Beijing Crash Course
Beijing, the People's Republic of China (PRC) capital city, was known until a few years ago as Peking, though the name was officially reverted in 1949. Beijing is one of four cities in China that has the status of a province.
Behind Shanghai, Beijing has China's second most number of people, about sixteen million residents. It is China's main hub of transportation with roads and tracks coming in and going out in all direstions. Most international flights entering and leaving China go through Beijing as well. Though Hong Kong and Shanghai dominate China economically, Beijing has the final say, the learning institutions, judicial controls, culturally more of an example of what they want to project to the world, especially as they open their doors. It will host the 2008 Summer Olympics, case in point.
With Beijing meaning literally 'Northern capital', naming cities this way is quite common in eastern Asia.
Beijing's brutal history is not easily summarized. The history of mankind in the Beijing area was confirmed to have begun atleast a half a million years ago when the bones, adornments and impliments of Peking man were discovered in a southwest suburb of present day Beijing. About five thousand years ago, communities based on agriculture started to appear. Legends say Huang Di, the Yellow Emperor, while not spending time inventing the wheel, inventing coins, the compass, writing, ships, armor and weaponry (quite the guy), he also conquered the leader of another tribe, and his son Tao established his base where present day Beijing stands.
Starting in recorded history with the Warring States period of about the Second and Third Centuries BC, warfare was constant amoung the seven states, but in the end Qin managed to overtake all and unified China for the first time. I could tell you every battle and name in a capsulated story that would take ten pages of fine print, but I am not going to bore you with that, search on line if you want those details. These guys were ruthless. It was a slash and hack fight to the top, taking on enemy gangs around any hill, doing whatever was needed to survive, or be killed, it wasn't easy, and running someone through with a sharpened sword because he threatened your food supply or your sex life, was a matter of course with seldom any immediate repercussions. But it couldn't have been that bad or few would have survived long enough to reproduce and raise a family.
Over the last two millennia, several family dynasties took top honour during various eras, each with their own personality, and way of handling things, designing governmental systems, delegating work, attempting to extend their power by making everything more efficient, trying to keep control of everyone as a unified people. Kublia Khan, the Mongol Yuan dynasty founder built Khanbaliq, just on the north side of Beijing along the Second Ring Road today. He chose the general location because of its closer proximity to Mongolia, giving northern China and Beijing a boost. Today parts of a Mongolian wall are still visible.
Yongle, the third Ming Emperor moved China's capital to Beijing (Peking) from Nanjing, known at the 'northern capital', in 1403. Because of the Ming Dynasty, Beijing's present shape took place. Many say Beijing was the most populous city on earth for four hundred years until 1825.
Numerous construction project finished completion such as the Temple of Heaven and the Forbidden City (1420), Tiananmen was reconstructed for the final time in 1651.
Beijing was the stage for the Boxer Rebellion between 1889 aand 1900. The Boxers began as an anti-foreign, anti-imperialist peasant-based movement in northern China where tens of thousands of Chinese Christians, Catholic and Protestants, were killed, many in Shanxi and Shandong Provinces which were strong contingents of the uprising. Government diplomats, and foreign civilians, legitimate soldiers and even some Chinese Christians hid out in the legation quarter for fifty five days until a multinational group of twenty thousand soldiers rescued them. Beijing was forced to pay the victims. It ended the Qing Dynasty and set the ground work for the People's Republic of China.
The regional warlordas took over and fought each other to control Beijing, and in 1928 the capital was again moved away to Nanjing, demonstrating the warlords were not legitimately in control of all of China.
Japan put in a puppet government when they took control of Beijing on the 29th of July, 1937. It later amalgamated with the Nanjing government.
The Communists marched into Beijing without a fight in January, 1949. On October 1st, 1949, under Mao Zedong, the formation of the People's Republic of China, was announced in Beijing.
Mushrooming Beijing has not escaped the problems that rapid urban growth cause, from traffic congestion, air pollution, the elimination of historic sites, and a noticeable movement from rural to urban living that depletes much of the city's resources, yet provides labour for the burgeoning industries as China opens to the world.
The government now plans to stop growth in the north and south directions breaking off the complete rings and rather limit development only east and west, maybe they are on to something!
Beijing is certainly preparing, and will proudly host an unbelievable Summer Olympics of 2008, you can take that to the bank!
Geography and climate
Beijing is situated at the northern tip of the roughly triangular North China Plain which opens to the south and east of the city. Mountains to the north and west protect the city from the direct blast of cold dry westerly winds coming from Russia and northern China's agricultural heartland from the encroaching desert steppes. Northwest Beijing is under the shadow of the Jundu Mountains, and the Xishan Mountains are to the west.
The Great Wall of China runs across northern Beijing making use of the rough topography to resist nomadic attacks coming down from the steppes. Xishan range's Mount Dongling is the highest peak at 2303 meters above sea level. The main rivers, Tongding and Chaobai, part of the Hai River, flow through the Beijing in a southern direction. The Grand Canal of China theat runs across the North China Plain endes its northern reach in Beijing. The Miyun Reservoir, which is the major supply of fresh water for Beijing, is on the highest part of the Chaobai River.
Beijing's climate is humid yet continental, aften affected by summer monsoons making summers hot and humid, and winters cold and dry because of the dry Siberian winds that swoop down into Beijing. Winter average temperatures are a few degrees below freezing, while summer averages are about 25 degrees. Beijing gets a little more than half a meter of precipitation per year, most falling in the summer.
Several dust storms each year come down the steppes carrying eroding desert material from northwestern China, filling Beijing's air and covering the city in grit.
One US dollar converted on December 15th, 2007 to 7.37 China Yuan Renminbi or Yuan or RMB or 'unit' is worth about 13 cents.
When you are looking to define success over the last few years, look no further than the economy of the PRC. In every category available, from GNP to disposible income at all income levels, you will see double digit increases each year. Real estate is climbing, car production is in its infancy, but escalating beyond belief. Seventy five percent of all children's toys are manufactured in China, often with their inherent lead paint problems. Since the world economy has literally gone global, thanks in a major part to the USA and their push towards a free trade global economy, China has not had an opportunity to look back.
The Guomao area of Beijing is considered to be the new cenral business district, with several corporate headquarters, upscale housing and fine shopping malls. Financial negotiations are still in the traditional yet expanding Fuchengmen and Fuxingmen areas. Zhongguancun is now nicknamed the Silicon Valley of China, expanding its computer, electronics and pharmaceutical enterprizes. Yizhuang in the south-east is also heavy into pharmaceuticals, engineering and information technologies. But along with the successes, China needs to concern itself with correcting the bad publicity of shoddy workmanship and the use of dangerous materials. China also has a long way to go in improving its image when it comes to pirated DVDs and designer label clothing.
Runaway development has also created several other problems that need to be addressed by the Beijing authorities. Smog is terrible, especially on a still day, and controlling the vehicle and industrial air pollution hasn't been a concern of theirs until now. People complain about the quality and quantity of the drinking water, the 'power saving' initiatives that so often plague Beijing, a glorified name for brown-outs, the cost of living is increasing often faster than the economy, especially electricity, natural gas and the cost of basic food. Many of the poorly or older factories have been forced to clean up or close up, and have moved to other smaller urban centers within China.
The Beijing municipality has a population pushing sixteen million residents. There is also a large number of illegal migrant workers, or min gong, but this number is unknown. They are called hei ren meaning 'black people', as in 'black market' and not their colour. The core population of Beijing, people living in central Beijing is about eight million.
Only five percent of Beijing's population are not Han Chinese, the rest are Manchu, Mongol and Hui. There is a Tibetan high school, for Tibetan students, and nearly all are only in Beijing for studies.
There is a big community of foreigners living and working in Beijing, obviously brought in by the booming economy, and China's need to start to reach out to the rest of the world. They tend to live in the north and east areas of Beijing. In recent years there has also been an influx of South Koreans who live in Beijing predominantly for business and study purposes. Many of them live in the Wangjing and Wudaokou areas.
Beijing has its own dialect, belonging to a Mandarin subdivision of Chinese. It is used in the PRC, on Taiwan, and even Singapore. Howeverm rural areas surrounding Beijing have a slightly different dialect.
The Beijing opera, or Peking opera, called Jingju, is a thing of city pride, and considered a high achievement in Chinese culture. They combine dance, songs, spoken words, gestures, fighting, all codified into sequences of action. Even for the Chinese, it is difficult to understand as much of the talking and singing is in an ancient dialect, similar to straining your ears to understand Shakespeare. Chines and English electronic titles are often used just to get you in the game, or on the right page.
Many of the siheyuan and hutong style homes, once so unique to Beijing, and of significant cultural importance, are now being replaced with highrise buildings in much of Beijing. Former owners are given equal space in a new apartment, but many complain it is not the same. For the Olympics, China has set a few aside, to be fixed up and put on display for visitors.
Economic growth and reform have leveraged Beijing into China's main transportation hub. Five concentric ring roads circle the city, ther are about ten major expressways leading in, our and around Beijing, even more national highways, railway routes connecting Beijing with the rest of the country and internationally, and the busiest international airport in China.
The two main railway stations in Beijing are the Central Station and the West Railway Station, each handling between 150 and 200 trains per day. There are three others handling regular traffic of passengers, and several smaller local stations throughout Beijing
You cab take a train from Beijing to the major cities in China, like direct to Kowloon, Hong Kong, plus various cities in Russia and Pyongyang in North Korea.
The high speed Beijing-Tianjin train is expected to be completed in time to impress the world at the Olympics.
Roads and expressways
Beijing is connected via road links from all parts of China. Nine expressways of China (with six wholly new expressways under projection or construction) connect with Beijing, as do eleven China National Highways. Within Beijing itself, an elaborate network of five ring roads has developed, but they appear more rectangular than ring-shaped. Roads in Beijing often are in one of the four compass directions (unlike, for example, Tianjin).
One of the biggest concerns with traffic in Beijing deals with its apparently synonamous traffic jams. Traffic in the city centre is often gridlocked, especially around rush hour. Even outside of rush hour, several roads still remain clogged up with traffic. Urban area ring roads and major through routes, especially near the Chang'an Avenue area, are often clogged up during rush hour.
Recently expressways have been extended (in some cases reconstructed as express routes) into the territories within the 3rd Ring Road. As they are either expressways or express routes, drivers do not need to pass through intersections with traffic lights. This may finally solve the difficulties in "hopping between one ring and another".
Another problem is that public transportation is underdeveloped (the subway system is presently minimal) and that even buses are jam-packed with people around rush hour. Beijing was poorly designed in terms of zoning and in terms of a transportation system. Compounding the problem is patchy enforcement of traffic regulations, and road rage. Beijing authorities claim that traffic jams may be a thing of a past come the 2008 Olympics. The authorities have introduced several bus lanes where, during rush hour, all vehicles except for public buses must keep clear. Chang'an Avenue runs east-west through the centre of Beijing, past Tian'anmen. It is a major through route and is often called the "First Street in China" by authorities.
The Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK), better known as Capital Airport, is about a half hour drive (if no traffic) north-east of central Beijing by the Airport Expressway. It is the home of Air China. Another expressway is being added for the Olympics, plus a light-rail system.
