Journey to China’s capital

Beijing

Beijing is the capital, political and cultural center of China; a city of a thousand faces and moods, surprisingly combining the hectic pace of modern life with distant echoes of Western values, without sacrificing any of its own traditions. In its more than 3,000-year history, this contradictory and enigmatic Asian metropolis has vanished from the map countless times and been rebuilt with greater and greater vigor. Faceless residential neighborhoods, as if from the Soviet past, skyscrapers piercing the clouds and dazzling at night lighting, picturesque medieval hutong – in Beijing today there is a place for all architectural styles and eras. Let yourself be swept up in the endless human traffic of Beijing’s streets and into the colourful, bustling, and irresistibly beguiling reality of one of the oldest capitals on earth.

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Video: Beijing

Highlights

It’s quite difficult for visitors to get lost in Beijing because the network of streets is quite observable and oriented to the directions of the world. The historic north-south axis includes the major landmarks: from the Altar of Heaven in the south, it leads to Heavenly Tranquility Gate Square, on to the Imperial Palace and Coal Hill, and then on to the Drum Tower and Bell Tower in the north. If you have a week – which is how long Beijing should be – it’s best to rent a bicycle for a day or two. Most hotels can arrange for organized bus tours to outlying sites, such as the Great Wall and the Ming Tombs. It’s more convenient and cheaper to order a cab, but you have to negotiate a price in advance for the whole day. The area around the northern lakes at Drum Tower – from Beihai Gongyuan Park’s northern gate in the south to Jishuitan subway station in the north and Prince Gunan’s residence in the west – is listed as a protected cultural site and is a great place to take a stroll.

History of Beijing

The vicinities of modern Beijing began to be populated in the 1st millennium B.C. Ji, Nanjing, Zhongdong, Dadou – all these are the names of cities built by Chinese, Mongolian and Manchu ruling dynasties on the territory of modern metropolis and later safely destroyed by them to the bottom.

Beijing in 1865

At the end of XIV century, during the Ming Empire, on the ashes of the former Dadou a new settlement – Beijing – sprang up, which the Emperor Yongle liked so much that he transferred the capital to it, previously depriving Nanjing – quite a large port on the Yangtze River for those times – of its honorary title. By the way, the word “Beijing” itself is not considered to be truly Chinese. The inhabitants of the Celestial Empire refer to their administrative center as Beijin, which means “Northern Capital”.

In 1928, after the unification of China, the status of the main city of the country was reassigned to Nanjing, and Beijing was renamed Beiping (“Northern Calm”). But in 1937, the Japanese subjugated the Middle Kingdom, returned to the metropolis of its original name, though only during the occupation. In 1945, the Chinese capital for the second time became Beiping, and wore this name for another 4 years, until the accession to power of the “Grand Master” – Mao Zedong.

Temple of Heaven – the symbol of Beijing The Forbidden City

Geography, water resources, climate

Beijing is located in the northern part of the Great Chinese Plain. From the northwest and west the capital is protected by the Junduan and Xishan mountain ranges. As for water resources, two relatively large rivers, Yundihe and Chaobahe, flow through the country’s main city, but only the Chaobahe supplies the capital with water, as the famous Miyun Reservoir was built on it. Another waterway that connects the megacity with other cities and provinces of the PRC is the Grand Canal.

Chaobahe River flowing through the Summer Imperial Palace in Beijing

Beijing has a moderate monsoon climate: in summer it is hot and rainy due to East Asian winds blowing from the ocean. The average July temperature in this part of the country is +25. +26 ºС. The opposite is true in winter: The arrival of the Siberian anticyclones in Beijing brings dry, windy, and very cold weather. By the way, despite the traditional frosts, snow is in short supply here, which makes the cold much more acute. The average temperature in January in the metropolis ranges from -7 to -4 ºС.

The best time to visit Beijing is from September to October, when it is still dry, sunny and warm, but not as sweltering as in summer. It’s nice to wander the streets in April, which is surprisingly warm in the Chinese capital.

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Panorama of Beijing Winter in Beijing

Environmental situation

As the country’s largest transportation hub and one of its economic centers, Beijing paid the price for its clean air. Daily emissions from industrial plants, exhaust fumes, and coal-fired heating on the outskirts of the metropolis are some of the main reasons why the city is periodically enveloped in a thick pall of smog. It’s not hard to guess that masks and respirators protecting the respiratory organs from harmful fumes are the most popular goods in the Chinese capital.

