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The Forbidden City (Zijin Cheng)
The spectacular Forbidden city, so called because it was off limits to commoners for 500 years, occupies a primary position in the Chinese psyche. To the Chinese, the Forbidden City is a contradictory symbol. It is a dark age, but it is also one spun from the very pinnacle of chinese civilisation. This gargantuan palace complex - largest in China - was home to two dynasties of emperors, the Ming and the Qing, who didn´ t stray from their pleasure dome unless they absolutely had to. A stultifying code of rules, protocol and superstition deepened its otherworldliness, perhaps typified by its twittering band of eunuchs. The rest of the land was governed from within these walls until the 1911 revolution.
If ceremonial and administrative duties occupied most of the emperor´s working hours, it was the pursuit of pleasure behind the high walls of the Forbidden City that occupied much of his attention during the evening. With so many wives and consorts to choose from, a system was needed to help the emperor to choose his bed-time companion. One method was to keep the names of royal wives consorts and favourites on jade tablets near the emperor´s chambers. By turning the tablet over the emperor made his request for the evening, and the eunuch on duty would rush off to find the lucky lady. Stripped naked and therefore weaponless, the little foot-bound creature was gift-wrapped in a yeallow cloth, piggybacked over to the royal boudoir and dumped at the feet of the emperor, the eunuch recording the date and time to verify legitimacy of a possible child. During the Ming Dynasty there were an estimated 9000 maids of honour and 70 000 eunuchs serving the court.
As for the palace eunuchs, the royal chop was administered at the Eunuch Clinic near the Forbidden City, using a swift knife and a special chair with a hole in the seat. The candidates sought to better their lives in the service of the court, but half of them died after the operation. Mutilation of any kind was considered grounds for exclusion from the next life, so many eunuchs carried around their appendages in puches, believing that at the time of death the spirits might be deceived into thinking them whole.
Tips and Suggestions: The palace is 720 000 sq metres large and includes 800 buildings with 9000 rooms. If you want to see all of them, be prepared to spend here all day. The best thing is to entry the Palace from the south gate and exit from the north. Watch out for unscrupulous characters who will do their best to convince you that you must have an official guide to see the palace: It is not true. You can rent a cassette tape for a self-guided tour. Tapes are available in several laguages, but to make sense you must enter the Forbidden City from the south gate.
Tiananmen Square (Tiananmen Guangchang)
Tiananmen square is the world´s largest public square. It may be a grandiose, Maoist tourist trap, but there´s more than enough space to stretch a leg and the view can be breathtaking, especially on a clear day (which is not so often). The square is laid out on a north-south axis, like Chinese temples. The axis bisecting this square threads through Front Gate to the south, is straddled by the Mao Zedong Mausoleum, is further marked by the Monument to the People´s Heroes, cuts through the Gate of Heavenly Peace to the north, and cleaves through the Forbidden City. In the square, one stands in the symbolic centre of the Chinese universe. Mao conceived the square to project the enormity of the Communist Party, so it is all a bit Kim II Sungish. In 1989 army tanks and soldiers cut down pro-democracy demonstrators over here.
Amongst the sights to be seen (but sometimes not worth to) over here belong Gate of Heavenly Peace, Great Hall of the People, Mao Zedong Mausoleum, Monument to the People´s Heroes, Museum of Chinese History and Museum of the Revolution.
Tips and Suggestions: Not only inside the Palace but also everywhere in the centre, there are many very good English speaking Art students who will try to invite you to an Art exhibition. What actually is going on is the fact, that after you see the exhibition, they will try to convince you to buy some pictures or calligraphy. This is fine for the first time, but if you are stopped by 9th Art student within one day, it gets a little bit annoying. Many street vendors will try to sell you postcards or other stuff including the "official" caps of the 2008 Olympic Games. Don´t hesitate to offer them less than a half of the price they ask for, after a while you can get knocked the price by the half of the originally one.
Temple of Heaven (Tiantan Gongyuan)
The most perfect example of Ming architecture, Tiantan - literally "Altar of Heaven", but commonly called Temple of Heaven has come to symbolize Beijing. It originally functioned as avast stage for the solemn rites performed by the Son of Heaven, who came here to pray for good harvests, seek divine clearance and atone for the sins of the people. In the 1970s the complex was given a face-lift and was freshly painted. It is set in a 267-hectare park, with four gates at the compass points, and bounded by walls to the north and east.