Other airports in the city include Liangxiang Airport, Nanyuan Airport, Xijiao Airport, Shahe Airport and Badaling Airport. However, these are primary for military use and less well-known to the public.
Only use taxis that you arrange through a legitimate taxi stand, pre-pay there, and get your ride into town. Be aware of scam artists who hang out by these stands, dressed to look like official taxi drivers, and they ask if you want to go with them. Upon entrance into their taxi, there is a false meter that runs far too quickly, and by the time you get to Beijing, you pay twice or triple what you should have. If caught in this situation, try and get the attention of the police, who generally are on the side of the tourist. Another thing, whenever you get in a taxi from the street, write down the licence number or any identification number in case you have problems later.
The Beijing subway system is growing with already two lines above the ground, and two below, and more are being planned for the Olympics, Beijing, the showcase of China. The city is huge, with more than six hundred trolly and bus routes.
Beijing has simplified its bus fare system from Jan 1, 2007 and rides anywhere are just a few Yuan so it is very cheap.
Taxis are nearly ubiquitous, including a large number of unregistered taxis. After 15km, the base fare is increased by 50% (but only applied to the portion of the distance over 15km, so that the passenger is not retroactively charged extra for the first 15km). Between 11pm and 6am, the fee is increased by 20%, starting at 11 Yuan and increasing at a rate of 2.4 Yuan per km. Rides over 15km and between 11pm and 6am apply both charges, for a total increase of 80% (120% X 150%=180%).
Mainland China entry requirements
All visitors to mainland China must acquire a visa in advance. In general, visas are not granted at the border. Visitors to mainland China must have a valid passport with at least 6 months' validity and two blank pages remaining (you may get away with just one blank page). Visa applications typically take 3 to 5 working days to process, although this can be sped up with the payment of extra fees to as little as 1 day if you apply in person. "L" (tourist) visas are valid for between 1 and 3 months. Usually 1 month is granted unless you request more, which you may or may not get according to events in China at the time. Double-entry tourist visas are also available.
At home you should apply to your nearest consulate, although it's possible to pick up Chinese visas in other countries while on an extended trip. It varies, but typically your visit must begin within 90 days of the date of issue. Note that although postal addresses are given below, some consulates (including all those in the U.S. and Canada) will only accept applications in person, and applications by post or courier must go through an agent, with further fees to be paid. Telephone numbers are given, but many systems are automated, and getting a human to speak to can be next to impossible; faxes and e-mail rarely get a reply, and websites are often out of date.
Applying for a visa requires completion of an application form that can be downloaded from many consular websites or acquired by mail. Visas are valid for the whole country, although some small areas require an extra permit from the local police. Temporary restrictions may also be placed, sometimes for years at a time, on areas where there is unrest, and a further permit may be required. This is currently the case with Tibet where, until recently, travelers were required to form groups before entering the region, and to pay a huge price for a tour (but they were not required to actually join it on arrival). In general, do not mention Tibet or Xinjiang on your visa application, or it may be turned down flat.
Some consulates indicate that sight of an airline ticket or itinerary is required, or that you give proof of sufficient funds, or that you must be traveling with a group, while they happily carry on business with individuals who have none of this supporting documentation. Such statements do provide a face-saving excuse for refusing a visa should there be unrest or political difficulties, or should Tibet or Xinjiang appear on the application.
I guess something good comes out of anything bad, and in the case of Beijing, its brutal and violent past including ancient invasions, European military interventions, the Japanese in the Second World War, and a cultural revolution, even the destruction of hutongs, has left some very interesting tourist attractions.
Within the Beijing metropolitan area
Buildings, monuments, and landmarks
- Forbidden City (World Heritage Site) - Zǐjinchéng; literally "Purple Forbidden City") was the Chinese imperial palace during the mid-Ming and the Qing Dynasties. The Forbidden City is located in the middle of Beijing. It is now known as the Palace Museum. Its extensive
- Tiananmen Square, site of the Tiananmen Square protests of May 4, 1919, 1976, and 1989. It is the considered the biggest open urban square on earth. In 1949, they enlarged it to the current size, its flatness is broken only by the 38 metre high Monument to the People's Heroes and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong. The entire square exists between two huge, ancient gates: the Tiananmen gate on the north and the Zhengyangmen gate, known more often as Qianmen or 'front gate' on the south side. Walking through either of these gates is like a Hollywood movie setting.
The Great Hall of the People runs down the western side of the square. The National Chinese Museum is on the eastern side. Used for ceremonial events and parades, Chang'an Avenue divides the Square and Tian'anmen. You will see trees on both the western and eastern sides of the square, but the middle has nothing, no benches to rest, no vegetation, just a feeling of wide open power. Giant posts support lights throughout at night, along with 'big brother' video cameras, security is tight, and both plain clothes and uniformed police keep a vigilant eye. You wouldn't want anyone to start a protest over human rights abuses and political prisoners.
Tiananmen Square has been the site of a number of political events such as the proclamation of the People's Republic of China by Mao Zedong in October 1, 1949, for annual mass military displays on all subsequent National Days until October 1st 1959, plus the 1984 military parade for the 35th anniversary of the People's Republic of China and the 50th anniversary in 1999 plus for mass rallies during the Cultural Revolution. It has also been the site of a number of protest movements, most notably the May Fourth Movement of 1919 for science and democracy, protests in 1976 after the death of Zhou Enlai, and the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.
The protests of 1989 resulted in the killing of Chinese protesters in the streets to the west of the square and adjacent areas. Some Western reporters who were on the square during the unfolding events reported that they saw no one actually die on the square itself, though did see bloodied people but could not confirm whether they were either dead or injured. However, Chinese expatriates who left the country after the killings said that the total number of deaths ended up being in the thousands. This was a combination of the hundreds killed on the spot and the "miniature" purge that followed.
As of June of 2006, the confirmed number of deaths that happened around that night is 186 according to professor Ding Zilin. You can visit the Tiananmen Gate of Heavenly Peace at the main entrance and the Great People Hall (the National Legislature), the National Museum of China, and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong while your are in at square.
The Monument to the People's Heroes - (Rénmín Yīngxíong Jĭnìanbēi), is a ten-story obelisk that was erected as a national monument of the People's Republic of China in memory of the martyrs who laid down their lives for the revolutionary struggle of the Chinese people during the 19th and 20th centuries. It was built in accordance with the resolution of the First Plenary Session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference adopted on November 30, 1949. On the pedestal of the tablet there are eight huge bas-reliefs carved out of white marble covering the revolutionary episodes, which are depictions of Chinese struggle from the First Opium War in 1840 to the founding of the People's Republic in 1949. The relieves can be read in chronological order in a clockwise direction from the east: 1) Burning Opium in the Opium War in 1840. 2) The Jintian Village Uprising in Taiping Revolution in 1851. 3) Wuchang Uprising (1911 Revolution). 4) May 4th Movement in 1919. 5) May 30th Movement in 1925. 6) Nanchang Uprising in 1927. 7) War of Resistance Against Japan between 1931 and 1945. 8) Crossing the Yangtze River Campaign, or Successful Crossing of the Yangtze River in 1949.
- The Summer Palace (World Heritage Site) - The Summer Palace or Yiheyuan, literally 'Garden of Nurtured Harmony' is
In 1750 during Emporer Quinlong's reign, it started as the Garden of Clear Ripples or Qīngyī Yuán. Artificial Artisans Kunming Lake was made to look like West Lake on Beijing, At the same time the Old Summer Palace was destroyed by the French and British in 1860, so was the this beautiful complex. And again during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900 when it was attacked by the allied powers. Both times it was rebuilt. Empress Dowager Cixi was said to have diverted thirty million silver taels from the navy to reconstruction and expansion of the palace.
Entering from the northern gate, the visitor first comes across Suzhou Street, designed to replicate the scenery of south-eastern China. At the top of Longevity Hill stands Duobao Glazed Pagoda. From the top of the hill one can see Kunming Lake to the south and southwest. The Marble Boat is at the southwest foot of the hill, and the Long Corridor runs east to west along its southern edge. Most of the other notable buildings, the17-Arch Bridge (Shíqī Kǒng Qiáo) runs along the eastern edge of the lake, directly south of the eastern end of the Long Corridor. Other features of the Summer Palace include the Cloud-Dispelling Hall, the Tower of Buddhist Incense and Jade Belt Bridge.
The Summer Palace is easily accessible from most parts of Beijing. Head north at Suzhou Bridge on the north-western 3rd Ring Road, north at Sihai Bridge on the north-western 4th Ring Road, or south at the northern 5th Ring Road at the Zhongguancun/Beiqing Road exit. Public transportation also reaches the Summer Palace.
- Ruins of the Old Summer Palace - Known throughout China as Yuánmíng Yuán, or the 'Gardens of Perfect Brightness, the Old Summer Palace, and the Imperial Gardens, it used to be a group of architecturally beautiful palaces with gardens, streams, lakes and ponds throughout totalling 865 acres, built during the eighteenth and ninteenth centuries, and was used as the adnministrative center for Qing dynasty emperors (they only used the Forbidden City' for ceremonial affairs). It was eight kilometers north-west of the central Beijing. In 1860, the entire complex was completely destroyed by the British and French, and serves as a reminder to not trust foreigners who can be so aggressive, striking humiliation in the hearts of the Chinese. One can argue that the British and French was not heavy thinkers in destroying such a symbolic paradise.
The Imperial Gardens were made up of three gardens: the Garden of Perfect Brightness proper, the Garden of Eternal Spring, Chángchūn Yuán, and the Elegant Spring Garden, Qǐchūn Yuán; together they covered an area of 3.5 km² (865 acres). They were almost 5 times the size of the Forbidden City, and 8 times the size of the Vatican City. They had hundreds of halls, pavilions, temples, galleries, gardens, lakes, etc. Several famous landscapes of southern China had been reproduced in the Imperial Gardens, hundreds of invaluable Chinese art masterpieces and antiquities were stored in the halls, making the Imperial Gardens one of the largest museums in the world. Some unique copies of literary work and compilations were also stored inside the Imperial Gardens.
The Old Summer Palace is often associated with the European-style palaces (Xi Yang Lou) built of stone. The designers of these structures, the Jesuits Giuseppe Castiglione and Michel Benoist, were employed by Emperor Qianlong to satisfy his taste for exotic buildings and objects. Sometimes, visitors unfamiliar with the former layout of the Old Summer Palace are misled to believe that it consisted primarily of European-style palaces. In fact, the area of the Imperial Gardens at the back of the Eternal Spring garden where the European-style buildings were located was small compared to the overall area of the gardens. More than 95% of the Imperial Gardens were made up of essentially Chinese-style buildings. There were also a few buildings in Tibetan and Mongol styles, reflecting the diversity of the Qing Empire.
