of the silent protests and empty stages and the cavities which attest to what has been lost but not forgotten? But these desolate things can only be remembered through the memory of their loss. Me and the City, we are strangers.
Text by Shahin Firoozmand, photo by Anton Hazewinkel