The drinking water situation is not ideal either: it is categorically not recommended to consume the liquid, which comes out from the tap in each Beijing apartment. By the way the capital’s inhabitants as well as residents of other cities drink mainly warm water which they constantly carry in thermoses and containers such as My Bottle. On this occasion the Chinese even have their own philosophical doctrine, according to which only heated fluid helps to achieve longevity and inner harmony.

The districts of Beijing

The first thing that strikes the tourist who arrives in Beijing is the amazing symmetry of the urban layout. If you look at the map of the metropolis, the modern capital of China appears as a cluster of giant concentric circles, “cut” by arrows of boulevards and avenues. The main axis of Beijing, along which in strict order lined up its main historical and cultural symbols, stretching from east to west and is called Changanze (literally “street of eternal peace”). The size of the avenue is a separate topic; in some places Changanjie can stretch up to 100 m wide, well the length of the most beautiful street in China is not less than 40 km.

Changanjie Avenue – the main street of Beijing

Administratively Beijing is divided into 14 districts and two counties. For sightseers, guidebooks usually recommend the Dongcheng district (Dōngchéng Qū). First, there is a large rental housing market here, both high-end and economy class. And secondly, it is located in Dongcheng such national symbols of China’s capital as the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, the National Museum and even some ancient temples. Shopaholics and fans of Asian street food won’t get bored here either: you can sample oil-fried silkworms and buy handicrafts of Chinese designers on the main shopping street – Wangfujing, which is almost entirely pedestrian today.

Dongcheng District, View of Wangfujing Temple Tiananmen Square in Beijing

The second most popular district among tourists is Xicheng (Xichéng Qū) that occupies a part of the old city and therefore it has a decent amount of ancient attractions, in particular, all kinds of temples and museums. In addition, on its territory there are the famous Beijing Zoo, Beihai Imperial Garden, the Grand National Theater, Shichahai Park, and Lake Zhongnanhai.

Xicheng District Imperial Garden Beihai Panda from Beijing Zoo Grand National Theater (Beijing Opera)

Chaoyang District (Cháoyáng Qū) is the business center of the capital. To live here is expensive but prestigious because this part of Beijing is focused mainly on businessmen and representatives of the tourist elite. This is where the center of nightlife is located – the Sanlitun Quarter with its fashionable restaurants, bars and nightclubs, where in the evening you can not only leave all the savings, but also to get into debt. Russian tourists Chaoyang is better known for the street Yabaolu, specializing in wholesale and small wholesale trade with Russia. You can tell that you are in Yabaolu by the Russian-speaking (from the Chinese point of view) signs on the malls and street thieves, masterly stealing a purse out of your bag. This is also where most of the Russian diaspora lives. Chaoyang is not too rich in historical sites, but it does have a couple of ancient sanctuaries – the Temple of the Sun and the Dunyue Temple.

Modern skyscrapers in Beijing Sun Temple in Beijing Dongyue Temple

If you have some time, you should pay a visit to the Haidian District (Hǎidiàn Qū), which has the status of a college town because of the prestigious educational institutions concentrated on its territory. Among the places of interest in the area are the Imperial Summer Palace, Xiangshan Park, the Dajue Temple, a Ming dynasty architectural heritage, the Botanical Garden, and the Zhongguancun Technology Center, which the Western media has dubbed “China’s Silicon Valley”.

Ruins of an old palace in Haidian District Dajue Temple Summer Imperial Palace in Beijing Zhongguancun Technological Center Xiangshan Park in Beijing

Attractions in Beijing

Modern Beijing means not only typical buildings and futuristic structures of business centers, but also all kinds of ancient sanctuaries. The Temple of Earth, the Temple of Heaven, the Temple of the Sun, the Yonghe Temple, the Confucius Temple, the Great Bell Temple – there are about 2.5 dozen places of worship in the capital that have survived both the destructive power of military conflicts and the blind ruthlessness of the Cultural Revolution.

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Temple of Heaven in Beijing

It is Beijing that is home to the largest palace complex in the world, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Gugun, or Forbidden City, covers an area of 72 hectares, on which about 800 different buildings can be found. Built in the early 15th century the palace ensemble for several centuries served as the main residence of Chinese emperors, the entrance to which for ordinary mortals was punishable by cruel death.