In 1860, during the Second Opium War, British and French expeditionary forces, having marched inland from the coast, reached Beijing. Several units reached the Old Summer palace on the night of October 6-7 and began looting it. A short time later, on October 18, 1860, the British general Lord Elgin - ignoring protests from the French - purposely ordered the huge complex destroyed in retaliation for the imprisonment, torture, and execution of several British diplomatic envoys who had been promised safe conduct by the Qing government. It took 3,500 British troops to set the entire place ablaze and took three days for it to burn. Like the Forbidden City, no ordinary Chinese citizen had ever been allowed into the Summer Palace, it was used exclusively by the Imperial family. The burning of the Gardens of Perfect Brightness is still a very sensitive issue in China today.
For Chinese, the Western Opium invasion is extremely barbarous and ruthless. In particular, it was symbolized by the looting and despoiling of the precious Chinese national treasures, golds and jewellery, ancient artifacts they could find in the Beijing and then burned the Old Summer Palace nicknamed "China's Versaille". It was once boasted as the largest royal gardens in the world taking 150 years to build but reduced to ruins in a few days.
Victor Hugo, famous French writer in his "Expédition de Chine", a letter of reply to Captain Butler written on Nov 25, 1861, descriped the event as "two robbers who broke into this museum, devastating, looting and burning, and left laughing and hand in hand with their bags full of treasures; one of the robbers is called France and the other Britain. " In his letter Hugo hoped that one day France would feel guilty and return what it had plundered to China.
Following this cultural catastrophe, the imperial court was forced to relocate to the old and austere Forbidden City where it stayed until 1924, when the Last Emperor was expelled by a republican army. Empress Dowager Cixi built the new Summer Palace near the Old Summer Palace, but on a much smaller scale.
Only the European-style palaces survived the fire since, unlike the Chinese-style structures, they were made of stone . A few ruined stones of these European buildings still stand on the site today. This is maybe why unknowing visitors sometimes wrongly assume that the Old Summer Palace was made up only of European-style buildings.
A few Chinese-style buildings in the outlying Elegant Spring Garden also survived the fire. The Chinese imperial court restored these buildings and tried to rebuild the whole complex of the Imperial Gardens, but it was impossible to muster the money and resources for such an immense task due to the difficult situation of China at the time. In 1900, whatever buildings had survived or had been restored were burnt for good by the Western expeditionary forces sent to quell the Boxer Rebellion.
Most of the site was left abandoned and used by local farmers as agricultural land. Only in the 1980s was the site reclaimed by the Chinese government and turned into an historical site. The burning of the old summer palace is regarded as the most destructive action ever in history. Estimates place the loss from the fire to be 1.5 trillion US dollars.
There are currently some rumblings in China to rebuild the Imperial Gardens, but such moves are opposed on the grounds that they will destroy an important relic of modern Chinese history. Some members of the Chinese government consider that the ruined site as it is will teach future Chinese generations about the price of being dominated and humiliated by foreign powers. In addition, any rebuilding would be a colossal undertaking, and no rebuilding of above-the-ground structures has been approved. However, the lakes and waterways in the eastern half of the gardens have been dug up again and refilled with water, while hills around the lakes have been cleared of brushwood, recreating long forgotten vistas.
In February 2005, work was undertaken to reduce water loss from the lakes and canals in the Yuanmingyuan by covering a total of 1.33 square kilometres of their beds with a membrane to reduce seepage. The park administration has argued that prevention of water loss saves the park money, since water would have to be added to the lakes only once per year instead of three times. However, opponents of the project such as Professor Zhengchun Zhang of Lanzhou University fear that the measure will destroy the ecology of the park, which depends on the water seepage from the lakes and the connection between the lakes and the underground water system. It is also feared that reduced seepage from the lakes will disturb Beijing's underground water system which is already suffering from depletion. There are also concerns about the gardens, which are a designated heritage site of the city of Beijing, changing their natural appearance. This issue, when brought into the sight of the general public several weeks later, immediately caused an uproar from the press and became one of the hottest debates on the Chinese Internet due to the still-painful memory of foreign humiliation epitomized in the destruction of this once "Garden of Gardens". The Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau (BEPB) is conducting assessments of the environmental impact of the measure.
The Old Summer Palace is located just outside the west gate of Tsinghua University, north of Peking University, and east of the Summer Palace. The postal address is: 28 Qinghua West Road, Beijing, 100084.
- Bell Tower and Drum Tower - Gulou, the drum tower of Beijing, is situated at the northern end of the central axis of the Inner City to the north of Di’ anmen Street. Originally built for musical reasons it was later used to announce the time and is now a tourist attraction.
Bells and drums were musical instruments in ancient China. Later they were used to tell time and became watches for the officials and common people as well. The Bell and Drum towers were the center of time telling during the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. Although the Bell and Drum Towers have lost their function of telling time (The function was completely lost in 1924 when the last emperor of the Qing Dynasty was forced to leave the Forbidden City), you can still hear the rings of these ancient timepieces even now.
The Drum Tower was built in 1272 during the reign of Kublai Khan, at which time it stood at the very heart of the Yuan capital Khanbaliq. At that time it was known as the Tower of Orderly Administration (Qizhenglou).
In 1420, under the Ming Emperor Yongle, the building was reconstructed to the east of the original site and in 1800 under the Qing Emperor Jiaqing, large-scale renovations were carried out. In 1924, the name of the building was changed to the Tower of Realizing Shamefulness (Mingchilou) and objects related to the Eight-Power Allied Forces’ invasion of Beijing and later the May 30, 1925 massacre was put on display. Now, the upper story of the building serves as the People’s Cultural Hall of the East City District.
In the 1980s, after much repair, the Bell and Drum Towers were opened to tourists.
The Drum tower is a two-story building made of wood with a height of 47 meters. In ancient times the upper story of the building housed 24 drums, of which only one survives. Close behind the Drum Tower stands the Bell Tower, a 33-meter-high edifice with gray walls and a green glazed roof.
- Historic Hutongs and Siheyuans in many older neighborhoods - Very commonly associated with Beijing, Hutongs are basically narrow streets and alleys that were once formed around a communal water well, and as a result, they increased their security by keeping strangers out. So hutongs are formed when several of the traditional houses called siheyuan, with private courtyards are joined together. Later Hutongs were then joined together, and each neighbourhood bears the name of the original hutongs.
The Chinese were ahead of the rest of the world when they came up with the Siheyuan design of residence, but most famously in Beijing, probably because of the ever large population and thus a need for security. It is a gorgeously cared-for courtyard, often with a tree or two and a big fish tank, enclosed by four buildings, for safety, security and privacy from the outside world. The design has been integral for temples, residences, palaces, monasteries, family businesses, even government offices. The rest of the world is finally catching on to the design, as many Third World cities are experiencing the addition of several high-walled condominium complexes with a center courtyard, pool, gym, etc. and with 24 hour guards controlling access.
In old China, the width of a street or lane defined its name. No wider than nine meters, and no narrower than about forty centimeters, that a stout person could bearly fit through, if your siheyuan was apart of a hutong, you were very happy.
For the last fifty or sixty years, hutongs have been disappearing, to not stand in the way of progress, making way for roads, huge housing and office developments. Fortunately before they all disappear, the Chinese are starting to preserve a few for their history, and even better, as tourist attractions.
During China’s dynastic period, emperors planned the city of Beijing and arranged the residential areas according to the etiquette systems of the Zhou Dynasty (1027 - 256 BC). At the center was the Forbidden City, surrounded in concentric circles by the Inner City and Outer City. Citizens of higher social status were permitted to live closer to the center of the circles.
Aristocrats lived to the east and west of the imperial palace. The large siheyuan of these high-ranking officials and wealthy merchants often featured beautifully carved and painted roof beams and pillars and carefully landscaped gardens. The hutongs they formed were orderly, lined by spacious homes and walled gardens. Farther from the palace, and to its north and south, were the commoners, merchants, artisans and laborers. Their siheyuan were far smaller in scale and simpler in design and decoration, and the hutongs were narrower.
Nearly all siheyuan had their main buildings and gates facing south for better lighting; thus a majority of hutongs run from east to west. Between the main hutongs, many tiny lanes ran north and south for convenient passage.
At the turn of the twentieth century, the Qing court was disintegrating as China’s dynastic era came to an end. The traditional arrangement of hutongs was also affected. Many new hutongs, built haphazardly and with no apparent plan, began to appear on the outskirts of the old city while the old ones lost their former neat appearance. The social stratification of the residents also began to evaporate, reflecting the collapse of the feudal system.
During the period of the Republic of China from 1911 to 1948, society was unstable, fraught with civil wars and repeated foreign invasions. Beijing deteriorated, and the conditions of the hutongs worsened. Siheyuan previously owned and occupied by a single family were subdivided and shared by many households, with additions tacked on as needed, built with whatever materials were available. The 978 hutongs listed in Qing Dynasty records swelled to 1,330 by 1949.
Following the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, many of the old hutongs disappeared, replaced by the high rises and wide boulevards of today’s Beijing. Many citizens left the lanes where their families resided for generations, resettling in apartment buildings with modern amenities. In Xicheng District, for example, nearly 200 hutongs out of the 820 it held in 1949 have disappeared. The Beijing Municipal Construction Committee stated in 2004, some 250,000 square meters of old housing – 20,000 households – would be demolished in 2004. However, many of Beijing’s ancient hutongs still stand, and a number of them have been designated protected areas. The older neighborhoods survive today, offering a glimpse of life in the capital city as it has been for generations. In Beijing, the hutongs in the vicinity of the Bell Tower and Shichahai Lake are especially well preserved. Some are several hundred years old, and attract tourists who tour the quarter in pedicabs.
- Lugou Bridge, is better known to Westerners as the Marco Polo Bridge, it is a masterpiece of architecturestone achievement, one big arch in the middle and ten smaller ones, all solid granite. It is ten miles out of central Beijing. Marco Polo commented upon it as a marvel with no equal in the 1200s. Then later, an incident at the Marco Polo Bridge, sparked the eight year Sino-Japanese War starting in 1937.
The bridge began in the 1100's and had 281 pillars, each with a stone lion standing on it. When you get close, you can see smaller lions carved into the head, belly, back, and even paws, and each lion is in a different posture. Apparently some of the lions still remaining date back to construction, but they are rare, other lions have been added over the years, many more have been removed. The posture of each lion varies, as do their ages.
There are four huge white marble columns at the ends of the bridge, each having an inscription of life at the time it was added, the construction, the calligraphy of Qianlong, Lugou's Morning Moon.
- Eight Mile Bridge or Ba Li Qiao - is exactly eight Chinese miles (li) from the Forbidden City, once demarking the outer boundary of the City of Beijing. It was built with Ming architectural lines and style, but records indicate there has been a bridge on the site since the Yuan dynasty.
Eight Mile Bridge got its name for being ezxactly eight Chinese miles (li) from the walls of the Forbidden City. It once demarked the boundary of Beijing. Emporer Qianlong is said to have once travelled from Beijing over the bridge, when he decided to change his royal clothes into more travel comfortable threads, leaving his sedan-chair and opting for a horse-drawn buggy. On his return, he switched back to his royal clothes after bathing in the river, and jumped onto his sedan-chair, no one was the less for it.
The Summer Palace can be reached by canal from the Eight Mile Bridge. Emperor Qianlong is said to have commensed his six historic boat rides to the south from here.
