China: first impressions

If I had to describe China with one word, it would be “huge.” Everything is on a grand scale.

Tienanmen Square, for example, is the largest in the world. Its 440,000 square meters (109 acres) can accommodate a crowd of a million people.

Update: This image, which was erroneously identified as Tiananmen Square, is the Outer Court inside the Forbidden City.

This view of Terminal 3 in the Beijing airport doesn’t begin to convey its enormity. Terminal 2 opened in November of 1999 and was soon inadequate. T3, larger than T1 and T2, opened for the Olympics in 2008.

China’s 1.4 billion people (a population greater than any other nation’s) must of course be housed. All over China blocks of monolithic buildings are arrayed side by side, row upon row, each one a carbon copy of the other.

And of course, no discussion of China’s vastness can omit mention of the Great Wall. It stretches discontinuously for 5,500 miles in a vain attempt to keep out Mongolian invaders from the North.

Update: A new survey has found that the Wall is actually more than twice as long as previously thought. The new figure is 13,171 miles.

In the days to come, I’ll write about the many ways China is a country of extremes that defies the attempts of foreigners to define her.

Photos by Diane Vacca unless noted otherwise

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