Beijing: A dynasty of histories
Beijing (In Chinese, 北京) is a city in northern China and the capital of the People’s Republic of China. It is one of China’s four municipalities, which is the equivalent of provinces in China’s administrative structure. Beijing is recognized as the political, educational, and cultural centre of the People’s Republic of China.
‘Modern’ day Beijing was first constructed in 936 AD by the Khitan Liao Dynasty which conquered the land from the Jin Dynasty. King Wu of Zhou (Who was the first sovereign of the Chinese Zhou Dynasty) was the first to declare Beijing the capital city in 1057 BC. Subsequently, the city has gone by the names of Ji, Zhongdu, Dadu and Peking, and finally Beijing when the Ming Dynasty Emperor, ChengZu, chose the name in 1421. After 1949, the city’s name returned to Beijing.
Beijing is most recognized for being home to the Great Wall of China, which was constructed during the Ming Dynasty. The Great Wall stretches some 4160 miles, and was used as a defensive barrier to protect the Chinese Empire from attacks.
Beijing may well be a perfect kind of destination an inquisitive or adventurous traveler could ever dream of. With its rich history and exquisite culture, it is bound to leave visitors enthralled and wishing for more.
Beijing’s bus system is called a “hidden treasure”. It’s inexpensive, convenient, and provides transportation to many places. A Tourist Special Smart Card is the most convenient and economical way for visitors when taking a public bus in Beijing. Ask at your hotel where to purchase this card … The subway though is a better bet for getting around. There are four lines: You’ll be able to figure out where to go by the maps and English signs. Maps are widely available online.
Taxis are available in all of China’s major cities. Always carry your hotel card with you, and ask the hotel concierge to write down the address of your destination in Chinese. Although in larger cities like Beijing (There are 67,000 taxis in Beijing), Shanghai and Guangzhou, English is widely spoken among the taxi drivers, but in other cities many drivers may not understand English well. Some phrases that are handy to know are “Qing da baio” (Run the meter, please), to make sure you are not overcharged, and you can get a receipt for complaining or reimbursement purposes by saying “Fa Piao.”
What Not to Miss
World Heritage Sites
Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritages are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) seeks to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world. There are currently thirty-seven World Heritage Sites in China.
Beijing has a long history with an abundance of historical and cultural heritage that represents riches from the city’s civilizations. During the last several thousands of years of history, Beijing is a puzzle of surprises for all to explore.
In order to have “time well spent” while in Beijing, it would seem wise to plan in advance what you may want to see. Here are some highlights…
The Great Wall of China, one of the eight wonders of the world, is a must see for any visitor to Beijing. Like a dragon, the Great Wall winds across deserts, grasslands, mountains and plateaus, stretching approximately 4163 miles from east to the west. Originally built as a defensive fortification, the Great Wall has undergone numerous repairs and maintenance throughout the years. The Great Wall has long been incorporated into Chinese mythology and popular symbolism, which has spread and increased its mystique. To this day, the construction of the Great Wall is still an admired accomplishment.
Tiananmen Square is the heart of modern Beijing. It lies at the geographical centre of the city and was the focal point of many of the major events during China’s 20th Century. Standing on this vast area of concrete you will realize that you have arrived. This one place, more than any other, is China. Just a short distance west is the new Chinese National Theatre, which is a large, modern bubble-like dome of a building, controversial but cutting edge, not dissimilar to the China we see on the world stage today. To the east of Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, The National Museum of China is a building which houses The Museum of Chinese History and The Museum of the Revolution.
The Forbidden City is the largest and most magnificent cluster of ancient buildings in China. It is a great achievement of Chinese architecture. Built between 1406 and 1420 during the Ming Dynasty, it was residence to two dynasties of emperors, the Ming and the Qing. The construction of the Forbidden City symbolized the supremacy of emperors.
The appearance of the Temple of Heaven on virtually every Beijing postcard is a testament to its importance. Its triple gabled, blue roofed Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests is a wonder of Ming architecture. Visitors, and Beijing residents alike, visit the temple to experience its peaceful environment as well as admire the delicate construction of the building.
The Summer Palace, where the Imperial families used to go to escape the heat of the Beijing summer, now throngs with tourists doing exactly the same thing. You can hire a boat on beautiful Kunming Lake, or climb to the top of a pavilion for a picturesque view.
Beijing’s Jingshan Park centres on a hill made from earth excavated to create the moat around the Forbidden City. The park is full of Chinese people practising calligraphy, tai chi or playing musical instruments. If you only had half an hour in Beijing, this might well be where you may want to go.
The Great Hall of the People is an immense building which houses the National People’s Congress, which is the highest legislative body of the People’s Republic of China.