Forbidden City in Beijing

Not far from the Forbidden City is the second largest tourist attraction in Beijing, Tiananmen Square, which got its name after the main gate guarding the entrance to the Imperial City. As in the case with the Gugun, the Chinese people’s constant craving for everything large-scale was reflected here as well: the main square of the country, according to the experts, is able to accommodate a million spectators. The best time to see its architectural monuments is in the morning, when the state flag-raising ceremony is held on the square – an event that astonishes with its austere solemnity. Included in the obligatory program of visits and is located nearby the National Museum of China, which contains unique historical artifacts, whose age is estimated at several thousand years. There is another iconic place on Tiananmen, which must visit every Chinese patriot – it’s Mao’s mausoleum.

Mao Zedong Mausoleum in Tiananmen Square National Museum of China Egg-shaped Opera House

On Chang’anjie Boulevard, just off Tiananmen Square, you can see an opera house, more commonly referred to as “The Egg” by Beijingers. The futuristic ellipsoidal structure rests in the middle of an artificial body of water and looks more like an alien spaceship than a classical concert venue, which, in fact, it is.

To stroll through the summer residence of China’s Qin dynasty emperors, go to the outskirts of Beijing. Surrounded by a manicured park, the palace complex on the shores of Kunming Lake is interesting for its graceful structures, which include quaint bridges, exquisite marble pavilions, and the 700-meter Changlan Gallery.

Kunming Lake Changlan Gallery in Beijing

Beijing’s parks, where everything is “feng shui”, also make a pleasant impression. Northeast of the Forbidden City is the Beihai Imperial Garden, founded in the 10th century and home to several ancient sanctuaries. Be sure to take a walk in Shichahai Park (Xicheng District), which has three lakes. In the summer you can rent a boat to take a ride on the water, and in the winter, amateur skaters can break the ice on the lakes.

The Beihai Garden in Shichahai Park

In Beijing, you should also visit the amazing zoo, which is one of the seven largest zoos in the world. It is home to the fascinatingly clumsy symbols of China – the giant pandas, along with their snub-nosed monkeys, South Chinese tigers and another 600 species of amazing creatures. Tourists who prefer quiet contemplation to more active entertainment can recommend the local park Happy Valley, where just only a carousel of about 100 kinds, not to mention other crazy attractions. A great opportunity to travel around the world without leaving Beijing is to visit the Peace Park, which gathered on its grounds copies of the most recognizable architectural monuments of the planet, scaled down at a ratio of 1 to 10. If you want Asian exoticism in maximum concentration, you are welcome to visit Beijing Opera House, which will completely turn your ideas about this kind of art upside down.

Happy Valley Park in Beijing Yongheggong Monastery in Beijing

Beijing’s legendary hutongs, with their cozy stone courtyards, are gradually giving way to modern construction. But if you really want to wander along medieval streets and look at the life of an ordinary Chinese “without bills”, there are several authentic places in Beijing. The most “glitzy” hutongs are around Yongheggun Monastery and Shichahai Park. In fact, all tourists who come to China’s capital, wander through these areas with their countless shops and newly renovated houses. If you really want you can stumble upon some really shanty towns, where the urban poor live, but I doubt that such an excursion will leave a good impression.

The Great Wall of China

From the must-see suburban attractions in Beijing you can name the most beautiful segment of the Great Wall of China – Badaling, which goes through the territory of Yancin County. The structure looks as good as new, thanks to the extensive restoration carried out back under the “Great Helmsman”.

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Journey to China’s Capital: What to see in Beijing

Hello, dear guests of our blog! The history of China is so ancient and dynamic that you can get acquainted with the country during a short visit. The culture of China is a separate layer in the Asian part of the world. There is no doubt that it attracts crowds of tourists with its originality.

What to see in Beijing? Today we will give a small excursion through modern and ancient Beijing.

Temple of Heaven

Speaking of what to see in Beijing, it is impossible not to mention the Temple of Heaven. The building was originally called the Temple of Heaven and Earth until two different buildings were built. Their shape has remained the same and looks in keeping with the name.

It is worth beginning your tour of the complex with the Abstinence Palace, which tells the story of the emperor’s offering of sacrifices. Before the ritual, he had to tend his graves and spend his days fasting.

Only after that was he allowed to begin the process. The palace is surrounded by a moat of water and fortress walls. This creates an atmosphere of strength and impregnability. Even in the evening this complex looks very impressive.

After the castle worth a walk among the flower gardens and galleries, which performs an important value: they create the illusion that everything around is real. In this way one becomes even more immersed in art. Almost all scenes from Chinese mythology are depicted on canvases by professionals of their own craft.

The Harvest Temple is the main attraction of the Temple of Heaven. The crowds of tourists do not spoil the whole atmosphere, which is filled with awe. And the blue tiles symbolize the sky. Very symbolic!