During the Opium War in 1860, the Anglo/French forces were said to have killed upwards of 25,000 Chinese supporters here at Eight Mile Bridge, while the French only lost a thousand. The Qing court was forced to agree to all of the European demands such as paying indemnities and then acceptance of British and French diplomats within the Imperial Court of Beijing.
There is a pavillion now on the site to protect the calligraphy done by Emperor Qianlong, and plans to excavate the temple and palace once there are being applied for.
Presently Eight Mile Bridge is in a bad state of repair with graffiti and other abuse on the marble structure. Plans are to remodel it, after diverting traffic to another bridge that will need to be built, and eventually only allowing only pedestrian traffic over Eight Mile Bridge. Also planned may be a museum for the bridge.
- Prince Gong's Mansion - is Beijing's largest and the best preserved Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) princely mansion and is located at Qianhai Xijie to the north of Shichahai. This fine example of ancient Chinese architecture with its cultural connotations is important not only for its aesthetic value but as an asset to those who wish to study the lifestyle and interesting history of the privileged classes in the feudal society of a bygone era.
The mansion was constructed around the year 1777 and was originally the private residence of Heshen. As a member of the imperial guard, the handsome and intelligent twenty-five year old Heshen came to the attention of the Qing Dynasty Emperor Qianlong (1736-1796). Before long Heshen was promoted to positions normally occupied by the most experienced officials, including those controlling finance and the appointment of civil servants; thus enabling him to acquire great wealth. The aging Qinglong did nothing to curb Heshen's corruption but his successor, Emperor Jiaqing (1796-1820), had Heshen executed and his property, which was assessed at over 800 million ounces of silver, was confiscated. The mansion was passed to Prince Qing in 1799. Eventually Emperor Xianfeng (1851-1862) transferred the ownership to Prince Gong and it is his name that was to become that of the mansion.
The dwelling is a traditional courtyard mansion of a style that was very popular in imperial Beijing. The complex covers a total area of 60,000 square meters (14.9 acres). Just over half of this is the residential portion, while the remainder is devoted to an ornamental garden to the rear. The living quarters stand within three sets of courtyards occupying a central, eastern and western situation. The main, central section comprises the major hall, a rear hall and an extended pavilion that has some 40 rooms. The construction and materials used are similar to those of the Ningshougong (Palace of Tranquil Longevity) in the Forbidden City. Each of the western and eastern sections contains three smaller courtyards.
These grand and exquisite buildings are a poignant reminder of the pageantry and splendor that was so much part of China's imperial past. The garden, surrounded by artificial mountains, is known as Jincui Yuan, and is of high standing because of its layout and distinct design. It covers an area of 28,000 square meters (6.9 acres) and includes twenty scenic spots, each widely different from the others. The entrance via a cavern brings you into a spacious yard. A high but graceful rockery at the center point greets you. There are mountain peaks, ponds, caves, studies and pavilions distributed throughout the garden. The 'Western-Style Gate,' the 'Grand Theater House' and the 'fu' Stele to be found in the garden are referred to as the 'Three Uniquenesses in the Prince Gong's Mansion'.
The Western-Style Gate is a perfect harmonization of the western style with ancient Chinese carvings. The timber built Grand Theater House is to be found in the eastern part of the garden with a collection of old-time pavilions standing beside it. It has withstood more than 100 years of northern China's changeable weather and still stands firmly. The Beijing Opera, Kunqu Opera and selections of royal music are performed on the spacious and traditionally decorated stage each day.
Arriving in the center of the garden, you will be absorbed by the artificial hills. The stele was placed in a cave. The Chinese character 'fu' carved on the about 8-meter-long stele is a copy of the Emperor Kangxi's (1622-1723) handwriting.
Besides, there are other absorbing sightseeing spots such as Liubei Kiosk, Anshan Hall, Dule Peak, and Yaoyue Platform, etc. It is a place really worthy of a visit and you can be assured that every aspect puts the culture and life style of the Imperial China's elite into perspective.
Note: It is reported that the Prince Gong's Mansion will be open to the public as an all-round museum designed to exhibit the royal mansion life in the Qing Dynasty.
Admission Fee: CNY 20 Opening Hours: 08:30 to 17:00 Recommended Time for a Visit: 40 minutes Bus Route: 13, 107, 111, 108, 701, 810, 850, 823
- Zheng Yici Peking Opera Theatre - located on a hutong in the Xuanwu District of Beijing, is one of the best-known Beijing opera theatres and one of the oldest wooden theatres in China. The theatre was built in 1688, during the reign of the Kangxi Emperor in the Qing Dynasty. It was built on the site of a Buddhist temple. It has a rich history that includes performances by the grandmaster of Peking Opera, Mei Lanfang.
After the Cultural Revolution, the theatre fell into disrepair. However, in 1995 a local businessman sponsored a full restoration. The theatre now continues to perform Beijing Opera. It is considered a living relic and one of Beijing's finest monuments.
- Liulichang Culture Street - If you like curios, calligraphy, painting or other Chinese artwork, Liulichang Street of Chinese Culture is a must when you travel in Beijing. Liulichang Street of Chinese Culture is located south of the Peace Gate of
Rongbaozhai is the most famous shop in the Liulichang Street of Chinese Culture. Built in the early years of Qing Dynasty, it now specializes in selling authentic calligraphy and paintings of both ancient and modern Chinese authors. It is also well-known for its expert copy technique making the products created in this method difficult to distiguish from the original. Another well-known bookshop is the China Bookshop, where you can buy block-printed editions and hand-copied books from ancient times.
Guanfu Classic Art Museum is the first private museum in our country opened as recently as 1997, with displays of about fifty porcelains from the late Ming Dynasty as well as old-fashioned furniture, carpets and costumes of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Here you will appreciate the works of art and get a better sense of the history.
Beijing Opera Remains - Liulichang Street of Chinese Culture also had often been selected as the platform for the performance of Beijing Opera. These showy buildings and assembly halls have become a lively and bright sight for the culture of this street. This soil has nurtured many opera superstars such as the famous Mei Lanfang. You can still find the former residence relics of some of them.
Changdian and Haiwangcun Park - the noisiest place you may find in the Liulichang Street of Chinese Culture is Changdian to the south of the street. Since the Ming Dynasty, a large temple fair had been held for the first 16 days of the Spring Festival (Lunar Jan.1 - Jan.16). It became a custom for many to stroll through the fair during the Spring Festival in Beijing. Now, this characteristic festival has been resumed after many years' of decline since the end of Qing Dynasty. There is still another line of scenery in this area. Beside a branch shop of China Bookshop, is the old relics of Haiwangcun Park. Built in 1917, it was the centre of bazaar and the busiest place in Changdian. Many kinds of trades were carried out here such as the metallic works, stones and curios, calligraphy, painting, photography and musical instruments. The park was also decorated with many spectacular buildings like water features, pavilions and stone carving arches. The reconstruction of the relics of the park is presently at work.
The Beijing Municipal government has planned to invest much capital in the repair of the Liulichang Street of Chinese Culture. It is expected to be the earliest, largest and most aesthetic collection place of artware and a good tourist choice for the appreciation of the ancient Beijing before the 2008 Olympics.
- Beijing Ancient Observatory - (běi jīng gǔ guān xiàng tái) is a pretelescopic observatory located in Beijing. The revolutionary tools used within this ancient observatory were built in 1442 during the Ming Dynasty, and later amended during the Qing.
As one of the oldest observatories in the world, the Beijing Ancient Observatory covers an area of 10,000 square meters. This space is chiefly occupied by a ten-meter tall brick platform bearing several bronze instruments atop its mass. The observatory itself is located on the rooftop of what is now, an astronomy museum.
During the latter of the Qing Dynasty, the Allied Forces invaded Beijing, an act which led to the subsequent thievery of the Chinese instruments. Although nevertheless, as World War I neared closure, the instruments were returned to China by the French and German usurpers.
Types of Instruments
- The armillary sphere is an instrument used to measure the coordinates of the celestial bodies. This instrument is constructed of two bronze disks--one being known as the ecliptic armillary (for tracking the sun), and the other deemed the equatorial armillary (tracks bodies that are not the sun).
- The quadrant is an instrument built in 1673 and used in order to measure the altitudes and zenith locations of the celestial bodies.
- The theodolite is an instrument built in 1715 and used for measuring both altitude and azimuth coordinates of celestial bodies. The azimuth theodolite is a relatively similar instrument lacking only the ability to record altitude.
- The sextant is an instrument used for measuring the angular distance between celestial bodies, and is also used for measuring the angular diameter of the moon and sun.
- The celestial globe was built in 1673 and used to determine the time in which the celestial bodies will rise and set; as well as the altitude and azimuth of the bodies at any given time.
Temples, cathedrals, and mosques
- Temple of Heaven (World Heritage Site), situated in the southern area of urban Beijing, The Temple of Heaven, literally the Altar of Heaven (Tiāntán) is a complex of Taoist buildings situated in southeastern urban Beijing, in Xuanwu District. Construction of the complex began in 1420, and was thereafter visited by all subsequent Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties. It is regarded as a Taoist temple, although the worship of Heaven, especially by the reigning monarch of the day, pre-dates Taoism. In ancient China, the Emperor of China was regarded as the "Son of Heaven", who administered earthly matters on behalf of, and representing, heavenly authority. To be seen to be showing respect to the source of his authority, in the form of sacrifices to heaven, was extremely important. The temple was built for these ceremonies, mostly comprised of prayers for good harvests. Visit Temple of Heaven early in the morning to see thousands of Beijingers starting the day with tai chi.
- Temple of Earth, is northeast of the Forbidden City (just a couple hundred meters north of the Lama Temple). This temple, plus the Heavenly Temple formed a complex for spirit and ancestor worship by the ancient rulers.
- Temple of Sun, is located in Ritan Park, in the eastern urban area, around the Jianguomen area, near the embassy district. It is a short walk from the Yonganli station on the Beijing subway Line 1. The altar was built in 1530 for use in ritual sacrifice to the sun by the Emperor of China. Ritan Park is now a public park, and features extensive gardens and a small lake.Directly opposite it, at the other end of the city, is the Temple of Moon in Fuchengmen, western urban Beijing.
- Temple of Moon, located in western Beijing, the Chinese are planning to spend 190 million yuan (about US$23million) to restore the Temple of Moon. The altar of the temple, now a favourite for sightseers, was the site where emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties held sacrificial ceremonies. It's believed the 38 meters high launching tower of CCTV within the park will also been removed. Authorities in Beijing are committed to renovating cultural and historical sites in preparation for the influx of tourists for the 2008 Olympic games. Renovation work will also be carried out at four other sacrificial altars; the Temple of Heaven, the Temple of Sun, the Temple of Earth and the Sheji Temple, better known as the Zhongshan park.
- Tanzhe Temple meaning 'Temple of Pool and Zhe Tree' has been in existence for over 1600 years since the Jin dynasty, west of Beijing in the mountains.