The crown of the complex is the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, which is a magnificent piece mounted on a three-tiered marble terrace. Built in 1420, it was burnt to cinders in 1889 and heads rolled in apportioning blame. A faithful reproduction based on Ming architectural methods was erected the following year, using Oregon fir for the support pillars. Behind the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests is located the Hall of August Heaven. Along the lines of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests is structured Imperial Vault of Heaven, which was build in 1530. It used to contain tablets of the emperor´s ancestors, which were used in the winter solstice ceremony. The 5m high Round Altar was constructed at the same time as the Imperial Valt of Heaven and rebuilt in 1740. It is composed of white marble arrayed in three tiers, and its geometry revolves around the imperial number nine. Just north of the altar, surrounding the Imperial Vault of Heaven, is the Echo Wall, 65 m in diameter. Its form enables a whisper to travel clearly from one end to your friend´s ear at the other.
Tips and Suggestions: This is a must-see sight. If you are inside, next to other things to see, you can also visit the tea room hidden near the Kitchen and ask for a tea ceremony (usually you don´t have to ask, the tea ceremony will be offered to you anyway). It is a very nice experience and the tea room over here is one of the best ones in Beijing with a very pleasant stuff (contrary to other tea rooms they don´t try to force you to buy something, then just very politely ask)
Prospect Hill Park (Jingshan Gongyuan)
Jingshan Gongyuan with its priceless views, was shaped from the earth excavated to create the palace moat. During legation days, the mound was called Coal Hill, it was Beijing´s largest point during the Ming dynasty. Clambering to the top of this regal pleasure garden for a magnificent panarama of the capital and an unparalleled overview of the russet roofing of the Forbidden City, is a must.
On the eastern side of the park a locust tree stands in the place where the last of the Ming emperors, Chongzhen, hung himself as rebels swarmed at the city walls. The hill supposedly protects the place from the evil spirits from the north.
Tips and Suggestions: Another must-see park, especially for the fabulous panoramatic view over the Forbidden City. Just be prepared for crowds of people on the top, since everyone wants to see and take a picture of the Forbidden City from here. True to say, it is a best place to overlook the Palace.
Summer Palace (Yiheyuan)
One of the Beijing´s most visited sights. This dominion of palace temples, gardens, pavilions, lake and corridors was once a playground for the imperial court. Royalty came here to elude the insufferabel summer heat that roasted the Forbidden City. The site had long been enlarged and embellished by Emperor Qianlong in the 18th century. He deepend and expanded Kunming Lake with the help of 100 000 labourers, and reputedly surveyed imperial navy drills from a hill top perch. Anglo-french Troops badly damaged the building during the Second Opium War (1860). Empress Dowager Cixi began a refit in 1888 with money earmarked for a modern navy, but the extravagant marble boat at the edge of the lake was her only natical concession. Foreign troops, incensed by the Boxer Rebellion, had another go at rasting the Summer Palace in 1900, prompting more restoration work. In 1949 there was a major overhaul, by which time the palace had once more fallen into disrepair.
Three quarters of the park is occupied by Kunming Lake, and the most notable structures reside near the east gates or overlook from Longevity Hill. The main building is the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity, by the east gate, which houses a hardwood throne and fronted with a courtyard decorated with bronze animals. Along the northern shore, the Long Corridor is trimmed with a plethora of paintings.Slung out uphill on a north south axis are Buddhist Fragrance Pavilion and Cloud Dispelling Hall connected by corridors. At the crest sits the Buddhist Temple of the Sea of Wisdom encapsulated with glazed tiles depicting Buddha, many, sadly, have had their head obliterated. The graceful 17-arch bridge spans 150m to South Lake Island from the eastern shore of the lake. You can traverse Kunming Lake by boat from the Island to the norhern shore where you can see Cixi´s marble boat (not possible during the winter). Towards the North Palace Gate there is the Suzhou Jie, which is a fun diversion of riverside walkways, shops and eateries.
Tips and Suggestions: This is one-day trip or if you want to walk around the Lake, be prepared to spend here even two days, but the experience is really worth of it. During the summer you can take a boat to get on the other side, during the winter is the Lake frozen, so that you can cross it over. Despite many notices not to do so, almost everyone does so. The most difficult part is to get on and from the ice. There are many Chinese people flying their kites in the park.
Old Summer Palace (Yuanming Yuan)
This park was laid out in the 12th century. Resourceful Jesuits were later employed by Emperor Qianlong to fashion European-style palaces for the gardens. During the Second Opium war, British and French troops destroyed the palace and sent the booty abroad. Much went up in flames, but a melancholic array of broken columns and marble chunks remains.
Trot through the southern stretch of hawkers and arcade games to the more subdued ruins of the European Palace in the Eternal Spring Garden to the northeast. The Great Fountain Ruins, considered the best-preserved relic in the palace, can be found near the east gate, which leads to the palace vestiges. The gardens cover a huge area - some 2,5 km from east to west. Besides the ruins, there´s the Perfection and Brightness Garden and the Spring Garden to see.
Tips and Suggestions: This place is not much worth to visit especially during the winter. If you don´t have enough time, it is no need to rush over here. It is nice to walk here during the summer, however there are much more interesting places to see in Beijing.
