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Beijing Travel Guide: Attractions

January 16th, 2013 - by sheryl


If you only have an opportunity to go to one place in China, there is no doubt that Beijing should be your destination. The mix of historical tradition and modern convention make Beijing an amazingly alluring locale and despite the air-pollution, attractions like the Forbidden City, Beihai Park and the Great Wall are the real reason people come to China.

Beijing is the political, cultural, economic and education center of the nacion and also is the centre most important of China for international trade and communications. Together with Kaifeng, Xian, Nanjing, Luoyang and Hangzhou, Beijing is one of the six Chinese’s ancient towns.

Beijing is characterized by the soul and heart of the politics and of the society throughout its history. The town of Beijing is situated in the northern China, close to Tianjin Municipality, and nowadays covers an area approximated of 16,410 square kilometers and has a population of 14.93 million people.

The town of Beijing was also the seat of the Qing and Ming dynasty emperors until the development of a republic in 1911 and also is one of the 4 Great Ancient Capitals of China.

Beijing has a total of 2 counties and 16 districts.

The City of Beijing

Beijing is a town with four distinct seasons. Its best season is the autumn and spring. Normally, the autumn is taken as the golden tourist season of the year, because in some recent years, there are a yellow wind.

The town of Beijing during the months of May, September and October is ideal to visit and enjoy bright sunshine and blue skies. If you like winter, you will have other chances to appreciate another landscape of Beijing.

Nowadays Beijing is third largest town in China in terms of population, after Chongqing and Shanghai.

Forbidden City

Forbidden City

Forbidden City

In 1400 Yongle, who was the third Ming Emperor, moved the capital of China to Beijing. In 1406, he began the Forbidden City construction that would include the imperial palace complex.

The Forbidden City, at the center of the ancient town of Beijing, was home to 24 emperors during the Ming and Qing dynasties.

It was built from 1406 to 1420, the complex consists of 980 surviving buildings with 8,707 bays of rooms and covers 720,000 square metres.

In 1987 the forbidden city was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world and nowadays is one of the most impressive monuments in the world.

At present, the Forbidden City is a public museum, attracting millions of tourists from around the world.

Tian’anmen Square

Tian'an men Square

Tian’an men Square

Standing in the middle of Tian’anmen Square (Tiān’ānmén Guǎngchǎng, 天安门广场), one is confronted with overwhelming representations of China’s past and present powers-that-be, cast in an immense space that dramatizes China’s modern history in spectacular fashion. Standing on ground where the Emperor’s high officials once did business in classical courtyards and halls, one now finds the world’s largest public square, with Mao’s Mausoleum, the Great Hall of the People and the Monument to the People’s Heroes defining a space that is both austere and grand—and saturated with history and its ironies.

The Forbidden City’s outer entrance, the Gate of Heavenly Peace (Tiān’ān Mén, 天安门), stands at the north end, with Mao Zedong’s immense portrait fixed to a gate that once admitted only those closest to Emperor and his court. Today, Mao’s image looks down on throngs of tourists armed with cameras; scant decades ago, the living Mao reviewed troop formations and assembled masses waving Little Red Books in fervent support of the Cultural Revolution from atop the Gate of Heavenly Peace—the same spot from which he declared the founding of the PRC in 1949. Of course Tian’nmen is also where, following the reforms that began to open China up to the outside world during the 1980s, tens of thousands of demonstrators called for further political reforms before being met in 1989 with the full (and deadly) force of state power—a historical moment that continues to define what is and isn’t permitted in the People’s Republic.

Despite the weight of history, on a sunny day the square can be a surprisingly light-hearted place, with kids flying kites, and Chinese families and Tian’anmen tour groups paying cheerful homage to Mao, the heroes of the Revolution and the China that they were so instrumental in creating. Crowds thicken toward dusk and dawn at the north end of the Square to witness the People’s Liberation Army honor guard raising and retiring of the flag opposite the Gate of Heavenly Peace. At such moments, it’s easy to imagine the humming energy of Beijing and, beyond, all of China surrounding this symbolic center. At night, the Square’s often imposing feel softens, as the lights of the city cast a warm glow across Tian’nmen and individual couples stroll arm-in-arm, sharing intimate moments in this space made for the masses.

Great Wall of China at Badaling

Great Wall of China at Badaling

Great Wall of China at Badaling

Only a 70 km (44 mi) drive from Beijing, Badaling is the most visited section of the Great Wall. Constructed during the Ming Dynasty, Badaling underwent extensive reconstruction during the 1950s and 1980s and now features amenities that invading barbarians would certainly kill for, from cablecar rides to snack stands, caged bears, souvenir shops and restaurants, not to mention air-conditioned tour bus travel down the Badaling Expressway, which links this length of wall to the capital.

With all the extras and the site’s popularity, those seeking a less crowded and commercialized experience may want to head further out to Simatai, Jinshanling or other spots. But for those on a tight schedule who want to get in a visit to a prime length of the Great Wall, a Badaling day trip is an excellent option. Despite all the commercial trappings and crowds, a walk along the Badaling wall can be a stunning experience.

With a little effort (the climbs can be steep, hence the cable car), you can gain commanding views of the surrounding countryside and get a strong sense of the overall grandeur and expanse of the world’s most famous (if ineffectual) defense project. It’s a pleasure to take in views from Ming-era watchtowers, as the ancient wall snakes its way into distant, rugged hills. An off-season visit can be a real delight, especially after a snowfall when the wall’s dark brick makes for a striking contrast against the white slopes and ridges.