- Jietai Temple - is located 35km (22 miles) west of Beijing and only 8km (5 miles) from Tanzhe Temple. Jietaisi, or temple of the ordination altar, takes its name from its famous Ming marble ordination altar. Built some 1,300 years ago, this altar is nearly 5 meters (16ft) high and is decorated with delicate and exquisite carvings. The temple was first built in 622AD during the Tang dynasty but most of the buildings in this temple date from the Qing dynasty (1644-1911AD). Surrounding the main hall are a number of courtyards containing rock formations and old pine and cypress trees. The temple is renown for its ancient trees that are the subject of many songs. It is said that the Chinese scholar tree known as the protector of Buddhism found on the grounds, is more than 1,000 years old. Other famous trees include "nine dragon tree" which has 9 branches that reach up to the sky like 9 flying dragons and the "mobile tree" which trembles even when only one branch is slightly touched.
Ticket: 20 yuan (US$2.4); 30 yuan during April 20 to June 21. Transportation: Take bus 931 at Pingguoyuan subway station, or tour bus 7 at Fuchengmen.
- Yunju Temple - literally "Temple of Cloud Dwelling", or alternatively Xiyu Temple, literally "Temple of the West Valley", is a temple in southwestern Beijing, most known for its stone Buddhist scriptures. Before September 1999, the stone scriptures were actually visible to the visitors; however, they were later stored away, and only a portion remain visible behind glass windows. The temple is situated at the west foot of Shijing Mountain to the southwest of Beijing. It is around 75 km from the centre of Beijing. Yunju Temple was first built in the 7th century. The temple was then progressively expanded and rebuilt in successive dynasties. However, it suffered destruction in the 1930s due to war. Reconstruction started again the 1980s, although the scale of the current temple is still far smaller than the original temple.
14,278 stone slabs dating bak to over a thousand years are stored in the temple. On them are inscribed Buddhist scriptures. Beginning in the early 7th century, a monk (Mong Jingwan) carved the stones continuously for over 30 years until they were completed in 637. In 1980, all stone scripture slabs were kept in an exhibition hall. However, due to the effects of air exposure, it was decided that they must be relocated to a location where climatic conditions could be controlled to preserve the slabs. For 19 years, some slabs suffered deterioration. In September 1999, the stone slabs were relocated to a subterranean exhibition hall where only some slabs were visible. All stone slabs were sealed behind a glass window. Such was the preservation work to allow future generations to view the slabs the way they were. Yunju Temple can be reached by taking the Jingshi Expressway and leaving at Fangshan exit (Exit No. 14A) or at Liulihe exit (Exit No. 18). Take a section of China National Highway 107. There are signposts guiding you to the temple (mostly in Chinese characters). The final leg will be on some local roads which offer glorious views.
- Yonghegong (Lama Temple) also known as the 'Palace of Peace and Harmony Lama Temple', is a temple and monastery of the Geluk (Yellow Hat) School of Tibetan Buddhism located in the northeastern central part of Beijing, next to the subway station of the same name.
YongHeGong is one of the largest and most important Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in the world. The building and the artworks of YongHeGong combine Han Chinese and Tibetan styles (and some Mongolian motifs).
Building work on the YongHeGong Temple started in 1694 during the Qing Dynasty. It originally served as an official residence for court eunuchs. It was then converted into the court of Prince YongZheng (Yin Zhen), a son of emperor KangXi. After YongZheng's ascension to the throne in 1722, half of the building was converted into a lamasery, a monastery for monks of Tibetan Buddhism, while the other half remained an imperial palace. After YongZheng's death in 1735, his coffin was placed in the temple. YongZheng's successor, emperor QianLong, gave the temple imperial status. This was signified by having its turquoise tiles replaced with the yellow tiles that were reserved for the emperor. Subsequently (1744), the monastery became a lamasery and a residence for large numbers of Tibetan Buddhist monks from Mongolia and Tibet. The YongHeGong Lamasery became the national centre of Lama administration.YongHeGong is said to have survived the Cultural Revolution due to the intervention of prime minister Zhou Enlai. YongHeGong was opened to the public in 1981.
YongHeGong Lama Temple is arranged along a north-south central axis, which has a length of 480m. The main gate is at the southern end of this axis. Along the central axis of YongHeGong there are five main halls that are separated by courtyards: the Hall of Heavenly Kings (Tian Wang Dian or Devaraja Hall), the Hall of Harmony and Peace (YongHeGong), the Hall of Everlasting Protection (YongYouDian), the Hall of the Wheel of the Law (FalunDian), and the Pavilion of Ten Thousand Happinesses (WanFuGe).
In the first court of YongHeGong there is a glazed-tile arch, Gate of Peace Declaration (ZhaoTaiMen), patterned with decorative dragons and flowers. Walking through the grand glazed-tile arch you will reach a three arch gate - the Gate of Peace. The central passageway was only for emperors. In the second court, on each side of the Gate of Peace, stand a Bell Tower and Drum Tower. Two pavilions stand symmetrically opposite to the north. Inscriptions in Chinese, Manchu, Mongolian and Tibetan are engraved on slates to record the temple's history. The Hall of the Heavenly Kings (Devaraja Hall or TianWangDian) in YongHeGong, the southernmost hall, served originally as the main entrance to the monastery. In the center of the hall stands a smiling statue of the Maitreya Buddha with a sandalwood pagoda on each side. On each pagoda stand many small Buddhist images, which symbolize longevity. Along the walls, fearsome statues of the four Heavenly Kings (or 'Celestial Guardians') are arranged. Behind the shrine to Maitreya sits the statue of WeiTuo, facing backwards to a large courtyard. A marble-based bronze incense burner stands on the way to the Hall of Harmony and Peace in YongHeGong. It stands 4.2 meters high with a decoration of two dragons playing with a pearl above its six openings. After the large incense burner, is a Mount Sumeru, a bronze sculpture of the Ming Dynasty that symbolizes the center of the world. On the top lies the legendary paradise where Sakyamuni and men of moral integrity live after death; the dwellings of humans lie in the middle, and devils abide in Hell below.
The Hall of Harmony and Peace (Mahavira Hall or DaXiongBaoDian) is the main building of YongHeGong. Mahavira is an honorable title of Sakyamuni. It houses three bronze statues of the Buddhas of the Three Ages. A statue of Gautama Buddha (Buddha of the Present, also called Sakyamuni) is in the center, flanked by a statue of Kasyapa Matanga (Buddha of the Past, right) and Maitreya Buddha. Along the sides of the hall, statues of the 18 Arhats are placed. The 18 Arhats were said to be the disciples of Samkyamuni who helped to diffuse Buddhism. A painting on the western wall is a Bodhisattva. A mural in the hall shows the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. The Hall of Everlasting Protection (YongYouDian) in YongHeGong was Emperor YongZheng's living quarters as a prince and the place where his coffin was placed after his death. Today, a statue of the Bhaisajya Guru (healing Buddha) stands in this hall.
The Hall of the Wheel of the Law (FalunDian) in YongHeGong, with 5 gilded pagodas, functions as a place for reading scriptures and conducting religious ceremonies. It contains a large, 6m high, gilded bronze statue of Tsong Khapa, founder of the Geluk (Yellow Hat) School of Buddhism, on a lotus. The hall also contains a Five Hundred Arhat Hill, a carving made of red sandalwood with statues of the arhats made from five different metals - gold, silver, copper, iron and tin. The Pavilion of Ten Thousand Happinesses in YongHeGong contains an amazingly tall (18m) statue of the Maitreya Buddha carved from a single piece of White Sandalwood. This statue is one of three artworks in the temple that were included into the Guinness Book of Records in 1993. The 18m tall statue of the Maitreya Buddha. Today, there are about 70 lamas living in YongHeGong. For a small donation, you can ask the lamas to bless things for you - something like a jade pendant.
YongHeGong Lama Temple is located just inside the north eastern corner of the second ring road. There is a subway train station here with the same name. On exiting the subway, walk south alongside the temple for about 500m until you reach the entrance of YongHeGong on the lefthand side.The Confucious Temple is close by, so you can consider visiting there afterwards. It has a different style and feel to YongHeGong. The White Clouds Taoist Temple just outside southwestern central Beijing offers another different style.
- Guangji Temple - Guangji Temple is situated to the west of Xisi crossroad, on the northern side of the street. Guangji Temple means the temple of great charity and it is one of the major Buddhist temples and the only Buddhist temple in the downtown area in Beijing. The temple houses a wall of 18 Buddhist deities, Ming dynasty religious relics and a library of over 100,000 volumes of scriptures in 20 different languages, some of which date back to the Song dynasty. These are of high value in researching Chinese Buddhism. The Guangji Temple now houses the China Buddhist Association. Important Buddhist ceremonies and activities are usually held there.
The temple was originally built in the Jin dynasty (280-316AD), but was completely destroyed during the chaos of the Jin and Yuan dynasties. During the reign of Emperor Shunzhi (the second emperor in the Qing Dynasty), more buildings were added and Buddhist schools were established in the temple, which had more than 100 followers. The temple was again destroyed by fire in 1934. Countless scrolls of calligraphy and paintings and valuable jade and porcelain pieces were destroyed in the fire.
After China's liberation in 1972 and 1976, two innovations brought the temple the current layout. Since 1953, the temple has been the headquarters of the Chinese Buddhist Association and a center for Buddhist learning.
Like most Buddhist temples in China, main buildings are placed on the north-south axis: Mountain Gate Hall, Devajara Hall (Hall of the Heavenly Kings), Mahavira Hall (Daxiongbaodian), Treasure Hall and other side halls.
A two-meter high bronze Ding (a kind of bronze vessel usually found in front of a hall in Buddhist temples) on a granite foundation inside the Mahavira Hall is known for exquisitely-carved designs of Wheel, Conch Shell, Umbrella, Gan, Flower, Vase, Fish and Knot of Eternity. They are eight sacred symbols in Buddhist.
On the back wall In the northwestern end of the temple is a terrace where Buddhist dignitaries give lectures. The terrace and a hall beside it are the only two original buildings in the temple.
- Confucius Temple - located on Guozijian Street inside Anding Gate, the Temple of Confucius in Beijing is the place where people paid homage to Confucius during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Now the temple houses the Beijing Capital Museum. The Temple of Confucius was initially built in 1302 and additions were made during the Ming and Qing dynasties. It has a total area of 22,000 square meters (5.4 acres). It is the second largest temple constructed for Confucius, the greatest thinker and educationalist in ancient China, ranking only behind the Temple of Confucius in Qufu, Shandong Province.
This temple consists of four courtyards. The main structures include Xianshi Gate (Gate of the First Teacher), Dacheng Gate (Gate of Great Accomplishment), Dacheng Hall (Hall of Great Accomplishment) and Chongshengci (Worship Hall). Dacheng Hall is the main building in the temple, where the memorial ceremony for Confucius was often held. Inside the temple one can see that 198 stone tablets are positioned on either side of the front courtyard, containing 51,624 names of Jinshi (the advanced scholars) of the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. Also 14 stone stele pavilions of the Ming and Qing dynasties hold the precious historical information of ancient China.
One item of note is the 700-year-old Chujian Bai (Touch Evil Cypress) in the temple. Its name is associated with an ancient legend. During the Ming Dynasty, one day the superior official-Yan Song came to worship Confucius on behalf of the emperor. When he was passing by the cypress, one of the branches of the tree took his hat off. Since Yan Song was a treacherous official, people have thought the old tree could distinguish between good and evil people. Hence its name.