Forbidden City

The emperor, who wanted to build the Forbidden City, carefully selected the interior items according to feng shui. Foreigners were practically not allowed on the territory of the temple, so the legends were one more beautiful than another, because no one knew what was located behind these fantastic walls.

Dynasties of emperors lived in the Forbidden City for 500 centuries. To get here for the common man was impossible. The city is surrounded by a moat filled with water and 10-meter high fortress walls.

Like all ancient buildings, houses in the city were built in accordance with the ancient knowledge of feng shui.

The buildings are made of wood, so many times burned and rebuilt again. Now placed here are museum exhibits. A day is not enough to see all the exhibits and it is one of the must-see sights.

The Forbidden City, together with the gate located in the southwest, forms the hieroglyph of “the middle”.

Tiananmen Square

If you’re planning a one-day or three-day visit to Beijing, this square should be on your list. The square covers a huge area. It can hold 600,000 people at a time.

The main building that is located here is the mausoleum of Comrade Mao. Tourists can see his body stored in a sarcophagus inside the mausoleum.

square

It is not difficult to imagine that originally its size was small. Over time, it expanded until it reached its present size. Chang’an Avenue separates the square from the Tiananmen Gate, where government offices are concentrated.

Walking along the west side there is a good chance of stumbling upon the House of People’s Assemblies, where the parliament meets. And the eastern side pleases with a view of the National Museum of China, which holds a unique collection for a long time.

The People’s Heroes Monument is a reminder of events from the First Opium War to the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

Mao Zedong’s mausoleum was built on the south side. The complex includes about 10 rooms. However, you will only have to see everything with your eyes because it is forbidden to take pictures.

Summer Imperial Palace

Pavilions, palaces, gardens, and lakes all come together in one place to inspire visiting tourists. Iheyuan Park or Summer Imperial Palace is a quiet and secluded place where people from all over the world come for revitalization.

The palace was built as the summer residence of the rulers. Although back in the Qing dynasty there were stables on the mountain. Construction of the scenic beauty began during the Qianlong reign.

It was thought to be a gift for his mother. And so it did. But the building did not become a full-fledged residence for the emperor permanently. He would come here for a couple of days at most and then return to the capital.

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Over time, the palace fell into disrepair. And the year 1860 was a coup d’état. The events of the war destroyed the Palace and the nearby park.

But really luxurious became during the reign of Empress Cixi in the 19th century.

Fascinated by the construction of beautiful architectural ensembles, Cixipo spent the entire budget intended for the development of the country’s navy.

But the money did its job. Now the complex is the most beautiful place in the capital. There is an artificial lake on its territory, along which the art gallery stretches. Even if you have to transfer in Beijing, and you think – what to see – the summer imperial palace is a great option.

The temple rises on a hill in traditional Chinese colors and has classic temple architecture.

In 1900 the building was again destroyed and raided for looting. It took a while before the park became a public place and reopened to the public. To this day, improvements to the Summer Palace continue to be made to the site.

Confucius Temple

Confucius is respectfully referred to by the Chinese as their first teacher. The temple in honor of the teacher located in Beijing is one of the largest in the country. Many sights and temples are built in honor of Confucius, this despite the fact that he was not a member of religious ranks.

His teachings have a philosophical meaning, which over the centuries has become a spiritual teaching for the Chinese.

Built in the 14th century, the temple has remained virtually intact in terms of architecture. Only the size of the occupied area has changed, upwards.

In the courtyard in front of the main building there are cypresses that are more than a hundred years old. The oldest tree is surrounded by a fence. It is seven centuries old.

Also on the territory there are plates with embossed names of Confucius pupils who were highly successful in the study of the teacher’s philosophy and virtue.

The first gate in front of the Confucius Temple is the ticket office. Upon entering them, one finds oneself in the kingdom of cypress trees, where sacrifice ceremonies were held in ancient times. Not far away are the Stone Tablets Pavilions, set up to commemorate an important event in China.

What else is of interest here? Ahead is another gate with the name “Gate of Great Achievement”. A little further away there is also a place for sacrifices. A cypress tree with an unusual history is planted on the temple grounds.

A minister was once performing a worship ceremony and a gust of wind pulled his hat off. People did not think he was a good man, so they thought the tree was capable of distinguishing good from evil. He was proud of this ability and used it many times.

The Hall of Great Achievement closes the area. At its foot are statues of dragons with symbolic meanings. The presence of a dragon here indicates the great status of the temple.

The interior of the temple also distinguishes its high status. There is an altar for prayers, hanging plaques of wisdom, and museums tell the history of the place in full.