Beihai Park

Beihai Park

Beihai Park

Beihai Park lies just to the west of the Forbidden City and until 1925, it was considered part of the imperial complex and therefore off-limits to the masses.

The heart of the park consists of three man-made lakes: Beihai, Zhonghai and Nanhai. The lakes are connected by the Jade Islet which, along with the lakes, was created during the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234 AD), although the site’s history as an imperial playground goes back even further to the Liao Dynasty (907-1125 AD).

The 75 hectare (186 acre) park has a number of excellent sights (some of which require an additional entrance fee), including the Yuan-era Jade Jar of Dushan within the Round City, the striking Tibetan-style White Dagoba, the Nine Dragon Screen, Western Paradise Hall, Yong’an Temple and the Five-Dragon Pavilion Kublai Khan, the first Yuan emperor, made Tuan Cheng his home, and with the advance of the Ming Dynasty, the Forbidden City became the center of imperial life, with Beihai serving as a pleasure garden.

The majority of the existing structures date back to the Qing era, including the distinctive White Dagoba.

Paddle and rowboat rentals are available and Beihai is also a popular destination for ice-skating in the winter.

Summer Palace

Summer Palace

Summer Palace

An excellent expression of China’s imperial spirit, the Summer Palace (Yíhé Yuán, 颐和园) should be explored at leisure, even if it means setting aside a full day just to wander around soaking up the atmosphere. That said, if you’re short on time, even a few hours exploring the halls, courtyards, pavilions, temples and wooded hillsides of this opulent lakeside retreat should prove a highlight of your Beijing visit.

Today’s Summer Palace, or “Garden of Nurtured Harmony,” owes a lot to late-imperial historical circumstance: its predecessors, including the Old Summer Palace, were destroyed by marauding Anglo-French forces, first in 1860 (Second Opium War), and then again in 1900 (Boxer Rebellion). The Empress Dowager Cixi, while presiding over the downfall of imperial China, made certain that its final years wouldn’t go without a Summer Palace and poured resources—including silver earmarked for upgrading the Chinese navy—into rebuilding the ravaged pleasure grounds, completing the restoration in 1902, a scant decade before the ultimate fall of the Qing. Though she failed to keep China together, she did a bang-up job on restoring the imperial getaway.

Originally known as the “Garden of Clear Ripples,” the site was established in 1750 by the Emperor Qianlong. Kunming Lake (Kūnmíng Hú, 昆明湖) was enlarged and shaped in imitation of Xi Hu (West Lake) in Hangzhou and Longevity Hill (Wànshòu Shān, 万寿山) was enlarged using earth excavated from the new lake bed. The gardens survived the two Anglo-French attacks, and the burned and looted buildings were rebuilt and expanded upon after both. Today, the Summer Palace grounds are the largest preserved imperial-era garden in China, occupying some 117 hectares (290 acres), and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Once inside, a host of sights await exploration, from the Duobao Glazed Pagoda (Duōbǎo Tǎ, 多宝塔) atop Longevity Hill, to the painting-lined Long Corridor (Cháng Láng, 长廊), to the lake’s Marble Boat (Shí Fǎng, 石舫) and temple-dotted South Lake Island (Nánhú Dǎo, 南湖岛), reached by the elegant Seventeen Arch Bridge (Shíqīkǒng Qiáo, 十七孔桥).

Fragrant Hills Park

Fragrant Hills Park

Fragrant Hills Park

Fragrant Hills Park (Xiāngshān Gōngyuán, 香山公园) is located some 20 km (12 mi) northwest of Beijing, not far from the Summer Palace. Though the name could easily refer to the area’s relatively fresh air (for Beijing) and the scent of trees and flowers, it instead comes from the shape of the hills themselves. If you look closely, squint a bit and crank up your imagination, you might just make out the shape of a Chinese incense burner at the summit of the hills.
If this image eludes you, you may be glad to know the park also goes by the “Garden of Congenial Tranquility,” a name that better gets at the essence of this green refuge from the dusty grays of Beijing. That being said, it’s less than tranquil on warm weekend days when congenial crowds flock to the park. Names aside, for great views (atmosphere permitting) take a chairlift or hike up Incense Burner Peak (Xiānglú Fēng, 香炉峰). On a clear day, you’ll see the Summer Palace with the mass of modern Beijing beyond it to the east, and a less cluttered forested landscape to the north, south and west.

The best time to hit the park is mid-autumn when the skies tend to be their clearest and the park’s maples turn red, orange and gold; do like the Beijingers do and pick up an auspicious red maple leaf for a dose of good luck and happiness.
As for history, the area was long a favorite country retreat for the imperial court. The lay of the land made it a natural area for temple building. The first temple went up during the Jin Dynasty in 1186 AD. By 1745 in the midst of the Qing Dynasty, 28 temples dotted the wooded hills. Sadly, the imperial gardens and many temples were destroyed by fire 1860 (Second Opium War) and again in 1900 (Boxer Rebellion). Today, only some of the buildings have been restored, with the Yuan-era Azure Clouds Temple (Bìyún Sì, 碧云寺) being one of the better restored and most impressive.In more recent times, Mao Zedong took up residence in the park’s Double Purity Villa (Shuāngqīng Biéshù, 双清别墅), presently open to the public. History aside, the park’s real draw is its natural beauty and the great views. From Ghost Fear Peak on a fine day, one can see the Yongding River, Luding Bridge, Prospect Hills, Summer Palace, Yuquan Hill and the expanding outskirts of the city. All in all, a great day trip.

(From Chinatravel.net

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