In the temple, you can also find remarkable pictures like two flying dragons playing a pearl among clouds, which are believed to be used only in the imperial palaces because dragon stands for emperor in ancient China. From those, it is easy to imagine the importance of the Confucius Temple in the feudal society of China.
Admission Fee:CNY 10 Opening Hours: 08:30 to 17:00 Recommended Time for a Visit: One hour
- Great Bell Temple - like the Chinese knots, the bell is considered as an auspicious article in the Chinese tradition. On the grand ceremonies, people usually ring the bells 108 times to begin the celebration. It is said that there are 12 months, 24 solar terms and 72 hou (5 days a hou) on the Chinese lunar calendar, 108 in all and according to Buddhism, people have 108 worries which will be removed by the bell. The bell-ringing on the eve of the Chinese Spring Festival would captivate many people as its echo carries around the vicinity, whether you were close by or just heard it via the TV broadcast. Here, in the Great Bell Temple (Dazhong Si), you could take a very close look at the grandness of this very significant great bell.
The Great Bell Temple, located in the Haidian District of Beijing, was built in the year 1733 of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and initially bestowed with the name 'Juesheng Si'. 10 years later during the reign of another emperor, a great bell was moved into the temple, hence the name. Since then, it was often chosen by the emperors to pray for rain and blessings for the people
The temple displays a number of many large buildings, such as the Mountain Gate, the Bell and Drum Tower, the Scripture Collection Pavilion, the Great Bell Tower and other halls. Among these, the Great Bell Tower is the main part, which is a circular shape on the top and square below according to the Chinese saying that 'the sky is circular and the earth is square'.
The Great Bell is hanging in the Great Bell Tower. Made in 1403, the first year of Emperor Yongle in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the bell was one of the three projects that he commanded after reestablishing Beijing as the capital. Another two were the famous Forbidden City and Temple of Heaven.
The bell weighs 46.5 tons (102, 514.95 pound), with a height of 6.94 m. (22.77 feet). It is inscribed with Buddhist Mantras all around both the inside and outside of the body, over 227,000 characters in all. Skillfully designed, it sounds crisp and sweet by ringing lightly, while it sends a deep and resounding tone from a forcible strike which can be carried 15 kilometers (9.32 miles) away. For these excellent and unique characteristics, it is called 'the King of Ancient Bells' by the people.
Then how was this heavy bell hung on the top of the building? After the bell was made, they waited until the winter came. Then they dug a well every 500 meters (1,640.42 feet) and ditches along the entire way to bring the water on the ground, which was able to turn into the ice soon. So they pushed the bell along the surface to the icy earth piles in the temple. Finally they started to construct the Bell Tower and hung the bell from the top. When the spring came the following year, the ice was dissolved and they began to remove the mounds of earth.
The Ancient Bell Museum that was built in 1985, displays hundreds of cultural artifacts, including many valuable bells made in ancient China and other foreign countries. You easily gain the impression that you are walking into a kingdom of bells when you see them all. Here, you also have the chance to appreciate both the Chinese and foreign music and songs played by the famous chime bell of Marquis Yi of Zeng. (Zeng is a small country in the Warring States, 476 BC-221 BC), which can also be found at the Hubei Provincial Museum. The bells were delivered in three layers, 65 pieces in all and made from bronze.
Additionally, if you would like to own a bell yourself, you can ask the authorized designers to either replicate or make one for you to mark an occasion, like wedding or other happy events.
Admission Fee: CNY 10 Opening Hours: 08:30 to 16:30 Recommended Time for a Visit: 50 minutes Bus Route: 302, 300, 367, 718
Other temples, cathedrals and mosques
- Fa Yuan Temple
- Miaoying Temple
- Zhen Jue Temple
- Wanshou Temple
- Five Pagoda Temple
- Zhihua Si Temple
- Temple of Azure Clouds
- Temple of Recumbent Buddha
- White Dagoba Temple in Beihai Park
- Immaculate Conception Cathedral
- Holy Saviour Church
- Niujie Mosque
Parks and gardens
- Beihai Park - Beihai (North Lake) Park, named in conjunction with Middle Lake and South Lake, is situated to the west of the Palace Museum and Jingshan Park in Beijing. It covers a total area of over 68 hectares. More than half of it is taken up by the lake. The Park, broad in scale and elegantly arranged, is a beautiful imperial garden in Beijing as well as a masterpiece of ancient Chinese gardens still standing.
The Qionghua Islet lies on the southern part of Taiye Lake, with its constructions in total harmony with the Hill terrain and shrouded in green pines and cypresses. In the south there are Yongan Temple, Falun (Wheel of the Law) Hall and the Zhengjue Hall. The Islet links with the shore by a marble bridge in the southeast. With the picturesque Jingshan Park and the splendid Palace Museum standing close by, they enhance each other beauty. Amid the greenness, stands a tablet with an inscription by Emperor Qianlong, of "Qiongdaochunyin" (Spring Shade of Jade Islet) in Qing Dynasty. It's one of the eight famous sights in ancient Beijing. At the northern foot of the Hill and by the lakeside, lies a 60-bay and 2-storeyed corridor, resembling a colorful ribbon tied around the waist of Qionghua Islet. Travelling among the grotesque rocks and through the deep, cool and secluded caves, one moment you come out halfway up the Hill, and another moment, you are down at the bottom, mesmerized by the uncanny creation. The upside down reflections of the buildings on the Hill and the corridor upon the lake are picturesque.
The Round City standing among the Palace Museum, Jingshan Park, Zhongnan Lake and Beihai Lake, enjoys the reputation of being "A City within Beijing City". It is covered by luxuriant pines and cypresses and the buildings with glazed tiles and red walls. It has become a beautiful scenic spot in Beijing.
- Shichahai - is a famous scenic area that includes three lakes (Qian Hai, meaning Front Sea; Hou Hai, meaning Back Sea and Xi Hai, meaning Western Sea), surrounding places of historic interest and scenic beauty, and remnants of old-style Beijing residences, Hutong and Courtyard. It is located in the northwest part of Beijing, and covers a large area of 146.7 hectares (about 363 acres).
The history of Shichahai can be traced to as far back as the Jin Dynasty (1115 - 1234). During the Yuan Dynasty (1271 - 1368), it was the terminal point of the Great Canal, which was a main reason for its prosperity. In the period of the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644), when the channels ceased to be as smooth as they used to be, Shichahai changed from a bustling hub to a place of leisure where people could stroll around to admire the vast scenery or enjoy the cool shade under willows trees.
Shichahai is always a good place for local Beijingers’ recreational life, and in the last 200 years, many governmental officers, celebrities, monks and nuns chose to build mansions, temples and nunneries in Shichahai. Thus, Shichahai’s attraction lies not only in its natural beauty, but also in the historical value of its architecture. The most famous ones among these historical buildings are Gong Wang Fu (Prince Gong’s Mansion, Chun Wang Fu (Price Chun’s Mansion), the Former Residence of Song Qing Ling, the Former Residence of Mei Lan Fang (the well-known Peking Opera master) and Guang Hua Temple.
The greatest point of interest in Shichahai today is its residences, Hutong and Courtyard. In and around Beijing City, Shichahai is one of the best places to view well-preserved Hutongs and courtyards. Visiting Hutongs by pedicab has become a popular activity for visitors from China and abroad. The most famous Hutong is Jin Si Tao, which actually includes 18 hutongs and keeps the original layout of Hutong Area. Another one is Yan Dai Xie Jie, meaning an oblique street which looks like a long-stemmed pipe. This street used to be a famous street selling long-stemmed pipes.
People can also find two Old Brands in Shichahai. One is Kao Rou Ji, a restaurant selling roast meat, which has a history of over 150 years. The other is Bao Du Zhang, which has sold cooked tripe of sheep for four generations. By visiting Shichahai, visitors will get an authentic taste of the style and features of Old Beijing.
- Jingshan Park - lies directly north of the Forbidden City. It is 57 acres in area. The park first appeared around 1180 during the Jin Dynasty, although in imperial times the park was for the exclusive use of the emperor. The park is centered around a hill - the only one in Beijing city. This artificial hill was constructed entirely from the soil and rocks excavated in forming the moats of the Forbidden City and nearby canals around 1420. This is especially impressive when one considers that all of this material was moved by hand, using only animal power. The hill is 48m high - this doesn't seem very high but because Beijing is otherwise flat, the top offers good views, including the Forbidden City directly to the south.
According to the dictates of Feng Shui, it is favorable to site a residence to the south of a hill (gaining protection from chilly northern winds). Hence the hill is popularly known as 'Feng Shui Hill'. It is also known as 'Coal Hill', a direct translation of its old Chinese name (MeiShan) from a time when coal was stored around it. In 1655, during the Qing Dynasty, the name was changed to JingShan. 'Shan' means hill or mountain in chinese. On the summit of JingShan Hill are five scenery viewing pavilions. The highest pavilion is called WanChun Pavilion ('Ten Thousand Springs' pavilion). There are four others - two each on the east and west sides. Originally, each of these pavilions contained a copper Buddha symbolizing the five kinds of taste: acid, spicy, bitter, sweet and salty.
However, in 1900 the Allied Forces of the Eight Powers looted four of these five Buddhas, and the fifth was destroyed.ingshan Park (Jingshan Gongyuan) was a part of the Forbidden City until the early 1900's when the walls were pulled down and a road cut through it destroying several gates and Other parks and gardens include:buildings between the park and the rear entrance of the palace.Jingshan Park (Jingshan Gongyuan) was a part of the Forbidden City until the early 1900's when the walls were pulled down and a road cut through it destroying several gates and buildings.
Other things to do
- The Grandview Garden (Daguanyuan)
- Beijing Botanical Garden
- Taoranting Park
- Beijing Zoo - they have Pandas, but displays are not great, your best bet is to go to the Panda breeding centre in Chengdu, Sichuan province. Some think the Zoo is one of the worst you will ever see (partly because of the way they treat animals), but the aquarium is one of the biggest in the world, and very impressive. The Zoo was built on the sites of some ancient gardens, has lakes, pounds, pavilions and other beautiful old buildings. The Soviet revival Beijing Exhibition Hall located nearby, which has a Russian restaurant, "Moscow Restaurant".
- China Aviation Museum is a must see for all aviation fans. It is located about 50 km outside Beijing in Changping District and is probably better known by name Datangshan. Best way to get there is to arrange a taxi from your hotel. Other more adventurous way is to take bus 912 from Andingmen bus station, just remember that 912 has some branch lines and not all of these go via museum. Museum hosts over 200 exhibits, many of them very rare. Entrance fee is RMB 45.
- Rent a bicycle and traverse some of the remaining hutongs. Companies like The Bicycle Kingdom rent bikes for foreigners.
- Have a highly enjoyable and relaxing foot massage and/or pedicure etc. (for a fraction of the price in the West) from any of the respectable and professional offerings in central Beijing (in the vicinity of the Beijing Hotel for example).