North Sea Park (Beihai Gongyuan)
Beihai Park is largely lake, or the North Sea. The park, covering an area of 68 hectares, was the former playground of the emperors. Jade Islet in the lower middle is composed of heaped earth excavated to create the lake. The site is associated with the Great Khan´s Palace, the navel of Beijing before the creation of the Forbidden City. All that remains of the Khan´s court is a large jar made of green jade, in the Round City near the southern entrance.
Dominanting Jade Islet on the lake is the White Dagoba which is 36 m high. It was originally built in 1651 for a visit by the Dalai Lama, and was rebuilt in 1741. On the north-eastern shore of the islet is the handsome, double-tiered Painted Gallery. Near the boatdock is the Fangshan Restaurant, a restaurant that dishes up imperial recipes that were favoured by Empress Cixi. She liked 120-course dinners with about 30-kinds of desserts.
Tips and Suggestions: Very famous park and one of the symbols of Beijing as well. Nice to see the White Dagoba or to take a boat over the Lake to the northern part of the park.
Frangrant Hills Park (Xiang Shan Gongyuan)
This is another former villa-resort of the emperors, which can be found nearby the Summer Palace. You can either scrambel up the slopes to the top of Incense-Burner Peak or the the chairlift (if you are paitient enough to wait in the line). From the peak you get an all-embracing view of the countryside in case you are lucky and there is no inversion over Beijing. The best time to visit is the autumn when the maple leaves saturate the hillsides in Great splashes of red.
Near the North gate is the excellent Azur Clouds Temple, which dates back to the Yuan dynasty. Southwest of it is the Tibetan-styled Temple of Brilliance, and not too far away is a glazed tile pagoda.
Tips and Suggestions: If you don´t have too much time to spend in Beijing, this place is not an absolute "must" to see. During the autumn the leaves turn yellow or red, however be prepared to meet thousands of people over here. To get there is a little bit difficult as well. If the bus gets stuck in traffic, it could take even 2,5 - 3 hours from the centre to get there. Climbing up to the peak requires a lot of patience, since you are stuck in a line of people who have the same desire as you do with any possiblity to go faster neither forward nor backward. Another way how to get to the top is taking the chairlift, but this solution requires for a change a lot of patience to wait in line for the chairlift. After all these problems you can be pretty disappointed when you get to the top, since there is often an inversion over Beijing and you cannot see anything either.
Prince Gong´s Residence (Gongwang Fu)
Prince Gong´s Residence is one of Beijing´s more attractive retreats, decorated with rockeries, plants, pools, pavilions and corridors. It is one of the Beijing´s largest privat residential compounds.
Tips and Suggestions: If you have enough time, this place can be a good solution how to escape the noise and crowds of people in the city. A very good idea is to combine the visit with the walk around the Hutong.
If you want to plumb Beijing´s homely interior, and move beyond the must-see sights and shopping mall glity of town, voyage into the land of the city´s hutong. Many of these charming alleyways remain, crisscrossing east/west across the city and linking to create a huge, enchanting warren. Hutong may be the stamping ground of a quarter of Beijing´s residents, but many have recently been coming down in clouds of dust.
The story of Beijing´s Hutong is almost as fascinating as a visit to the lanes themselves. The original meaning of the word "hutong" is uncertain. It is based on the Mongolian, and derives from the time when the Khan´s horsemen camped in the new capital of the Yuan Dynasty. The more historic hutong have the oldest courtyards, the later post - 1949 hutong are more functionally designed and have little or no ornamentation.
Tips and Suggestions: Very nice experience. We suggest firstly to walk around the Hutong by yourselves, so that you can get to some very interesting places and see the life of the lower class of Beijingers, and then to take a ricksha to experience other distant parts. The ride by ricksha itself is a very nice experience too. But don´t take the first price you will be offered. We were able to knocked the price down from 250 RMB to 25 RMB per hour and I am sure, if we were better in Chinese before, we could go even lower.
Lama Temple, Confucius Temple and Imperial College (Yonghe Gong, Kong Miao, Guozijian)
Beijing´s largest and most spectacular temple, ornamented with intriguing statuary, carpentry and a great pair of Chinese lions, the Lama Temple was once the official residence of Count Yin Zhen. In 1723 the count became emperor and moved to the Forbidden city. His name was changed to Yongzheng, and his former residence became Yonghe Palace. In 1744 it was converted into a lamasery, and became home to legions of monks from Mongolia and Tibet . In 1792 Emperor Qianlong, having quelled an uprising in Tibet, instituted a new administrtive system involving two golden vases. One was kept at the renowned Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, to be employed for detemining the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, while the other was kept at the Lama temple for the lottery used for choosing the next Panchen Lama.