The Ming Tombs lie at the foot of the Tianshou Mountains, and is the burial site for thirteen of the sixteen Ming emperors. The Changling and Dingling mausoleums are open to the public.
Through the many temples in Beijing, you can learn about the development of different religions and cultures. The Tanzhe Temple, for example, is the largest of all the Buddhist temples in Beijing and has a long history dating back as early as the 3rd century AD (Jin Dynasty).
If you are taking the kids … The Beijing Zoo is the oldest and largest zoo in China, and provides the chance for kids to learn about a wide variety of animals, including the giant panda, the golden monkey, the white-lipped deer, the red-crowned crane, and many rare animals from other parts of the world.
Dating from the 10th century, Beihai Park is a classical Chinese garden and pleasure park of Emperors. Located near the Forbidden City, Beihai Park’s highlights include the Nine Dragon Screen, the Five Dragon Pavilion, and the pagoda, temples and pavilions of Jade Island. Visitors come here to row or paddle on the lake, relax and maybe enjoy a snack or meal in one of the park’s cafes or restaurants.
Beijing After Dark
Open any guidebook and you can pretty quickly find the main sites in China’s capital city. But dig a little deeper and you can find numerous activities that will make your visit (even) more memorable. Here are some things to do after dark …
Beijing Opera, or Peking Opera, is well-known throughout the national capital. Commonly lauded as one of the highest achievements of Chinese culture, Beijing Opera is performed through a combination of song, spoken dialogue, and codified action sequences, such as gestures, movement, fighting and acrobatics. Much of Beijing Opera is carried out in an archaic stage dialect quite different from modern Mandarin and from the Beijing dialect.
Take in an Acrobatic Kung Fu Show There are a variety of both acrobatic and martial art shows available. Standbys include the twice-nightly acrobatic extravaganzas at the Chaoyang Theatre, and the nightly “The Legend of Kung Fu” at the Red Theatre. Both are worth the ticket; it’s not every day you can see 40 or 50 women ride atop five bicycles, or Buddhist monks chopping cabbage on their chest.
Visit the Donghuameng Night Market After dark, Wangfujing, the busy commercial street located just northeast of Tiananmen Square, becomes a bustling, wild and wooly food market, populated by individual vendors selling everything from deep fried scorpions and sparrows on a stick to lamb kebabs. And that’s not to mention cicadas, grasshoppers, tofu, quail’s eggs and strawberry kebabs. If you want to look but not eat, keep on walking to the nearby Wangfujing Xiaochijie (Wangfujing Snack Street), a colorful collection of outdoor restaurant stalls.
Have dinner on a boat on Houhai Lake The three connected Shicha lakes (collectively known as Houhai), just north of the Forbidden City, definitely has its charms, including the opportunity for a romantic dinner on the water. Walk along the west side of the lake and look for the wooden boats. Some of them are attached to restaurants and others will serve takeout food from one of the many restaurants circling the lake. An extra fee will hire you a traditional Chinese musician.
Local Customs and Etiquette
As you travel in and around Beijing, you may want to be aware of local etiquette and behaviours.
- Both men and women should dress in a sober manner. High heels and short-sleeved blouses are to be avoided as the Chinese frown on women who display too much.
- It is inappropriate to touch a woman in public.
- In China people normally greet each other by bowing or nodding. For a handshake, always wait for the other person to offer his/her hand first. Formal introductions are common in China.
- Never point while speaking to anyone.
- There are some items and colors that are associated with death in China. They are clocks, straw sandals, a stork or crane, handkerchiefs and anything in white, blue or black. Avoid them.
- Chinese take their decisions after much deliberation. Never show impatience.
- Punctuality is very important. Make it a point to arrive on time or early if you are the guest.
- First time visitors get a tour of the host’s home.
- When gift giving, expect to offer it a few times before the person accepts.
- If you are the guest, wait to be seated as hierarchy is involved.
- Also remember not to start eating or drinking before the host initiates the proceedings.
- You should taste all the dishes offered as a cultural courtesy.
- Never drop the chopsticks during the meal as it is considered to a bad omen in China.
- Make sure to pour tea for others before filling your own cup.
- In a restaurant, Chinese have a habit of ordering much more than they can finish. This is the way to show warmth and sincerity.
- Do not insist too much on taking the bill if someone offers to pay as it is polite to accept.
- It is not necessary to leave tips in Beijing as it could be seen as a sign of disrespect. Waiters may be confused as to why you are leaving them a small amount of money, and could take it as a message that you are looking down on them.
- Remember that it is illegal to give gifts to government officials in China.
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