- See a Beijing opera at the Laoshe Tea House near Qianmen station. There always are short displays in the afternoon (about 40 min). They are free of admission, but you should buy a cup of tea. Long displays are in the evening. You should book a seat in advance, since the place is always crowded.
The Great WallGreat Wall of China at Badaling Great Wall (about a 1.5 hour bus ride from the city, is recommended (but be aware of bus scams!) Two or
Shopping and commercial districts
In nearly all markets in Beijing, bargaining is essential. Especially when browsing through large, "touristy" shopping areas for common items, do not put it beneath your dignity to start bargaining at 5% to 10% of the vendor's initial asking price. After spending some time haggling, never hesitate to threaten walking away, as this is often the quickest way to see a vendor lower his or her prices to a reasonable level.Wangfujing: Beijing's most upscale, globalized shopping district. Wangfujing street is one of the Chinese capital's most famous shopping streets. Much of the road is off-limits to cars and other motor vehicles, and it is not rare to see the entire street full of people, turned into one of China's most attractive and modern boulevards. Since the middle of Ming Dynasty, there have been commercial activities. In the Qing Dynasty, eight aristocratic estates and princess residence were built here, soon after when a well full of sweet water was discovered, thereby giving the street its name 'Wang Fu' (aristocratic residence), 'Jing' (well). In 1903, Dong'an market was formed.
Prior to 1949, the street was also known as Morrison Street, after the Australian journalist George Ernest Morrison. Wangfujing has become one of the four traditional downtown areas of Beijing, in addition to Dashilar, Xidan, and Liulichang.
It starts from Wangfujing Nankou, where the Oriental Plaza and the Beijing Hotel are located. It then heads north, passing the Wangfujing Xinhua Bookstore, the Beijing Department Store as well as the Beijing Foreign Languages Bookstore before terminating at the Sun Dong An Plaza. Prior to the late 1990s trolleybuses, buses, and other traffic ran through the street, making it rather congested. Modifications in 1999 and 2000 made much of Wangfujing Street car-free (aside from the tour trolley and occasional milatary vehicles doing bank transfers). Now through traffic detours to the east of the street.
Wangfujing is now home to around 280 old brands of Beijing, such as Shengxifu hat store, Tongshenghe shoe shop, Wuyutai tea house. A photo studio which took formal photos of the first Chinese leadership, the New China Woman and Children Department Store helped established by Song Qingling were also located on the street.
Wangfujing is served by the Beijing subway networks, just one stop away from Tiananmen Square to the west. Line 1 has a station at the southern end of the street, which bears the same name.
The true clothing market where the Chinese buy, is located in Xizhi Men, next to the Zoo. directions: in front of the Zoo there is a new huge building, which is just another big market, but behind it, there is the wholesale market, with the best prices, almost no need to bargain, and a lot of genuine clothiong goods.
The Malls at Oriental Plaza - East of Tian'anmen Square, next to Wangfujing Street. Shopping area (expensive) but provides you with a lot of buying opportunities from diamonds, to affordable DVD's, international music CD's and food.
Golden Resources Shopping Mall near Yuanda Bridge / Yuanda Road -- Located by West Fourth Ring Road (Xisihuan) in Haidian District, Beijing, the mall covers 680.000 square meters, the second largest in Asia. Multiple stories, snaking alleys, infinite shopping opportunities... you get the gist.
China World Trade Center (Guomao) -- here you will find a lot of expensive stores and some international convenience stores.
Silk Street - 8 East Xiushui Street Jianguo Men Wai Dajie. This building is located east of Tian an men square. It was reopened in March 2005 as a 5 story air conditioned building selling entirely for foreign visitors with 'export' quality goods. You can find luggage, leather bags, clothing and Chinese artwork. This location caters entirely to foreign customers. The place stocks higher 'export' quality merchandise and out-of-season clothing.
SanLiTun YaShou Clothing Market -- Located at 58 Gongti Beilu, this is very similar to Silk Street (see above) with slightly better prices. Its less touristy than Silk Street, and prices will start far closer to a reasonable sale price. The net result is the bargaining is far less agressive and you will probably feel more comfortable with your purchases here.
For the more technologically-oriented tourist, Zhong Guan Cun is a must. Located a couple miles from Tsinghua University, this area is dubbed "Silicon Valley of China." Sells everything from speakers to computer parts at an astonishingly low price. There are many salesmen who will try to make you go take a look at their shop, it is best to avoid them. If one looks around at the small shops inside the large malls, they may find a box filled with pirated CDs and DVDs, usually selling at 5 to 10 Yuan. Don't have too high an expectation of the quality, though, many of them are 'gun versions' filmed in the cinema with a camcorder. If you really want to buy it, look for '英文' (yingwen) which means English language.
Sanfo is the leading outdoor gear stores in China and their stores in Beijing are located at Building 4, Entrance 5, Nancun, Madian (Metro 2 to Zhishuitan, bus 315, 344 or 345 to Madian, store is located southside of Bei Sanhuan, west of Madian intersection) and at Jinzhiqiao Dasha, Guomen, Chaoyang District (west entrance of China International Trade Center, continue west along northside of street to east side of second block of buildings).
Antiques and Specialty ItemsPan Jia Yuan - also called the "dirt market" or the "weekend market" this is China's largest and possibly most entertaining flea market. It operates seven days per week, but most people visit there Saturdays and Sundays, and it is located near Pan Jia Yuan bridge, on the eastern third ring road. It begins early, around 7am in summer and 8am in winter (4:00 am in weekend). The fleamarket includes antiques (plenty of
Liulichang - there are no stoves any more, but all antique stores, sell Chinese painting, handicrafts, used books and other stuffs. This place was the most popular and fantastic place in old Peking, but was closed in the 1960s. Though it was re-opend in thr mid 1980s, the original fantastic stores are state-owned, no longer attactive for local people. But people could still find interesting things there. In Chinese new year, there's a 15-day folk fair there. Liulichang is not far from subway's Heping Men Station.
Gu Wan Cheng - on the 3rd ring road, just beyond Pan Jia Yuan, this 4 storey white building houses the more upmarket variety of Chinese antiques, with prices to match. The management have been making determined efforts to stamp out fakes and low quality items in recent years, and to some extent they have succeeded, but the rule that applies to all antique shopping in China still remains in force: let the buyer beware.
Hong Qiao - this is not far from the Temple of Heaven, and worth visiting for the state-run silk market, but more especially for the pearl market in the building opposite. The top two floors of this market are filled with jewelry, and this may be the best place in China to buy pearls, coral, turquoise, amber and other semi-precious stones. The presence of a large number of stalls keeps the prices fairly keen, but shop around, keep a smile on your face and bargain hard.
Hotel shops and Department stores - not the most characterful shopping in China, but worth a look and generally less likely (but not immune from) selling complete duds. The old style of Chinese retailing is gradually being transformed by shops with better design sense and souvenir items are getting better each year. Silk items (clothing, table settings and so on) such as those sold by Emperor (Kempinski Hotel and other spots around town) are worth a look, as are porcelain, specialty tea and other traditional items.
Carpet stores: the carpet business is strong in Beijing and you will find all manner of stores selling silk carpets and other varieties. For Tibetan carpets try Torana Gallery at the Kempinski Hotel, one of the few places selling carpets that are actually made in Tibet.
Other Shopping and Commercial Districts
- Silk Street
- Beijing CBD
- Beijing Financial Street
Outside the metropolitan area, but within the municipality
- Sections of the Great Wall (World Heritage Site) at:
- The Ming Dynasty Tombs (World Heritage Site)
- Peking Man Site at Zhoukoudian (World Heritage Site)
Teahouses are also common in Beijing. Chinese tea comes in many varieties and some rather expensive types of Chinese tea are said to cure an ailing body extraordinarily well.
The Fuling Jiabing is a traditional Beijing snack food, a pancake (bing) resembling a flat disk with filling, made from fu ling (Poria cocos or "tuckahoe"), an ingredient common in traditional Chinese medicine.
The best way to eat good and cheap in Beijing is to enter one of the ubiquitous Chinese restaurants where the locals are eating, and pick a few different dishes from the menu. Truth be told, anyone familiar with Western currency and food prices at home will find Beijing a very inexpensive city for food, especially considering that the Chinese do not tip. Many Chinese food restaurants are closed for new customers as early as 8pm.
Local cuisine in Beijing is generally Mardarin in tradition. Peking Duck is the most famous dish, where several courses are served, each one using something of the duck, skin crisps, neck and organ soup, rice and duck, chunky pieces of duck. Duck's are bred for Peking Duck, and are not quite as gamey, or oily as domesticate or wild ducks, maybe a little juicier than chicken. The Manhan Quanxi or full banquet was originally meant only for the very upper echelon, and as such it is extremely expensive and prestigious. You'll be paying anywhere from forty yuan to over two hundred.
Beijing's other favourite culinary delight is 'hotpot'. You are allowed to cook the meat yourself in a special boiling broth with spices, so you can atleast be sure it is cooked through. You buy the meat by the plate, pork, chicken and beef generally. Vegetables and noodles are also added. In the city center, a hotpot can run as much as ¥40-¥50 per person, but on the outskirts it can be found for as little as ¥10-¥25.
There are already over a hundred McDonalds in Beijing, with KFC following closely behind, and often within the same block. Pizza Huts are also showing their signs around town, and are quite popular with the younger crowd. Avoid lunch and dinner times, or you may not get a seat. You will pay on average ¥60-¥120.
Tim's Texas BBQ outside the Jianguomen subway station, as well as a couple of Tony Roma's are both a good places for American cooking.
Check out the lamb kabobs or Yangrouchuan and other types of kabobs which are sold on the streets throughout Beijing. As long as it looks like the guy does a good business to keep his inventory fresh, go ahead, try it, they are pretty good. On 'Snack Street' little vendors let you experience the exotic, from silkworm and scorpion to animal organs grilled on sticks. Be brave!
Indeed, Beijing provides an ideal opportunity to sample food from all over the country. Sichuan, Hunan, Cantonese, Tibetan, Yunnanese minority cuisine, and many other region-specific cuisines are found in Beijing. Many, such as Makye Ame (11A Xiushui Nanjie Jianguomenwai Beijing Tel: +86 (10) 6506 9616) and Dai Nationality Restaurant feature live dancing and performances, and are not to be missed.
You will see many Korean restaurants selling chicken, beef and seafood on cook-your-own grills. They also offer potatoes and vegetables.
For vegetarians, Beijing's first pure vegetarian buffet restaurant is located on the Confucius Temple on Guo zi jian street, west of the famous Lama Temple. There's no English menu so far, but one can just ask for the buffet, which contains a large variety of delicious vegetarian dishes, as well as a vegetarian hotpot, and a large selection of desserts.
All luxury hotels have a restaurant. There are French, Italian, American, and Chinese restaurants in the hotels. Of course, abalone/sharkfin restaurants are the most expensive restaurants in the city. Expect to pay upwards of ¥800 for a "cheap" meal, much more if splurging.
Tea, tea, and more tea! They have a different ceremony for every type of tea. You should go to a good tea house. Some are in malls, but first ask the price before ordering or else brace yourself for the most expensive egg-sized cup of tea in the world. Very, very relaxing. The tea masters's movements are hypnotic.