There are four main Halls inside - the Lokapala, which houses a statue of the future Buddha, Maitreya, flanked by celestial guardians, the Yongyuan Dian, which has statues of the Buddha of Longevity and the Buddha of Medicine, the Falun Dian that contains a large bronze statue of Tsong Khapa founder of the Gelukpa or Yellow Hat sect. This last Tibetan-style building is used for study and prayer. The last hall, Wanfu Ge has a stupendous 18m statue of the Maitreya Buddha in his tibetan form. At the rear of the temple there is a dispaly of Tibetan artefacts., statues, and other Buddhist accoutrements.
Tips and Suggestions: Very nice place and definitely worth seeing, just find out before your planned visit, if there is no Chinese event, otherwise you will be stuck in the crowds of people.
Just cross the street and stroll down the hutong opposite the gates of Lama Temple to the former Confucius Temple. The grounds are home to cypresses and hundreds of steles that record the names of successtul candidates of the highest level of the official Confucian examination system. It was the ambition of every scholar to see his name engraved here, but it was not easy. Each candidate was locked in one of about 8000 cubicles, measuring roughly 1,5 sq metres, for a period of three days. many died or went insane during their incarceration. The Guozijian was the place where the emperor expounded the Confucian classics to an audience of thousands of kneeling students, professors and court officials. The former college is now the Capital Library. In the collection are the stone tablets, commissioned by Emperor Qianlong, which are engraved with 13 Confucian classics. It took the scholar who did it 12 years to complete.
Tips and Suggestions: The Temple may not be worth a trip in itself, but its proximity to the Lama Temple makes it a quiet sanctuary away from the bustling crowds at the latter. It is also the second largest Confucian temple in China after the venerable example at Qufu (see Shandong province)
Ancient Observatory (Gu Guanxiangtai)
A visit affords a rate glimpse into the often-mystical world of ancient Chinese science. The observatory dates back to Kublai Khan´s days, when it lay north of the present site. Khan - like later Ming and Qing emperors - relied heavily on the predictions of astrologers to plan his military movers. The present observatory was built between 1437 and 1446, to facilitate both astrological predictions and seafaring navigation. Some navigational equipment used by Chinese ships are displayed downstairs. On the roof is a variety of astronomicla instruments designed by the Jesuits. Of the eight bronze instruments on display (including an equatorial armillary sphere, celestial globe and altazimuth), six were designed and constructed under the supervision of the Belgian priest Ferdinand Verbiest, who came to China in 1659 as a special employee of the Qing court. The intruments were built between 1669 and 1673, and are embellished with sculptured bronze dragons and other Chinese handiwork - an unique mix of East and West. The azimuth theodolite was supervised by Kilian Stumpf, also a missionary. The eighth instrument, the new armillary sphere, was completed in 1744 by Ingnaz Kogler. It is not clear which instruments on display are the originals.
Tips and Suggestions: Nice experience, but a little bit rusty and not much sustentative. If you have enough time or if you are interested in astronomy, it could be a very good experience for you. Some of the instuments on display are interesting.
Beijing ZOO (Beijing Dongwuyuan)
Beijing ZOO is one of the worst ZOO´s I have ever seen. Most of the design features date from the 50´s - concrete and glass cells. The biggest thing to see over here are Pandas that have plusher living quarters for good behaviour. However additional fee has to be paid to entry their pavilion.
East of the ZOO is Beijing Exhibion Hall designed in the days, when Chinese architects were party ideologues. Enthusiast of Soviet Era monuments will admire its guileless overture.
Tips and Suggestions: This is worth seeing only because of the Pandas. Otherwise you will be very disappointed by the living conditions of the animals. There is also the Beijing Aquarium, however at the time, we were there, it was closed.
Streets of Beijing
Here you can find some pictures from the daily life in Beijing and our walk around the city
Tanzhe Temple (Tanzhe Si)
Tanzhe Temple is located about 45 km directly from west of Beijing. It is the largest of all the Beijing Buddhist temples. The Buddhist complex has a long history detaing as far back as teh 3rd century. Structural modifications date from the Tang, Liao, Ming and Qing dynasties.
The temple is attractively set amid trees in the mountains, but must of the statuary is, sadly, very new. The ascending temple grounds are covered with towering cypress and pine trees, many so old that their gangly limbs have to be supported by metal props. The highlight is the small Talin Si, by the forecourt where you disembark the bus, with its collection of stupas reminiscent of the Shaolin Temple.
Tips and suggestions: To get there, take the subway to Pingguoyuan, exit D, turn right and look for bus No. 931 (be prepared for crowds of people especially during weekends) to the temple. The bus goes every 40 minut and the fare costs 3 yuan. The entrance ticket should be 30 yuan, if you are a student, don´t forget to bring your student card which decrease the price to 17 yuan.
Source: This page uses information from Lonely Planet