International Study Tour – Tiananmen Square and Forbidden City

Guest post by Kathleen Helal, Class of 2012Tiananment Square

During our Beijing visit, a bizarre storm came in and blew out all the smog, dusted the city with snow, and cleared the skies for a picturesque visit to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. The day began with a walk through one of the largest public squares in the world. Tiananmen Square is rooted in political history, from its origins as a monument to the Communist Party to a number of political events and protests. Many of us remember the protests of 1989, which resulted in the death of hundreds of protesters, bans on foreign press, economic sanctions, and widespread arrests.

It is hard to capture in a photo how large the concrete square is, but I can say that there are no tall buildings to shield the cold wind! There is also an enormous flat screen in the middle of the square, evoking a tourist-like Times Square feeling. Vendors wander the square selling souvenirs and much needed earmuffs. As we huddled for numerous photos to stay warm, we walked over to the Forbidden City.

Luckily, commoners (such as MBA students!) are permitted to visit the Forbidden City. This vast complex of buildings is impossible to see in its entirety. It contains numerous palaces, halls, museums, galleries, temples, and gardens.  As the imperial palace and the home of emperors, it was also the political center of the Chinese government. In China, we learned quite a bit about harmony and balance in society and culture. The imperial family and those who resided within the walls enjoyed the life of luxury here, sheltered from the conditions of the common people. This would eventually cause their downfall. It is interesting to draw parallels between this and what we see in the corporate world today. When high-powered executives isolate themselves from their employees (physically and financially), the organization experiences an imbalance.  Speaking of imbalance, do you remember the Starbucks controversy here? They opened a store at this cultural site, and had to close it in 2007. Seeing all this historical architecture and centuries of tradition and a meticulously planned site makes one wonder what they were thinking in the first place when they decided to open a Western TMMBA Students at the Forbidden Citycoffee enterprise here! (I will admit that a hot cappuccino would have been nice to have that day…)

Although it was cold and crowded, we managed to get through a number of the sections and emerge in tact! No one got lost in the mix. At least we were not the tour group in the matching Burberry knock-off hats! I am proud to say that our group did just fine without that level of coordination.