Qingdao beer is the most upscale national beer in China, and pretty good, though to me, beer is beer (basically). They will cost you about ten yuan. Some say it has a special taste because of the high mineral content in the water. On the other hand, Yanjing beer, sold in a large bottle with 4% alcohol, normally goes for two yuan, and therefore is far more popular. Yanjing is one of the ancient names for Beijing, so they drink it with pride.
Great Wall is one type of Chinese wine, though there are several others. Chinese wines are just acceptable, and it is still not common to drink wine. Giving wine as a gift is not a common custom in most places in China and most people will not be accustomed to wine etiquette or appreciation. Foreign red wines are usually of a much better quality, but more expensive.
The most common and intoxicating hard liquor is Bai jiu (white liquor). It comes in a large variety everywhere for very cheap prices and should be avoided if you want to have a clear mind for your travels the next day. Mao Tai is a Chinese hard liquor made from sorghum. A large selection of imported liquor can be found at all bars ranging from tequila to whiskey.
Hou Hai - a hangout with trendy restaurants and bars in the central part of Beijing. essentially snaking around a man made lake. A great place for a beer, and also to watch local Beijingers (of all ages) enjoying themselves.
Sanlitun - this is the center of nightlife in Beijing, located beside the embassy area in Chaoyang district, it comprises a main "bar street" divided into north and south sections, a side street with more casual (and cheaper) bars, and several large clubs/discotheque at the north gate of the worker's stadium near by. Sanlitun has near legendary status amongst travelers, but you are just as likely to be irritated by pushy bar-owners or DVD sellers as you are to be charmed by its bars.
Da Shan Zi - Beijing's new trendy art zone, north of the Lido Hotel, this old warehouse and factory district has been taken over by art galleries, art shops and bars. Well worth the trip to experience the cutting edge of the Beijing art scene. Also known as Factory 798.
Nu Ren Jie meaning 'lady's street' and the streets around. This area is situated off Liang Ma Qiao Lu, a short distance north of the Kempinski Hotel and te embassies of Israel, Japan, ROK and USA. By day it has some fashion shops, as its name suggests, but it is also home to some interesting new bars, restaurants and clubs
Nightlife in Beijing is varied. Most clubs are situated in the area around Sanlitun or in the region near the Workers Stadium, especially to the north and to the west. New clubs opened on Gongrentiyuchang West Road.
Wudaokou, in northwestern Beijing, is also a bustling nightlife center. There are many Koreans and other foreigners, mostly students, in the area.
The following areas of Beijing are known as hubs for bars which stay open very late:
- Sanlitun - This used to be the place to be if you wanted to go to a bar. Many many bars, most open till 4am or later. They all have that certain Beijing feel. Frequented by many foreign customers so you will not feel too out of place.
- Hou Hai - This place seems to be taking over from Sanlitun as the major bar area of Beijing. It is situated around a man-made lake at the north of Beihai Park. Boating is available on the lake till 11pm or 12am (in the summer of course). Very pretty area.
Beijing is one of the few remaining places to still have good variety shows many are included with the price of admission, or even completely free as long as you're drinking/eating something.
- Success - A very Chinese place near Sanlitun Bar Street. Interior looks as if it was designed as some kind of concert hall, now a bar with entertainment, huge high ceilings, atmosphere really something else. Has shows from 10pm to 12am most days. Dancing girls, singing guys and girls. Cool place. Not many foreign visitors.
- The House - Interesting place in the Wangfujing area used to be a complete girly bar, and still is a little, but now has a pricy entry fee and includes an all-evening floor show. Dancers, singers, models, comedy, sometimes magic ! Male audience targeted.
Scams - Beijing is a very safe city. However, tourists are often preyed upon by cheats and hustlers. Be especially cautious in the inner city, around Tiananmen Square, and on the tourist-crowded routes to the Great Wall.
For tours to the Great Wall, be wary: the driver might just stop and let you off before your destination. Only pay afterwards if you are absolutely sure you are at the destination. Do not go for organized tours to the Great Wall in the 100-150 Yuan range that are advertised by people handing out flyers around the Forbidden City (or in the latest scam, masquerading as the real bus service to the Great Wall which only costs 20 Yuan, but is guaranteed to waste your entire day). Conveniently you are picked up from your hotel (so they know where to get back at you, in case you do not pay), you end up on a shopping tour through many Chinese art, China, Chinese medicine, etc. shops and afterwards you have to pay upfront to get back to the city. Of course, there are exceptions, and people showing letters of recommendation from their previous travels and pictures are usually fine, as are people offering trips to the wilder parts of the Great Wall (ie. not Badaling or Juyong).
Do not follow any students wanting to show you something. They are most likely scammers or semi-scammers. Examples include 'art students' who bring you to their 'school exhibition' and pressure you to buy art at insanely inflated prices. Tea sampling is another scam. It is free to sample tea for locals, but for tourists, you need to ask. In one incident, after sampling 5 types of tea with two 'students', a group of tourists were confronted with a bill for 1260 Yuan! They even produced an English menu with the extortionate prices for sampling. Young attractive female students also try to lure male tourists to shops, restaurants or night clubs. The prices at such places can be extremely high for basically nothing.
Take care when offered a ride in a rickshaw. Make sure you know where you are going to be taken in advance, and agree a price in writing. You may well end up dropped off in a deserted alleyway and extorted for a large amount of money.
Be wary of fake money. You may observe Chinese people inspecting their money carefully, and with a reason: there are a lot of counterfeit bills in circulation. The most common are 100's and 50's.
Here are a few tips for identifying counterfeit bills: Be very careful if someone wants to give back the largest currency bill (50 and 100 yuan) using the excuse of "no change". In an attempt to pass you a counterfeit bill, they may tell you that they have lowered the price in your benefit. Or, they may ask you to contribute an additional sum in order to pass you the 100 Yuan. If they give you back all the change money plus the coins on top (though coins are rare in Beijing) take your time to check each bill carefully.
Another version of the above trick is when a vendor refuses to accept your 100 yuan bill claiming that it's fake. The truth is most likely that he took your genuine bill and discretely changed it for a fake one which he now is trying to give back to you. Hard to prove unless you see the swap.
To check any 50 and 100 yuan bill you get, do this: most importantly, check the paper. If its torn, thin or very slippery, ask for a different bill. Next, check the watermark, it should blur out softly. If there are hard visible corners in the watermark, reject the bill. Last, check the green "100" imprint on the lower left corner. It should be clearly painted on the bill so you can both feel and see a relief. If its missing or not feelable, reject the bill also. Rejecting bills is not considered impolite. If the colouring of a banknote is faded, it does not necessarily mean it is fake.
Driving is crazy in Beijing, and reckless driving is the norm. Be prepared for drivers to violate traffic laws even to the extent of going in reverse on highways to back up to a missed exit. Also expect occasional road debris (a piece of wood or torn out tire) to be laying in the roadway. Pedestrians should be very careful crossing the street as drivers will not stop for you and will anticipate the traffic light before it turns green. Be very careful when crossing any street. Take an overpass or underpass if possible. Otherwise, keep an eye on the locals and cross with them, there is strength in numbers.
Free emergency telephone numbers:
Police: 110 Fire alarm: 119 Medical care: 120 Remember these three telephone numbers, and they are valid in almost entire mainland China.
Check out this site, it may save your life
If you are new to travelling, or even if you have travelled the globe for years, I strongly recommend you check out the following link for some very interesting and informative reading about safe travelling in Beijing and China and the Third World in general. It is an accumulation of original thoughts and experiences of several worldly travellers, just go to Safely Travel. It was written with the Third World in mind, where travelling disasters are around every corner, and a pre-emptor to what we may all expect someday in the First World as populations increase and desperate people become more brave and sophisticated in their survival techniques. It will make you aware of all sorts of scams, how to check into a hotel, advice for single lady travellers, advice for single men travellers, rip tides, credit card scams, driving in a foreign land, kidnapping, street people, you name it. It is an essential read for anyone travelling, and the most comprehensive discussion I know of!
Coping with Beijing
Air pollution is a big problem. Car exhaust, coal burning, and dust storms from the Gobi desert combine to make some of the worst city air on the planet. You may want to bring extra Vitamin C and other antioxidants. A white surgical face mask may help with the occasional dust storms. The dust is very fine. Don't be surprised if your throat and nose ache soon after arriving.
Drinking lots of the local green tea (hot) will help you resist sickness from the bad air. Green tea has antioxidants, some vitamin C, and the hot water helps to moisturize your throat. Winter is the worst time. Cold air creates a thermal-inversion layer and traps the pollution in the city.
Bring fiber supplements (such as Metamucil). Beijing food can be constipating due to high meat/low vegetable content. Chinese don't usually eat salads, but boil their vegetables for sanitary and cultural reasons. Also, an Acidophilus (yogurt bacteria) supplemental capsule taken daily can prevent gastro intestinal distress from the local bacteria. Bring the type that don't have to be refrigerated, or drink the local yogurt beverages (which must be drunk on the spot as you have to return the glass jars immediately afterwards). The local bacteria can cause vomiting or diarrhea (or both) if you don't take precautions beforehand. Remember the 3 P's for food: Peeled, par-boiled, or piping-hot. The good news is that the Chinese preference for fresh food, cooked in a wok at searing hot temperatures means that stomach problems are rare. If you are eating 'local', the odds are in your favor if you stick to traditional, local food, at the busiest restaurants since there is a good turnover of inventory, and chances are that the chef will know what he/she is doing with this type of food, which is not necessarily the case with (ie) a western-style salad.
Bring a pack of your own tissues (or toilet paper) and a small bar of soap. Many public bathrooms do not have wiping paper, especially if you venture out to the countryside. Alternately, you may wish to purchase an alcohol-based hand santizer for quick clean-ups. Also, pre-packaged wet hand wipes are indispensable.
Try to use the bathroom before you leave for your destinations. Some establishments (even large grocery/department stores) will not have western style toilets, and many a lady has been shocked and dismayed to find she doesn't know how to use non-elevated (sunken) toilets.
If you do have to use a squat toilet, you may want to remove your trousers or dress first to avoid accidentally defecating on your clothing. Wipe with tissues that you have brought with you and put them in the bin; do not flush the paper because it can clog the toilet. Some toilets are pay toilets.
In dryer months (especially winter), be sure to bring or purchase a heavy moisturizer. Although most hotels will offer some generic brand, the quality varies greatly and you would do well to supply your own. It is advisable to purchase and drink several bottles of purified water a day.
Most internet news is not censored, but the BBC News usually is. The New York Times is sometimes blocked too. CNN.com is not blocked and is never censored, so it is usually a recommended source for current affairs. Reuters.com is usually not blocked. Searching a news source for 'verboten' terms ("Free Tibet," "Falun Gong," etc.) generally results in no results and may block further searches of that news source for a short time. To access a blocked website, use an anonymization tool like anonymouse.org to access.
E-mail access through an internet based e-mail service is very helpful to have. Free examples include Yahoo, Google, Hotmail, etc.
Postcard postage costs 5 yuan.
Bring a corkscrew for opening your wine. Swiss Army knives are a big help too (but remember to put it in your checked luggage).