One of the four oldest civilizations in the world, China has a written history of 4,000 years and boasts rich cultural relics and historical sites. On the creative and scientific arts, China is also credited with the invention of the compass, papermaking techniques, gunpowder and printing.
All built 2,000 years ago, China also boasts of having three great ancient engineering projects namely: The Great Wall, Grand Canal, and the Karez irrigation system. Today, they stand as the symbols of China’s unique history and culture that has gone through several dynasties and structures of society all noted in over 4,000 years of historical documentation.
The third largest country next to Russia and Canada, China is also home to 22% of the total world population. Whether the Earth will tip on its axis should all Chinese jump up and down at the same time remains a theory.
The capital of China, home to the Forbidden City and where shopping is a major past time for the residents and tours as beautiful as the flowery names of half the places in China.
A dramatic skyline, sprawling terra-cotta roofs stretching to the horizon, and graceful Chinese characters which look like perfect miniatures from the plane’s height are just a few things visitors landing in Beijing may expect to see.
One thing most tourists will notice most in Beijing is the huge number of bicycles that make roads not as congested as in other Asian countries. So many people opt to use bicycles as their mode of transportation even mastering the skill of steering with one hand while talking on mobile phones. Walkers, you have been warned.
A far cry from the time when town squares and plazas where filled with pictures of Mao Tse Tung, the entire block spanning retail junctions Dongdan and Wangfujing is now the location of upscale shopping mall Oriental Plaza. Replacing the Mao posters are signages from Watson’s Baleno, Daks, Metro, and other retail stores.
Things to do and places to see
A memorial to one of China’s violent historical events, Tiananmen Square is located right in the heart of China. Here stands the national Parliament, museums, the tomb of Mao Tse Tung, the Monument to the People’s Heroes, and the entrance to the Forbidden City. Visitors may stick around for the sunset ceremony of the national flag should they be in the area at dusk.
The Forbidden City
A Tang Dynasty poet wrote a line about the royal palace of his time, which says, “Without seeing the magnificence of the royal palace, one can never sense the dignity of the emperor.”
Magnificent and awe-inspiring, that is how every visitor would describe the Forbidden City, which served as the seat of imperial power during the Ming and Qing dynasties.
Now known as the Palace Museum, it is the world’s largest palace complex and covers 74 hectares. Surrounded by a six meter deep moat and a ten-meter high wall are 9,999 buildings. The wall has a gate on each side. Opposite the Tiananmen Gate, to the north is the Gate of Divine Might (Shenwumen), which faces Jingshan Park.
The Forbidden City is divided into two parts. The southern section or the Outer Court was where the emperor exercised his supreme power over the nation. The northern section or the Inner Court was where he lived with his royal family.
Having been the imperial palace for some five centuries, it houses numerous rare treasures and curiosities. Listed by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage Site in 1987, the Palace Museum is now one of the most popular tourist attractions worldwide.
Tourists may see the magnificence of the golden throne in the Hall of Supreme Harmony and the luxury of the Dowager Empress Cixi’s bedchamber.
Badaling Walls (The Great Wall of China)
You haven’t visited China if you haven’t climbed the Great Wall. Built primarily to ward off wars within the dukedoms and the barbarians, the Great Wall of China stretches 5,000 kilometers from Northern China borders to the Gobi desert regions in the south.
Those who succeeded in climbing the wall today are often regarded as “Real heroes”, from this we should realize the difficulty in climbing the wall, and can imagine how difficult it is to build the Great Wall without modern machinery at that time.
In Beijing, the Great Wall is about 630 km long, 6 sections of the Great Wall have been opened to visitors. There are the Badaling Section, Juyongguan Section, Simatai Section, Mutianyu Section, Jinshanling Section and Gubeikou Section.
Jingshan and Beihai Park
Jingshan Park found behind the Forbidden City, has a walking trail to what a sign calls the Pavilion of 10,000 Springtimes. Across the street is Beihai Park where guests may enter the “Round City,” a little fortress enclosed by a circular wall. It contains a jade urn once owned by Kublai Khan and a 10-foot high white jade Buddha.
The Temple of Heaven
One of the city’s oldest architectural treasures is the Temple of Heaven, built by the Ming Emperor Yonglee in the 1400’s. This was where the Ming and Qing emperors went to worship Heaven and pray for better harvest.
With an area of 270 hectares, Temple of Heaven counts as the world’s largest existing group of temple buildings. Its distinct architectural design and pattern represents the ancient belief of round heaven, square earth, and the supreme imperial power.
Today, the hallowed grounds has become an open-air cathedral for singers, dancers, musicians, martial arts enthusiasts and many others who seek sanctuary inside the compound.
The Ming Tombs
Burial tombs of 13 of the 16 Ming emperors situated just outside the city. Conveniently located en route to the Badaling Wall, it is a convenient stop for travelers who would wish to take in a bit of dynastic history.
Spring is the best time of year to visit, when the area surrounding the vaults is alive with trees and blooming flowers.
The Summer Palace
Lying about 20 km northwest on the outskirts of Beijing, it is up to now the best preserved and the largest imperial garden in China. Locally known as “Yi He Yuan” (Garden of Cultivated Harmony)
Heading the attractions of the Summer Palace are Kunming Lake and Longevity Hill.
The Palace is also divided into three main halls for political affairs, living quarters and religious buildings respectively.
Tourists have got to visit the Painting Walkway, the longest walkway in the palace with over 14,000 traditional Chinese paintings on the beams and crossbeams. Another is the Marble Boat for which Dowager Empress Ci’xi appropriated funds intended for naval modernization and had built in commemoration of her 50th birthday.
The Entertainment Scene
Operas, magic shows and acrobatic displays are just a few of the night entertainment visitors may partake of in Beijing. At the Chaoyang Theater for example, guests are treated to mind-boggling displays of seemingly impossible acrobatic stunts and plate spinners whizz countless plates through the air.
Incredible balance routines are also done with the use of everyday things like sticks, bicycles, chairs, hoops and jars.
While traditional and delicious Chinese food may be bought at the restaurants and teahouses, no visit to Beijing is complete without sampling some of Beijing’s inexpensive street food with the traditional to the more exotic street food offerings.
Rows upon rows of street stalls hawking every conceivable kind of food may be found at the markets and back alleys called “hutongs” will be a dining experience if not an adventure for tourists.
Underneath swaying red lanterns and garlands, cooks fry, grill, and hawk their wares for the evening crowd. Almost every kind of dumpling, grilled meat and dimsum send their delicious odors wafting in the evening air tempting the hungry tourist.
The Dong Hua Men Ye Shi or the Night market found off Wangfujing Street is the place to go for a sampling of Beijing’s more exotic food fare. Open from 4:30pm-10:30 pm, tourists may try out fried locusts, scorpions, silkworms still in their cocoons, starfish and tiny but whole headless frogs. For tourists with more traditional tastes, they may feast on slices of octopus, crayfish and Peking duck wrapped in a thin pastry or on a sesame seed bun.
A rich and colorful culture, scrumptious cuisine, and beautiful, historic sites to see… definitely more than enough motivation to visit Beijing.