Peace Park

In Beijing you can visit the Park of Miniatures. It will be interesting to those who have not seen such parks in other countries. It is a great option for travelers with children.

Scaled down 1 to 10 copies of the world’s famous architectural sites with pleasure come to see the Chinese themselves. That is why it is impossible to take a picture here so that there are no strangers in the frame.

It is nice that the main attraction that greets visitors is the Red Square with the Mausoleum. To recreate it, we had to open a special workshop to make bricks.

The entire park can be viewed in a couple of hours if you are in a hurry, or you can enjoy it in half a day. In addition to the exhibits, there are dancers from all over the world performing in the park, and there are performances with elephants, which the most adventurous tourists feed.

In the recreation area, you can grab a bite to eat and enjoy the surrounding beauty or take a ride on an amusement ride.

Art Zone 798

This landmark will not leave fans of modern art and design indifferent. If you don’t want to sit in an airport, and you’re not into historical buildings, this is the place for you.

Contemporary artists, sculptors, fashion designers are housed in an abandoned factory midway between the airport and downtown Beijing. More than once during the expansion of the city there was a question of demolishing the buildings and clearing the area for modern construction.

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However, the residents of the arts zone, after negotiations with the authorities, managed to defend the land. To a large extent, the decision in their favor was the interest of tourists to this place.

The factory area today is a fashionable place, with night clubs, restaurants, stores and art galleries, where you can see and buy exclusive works by artists, clothes and objects.

Construction of the project was done by the Germans and financed by the Chinese. Soviet specialists were also involved, so sometimes there were disagreements. Because of them sometimes work stopped, but soon the factory was very popular and became known around the world.

Soon the place began to gather creative people under its wing, who found a vocation in what was going on and created tirelessly. Because of the popularity of the area, rents were also going up. The place was far away, so there was a question of closing it down.

The area does not highlight any route, so the location of a particular place is better to look online or wander around the art zone without a purpose, enjoying people’s creativity.

National Museum and Wax Museum

The National Museum introduces guests to exhibits that tell the culture, life and history of the country from antiquity to the present. Admission here is free. Bring your passport.

It is better to arrive early in the morning, but not because of the queues, but because of the opportunity to get to the nearby mausoleum and save time.

The modern history of Communist China is not to your liking. But the objects of antiquity are noteworthy.

For example, the figures of warriors from the famous Terracotta Army are on display here. To see the entire army of 9,000 soldiers, you have to go to Xi’an, but that is in the vicinity of Beijing.

These figures are associated with the Emperor Qin Shi Huang Emperor, who left the Great Wall of China and the canal after his reign. And an army of warriors guarded his tomb after his death.

A colorful introduction to the history of the country is offered by the Wax Museum. It mainly showcases the time of the Ming dynasty. The halls do not just display figures of historical characters, but also reproduce scenes from the lives of both ruling figures and poor people in detail.

Nujie Mosque

The Muslim mosque is a must-see when visiting Beijing because it is one of the most unusual in the world, in terms of architecture. It is also the largest in China.

From the street side, the building looks like a Chinese temple, a two-tiered pagoda. That it is a mosque is evidenced by the interior decoration and the inscriptions in Arabic script. The main building is open to men. A one-storied building was built next to it for women.

The entrance is open to the public only on weekends, while on weekdays it is open to the parishioners and the faithful Muslims.

Museum of Eunuchs

China is the capital of museums. There are 170 of them here, and the museum of eunuchs is the only one in the world. Eunuchs deserve to have their lives immortalized among the museum’s exhibits for a reason.

They were a caste without which the rulers could not do without, entrusted to them the most valuable things and paid them generously for their work. You can learn all about the life of eunuchs in China by visiting the museum.

The museum was opened in 1998 and since then the place has become very important. Tian Yi was the only eunuch to receive his own funerary complex. He played an important role under the emperor, so at the entrance to the museum you can see two statues of the elder.

One shows him dressed as a warrior, the other as a scholar. His tomb is completely similar to the emperor’s except for the size. It is decorated with images of plants, lions and dragons, as well as scenes from the life of the eunuchs.

Anyone is able to go down and see the crypt of the famous eunuch. But the tour will take place in almost complete darkness. But there is nothing else of interest there, for the treasures have been looted.

One diorama details how the operation of scalding the boys took place. It’s not a pretty sight, but for curious people, it’s a great excursion into the past. What would you like to see?

Sightseeing in Beijing is so diverse that every tourist will find something to their liking: parks, temples, palaces or objects of Communist China.

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