Beijing

Overview

Beijing (北京 Běijīng) is the capital of the People's Republic of China, the most populous country in the world. With a population of 21,500,000 people, it is the nation's second-largest city after Shanghai. It was also the seat of the Ming and Qing dynasty emperors until the establishment of the Republic of China in 1911. Beijing is the political, educational and cultural center of the country and as such it is rich in historical sites and important government and cultural institutions.

The city is marked by its flatness and arid climate. There are only three hills to be found in the city limits (in Jingshan Park to the north of Forbidden City) and mountains surround the capital on three sides. Like the configuration of the Forbidden City, Beijing has concentric "ring roads", which are actually rectangular, that go around the metropolis and serve as good reference points as one attempts to move about the city. Beyond the ring, roads are the most-visited portions of the Great Wall of China, which witnesses visitors the world over and Beijing serves as a good headquarters for those who wish to gaze upon one of mankind's more memorable and lasting structures.

Beijing was host to the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, and will also host the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, the first only city to host both these events.


History

Beijing literally means Northern Capital, a role it has played many times in China's long history. Beijing's history dates back several thousand years but it first became notable in Chinese history after it was made the capital of the State of Yan under the name Yanjing. Yan was one of the major kingdoms of the Warring States Period, some 2,000 years ago. After the fall of Yan, during the later Han and Tang dynasties, the Beijing-area was a major prefecture of northern China.

In 938, Beijing was conquered by the Khitans and declared the capital of the Liao Dynasty. The Mongols seized the city in 1215. From 1264 Beijing served as the capital of a united China under Kublai Khan. His victorious Mongol forces renamed the city, Great Capital (大都). From there, Kublai and his descendants ruled their empire from a northern location closer to the Mongol homelands. During this period, the walled city was enlarged and many palaces and temples were built.

After the fall of the Mongol-founded Yuan dynasty in 1368, the capital was initially moved to Nanjing. However, in 1403 the 3rd Ming emperor, Zhu Di, also known as Emperor Yongle, moved it back to Beijing and gave the city its present name. The Ming period was Beijing's golden era. The Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven and many other Beijing landmarks were built in this period. The capital developed into a huge city becoming the religious and cultural center of Asia.

In 1644, the Manchus overthrew the declining Ming dynasty and established China's last imperial line - the Qing. Despite the changing political climate, Beijing remained the capital. The Manchu imperial family moved into the Forbidden City and remained there until 1911. The Qing built both the Summer Palace and Old Summer Palace. These served as summer retreats for the emperors and their entourages. During the 19th century, Western countries established foreign legations in the Qianmen area south of the Forbidden City. These came under siege during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900.

The Qing dynasty fell in 1911. In the chaotic first years of Republican China, Beijing was beset by fighting warlords. Following the Northern Expedition, the Kuomintang moved the capital to Nanjing in 1928, and renamed Beijing as Beiping ("Northern Peace") to emphasize that it was no longer a capital. Beijing remained a center for education and culture throughout the Republican Era. When the Kuomintang was defeated by the Communists in 1949, the new government proclaimed a People's Republic with its capital at Beijing.

Recommended reading includes Peking - A Historical and Intimate Description of Its Chief Places of Interest, by Juliet Bredon (written in the 1930's (ISBN 0968045987) and Twilight in the Forbidden City, by Reginald Fleming Johnston (ISBN 0968045952)).


See


Landmarks


The centre of the city and most important landmark is Tiananmen Square in Dongcheng District. This is the world's largest public square and a must see for all visitors from abroad and from elsewhere in China. The square is surrounded by grand buildings including the Great Hall of the People, the Museum of Chinese History, the Museum of the Chinese Revolution, the Qianmen Gate and the Forbidden City. It is also home to the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall and the Monument to the People's Martyrs and was also the site of the infamous massacre of student activists by the Peoples Liberation Army in 1989.


The National Stadium or affectionately "Bird's Nest", in Chaoyang District is a major landmark and a lasting symbol of the 2008 Olympic Games. Two contemporary buildings in Chaoyang District are remarkable landmarks: the CCTV Building (sometimes called "The Underpants" or "Bird Legs" by locals) and the World Trade Center Tower III. Both are outstanding examples of contemporary architecture.


There are also a number of remarkable remains from the medieval city including the Ming Dynasty City Wall Site Park (the only remains of the city wall) in Chongwen District, the Drum and Bell Towers in Dongcheng District, and Qianmen in Chongwen District.



Palaces, temples and parks

The city's many green oases are a wonderful break from walking along the never ending boulevards and narrow hutongs. Locals similarly flock to Beijing's palaces, temples and parks whenever they have time. The green areas are not only used for relaxing but also for sports, dancing, singing and general recreation.

The most important palace, bar none, is the Forbidden City (故宫博物院) in Dongcheng District. The Forbidden City was home to the Imperial Court during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Unlike many other historical sights, the Forbidden City was relatively untouched during the cultural revolution due to the timely intervention of premier Zhou Enlai, who sent a battalion of his troops to guard the palace from the over-zealous Red Guards. Passport is required for foreigners to buy tickets to the Forbidden City.

When you come to Beijing, the first place you have to go is the Forbidden City. Because it is one the most significant symbols that shows the culture of China. Here are some introduction of The Forbidden City:

  1. The Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming dynasty to the end of the Qing dynasty—the years 1420 to 1912.
  2. It is located in the center of Beijing, China, and now houses the Palace Museum.
  3. It served as the home of emperors and their households. They lived here and did lots of daily things here. It also served as the ceremonial and political center of Chinese government for almost 500 years.
  4. The Forbidden City was Constructed from 1406 to 1420, the complex consists of 980 buildings and covers over 180 acres. And it has influenced cultural and architectural developments in East Asia and elsewhere. The Forbidden City was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987, and is listed by UNESCO as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world.
  5. Since 1925 the Forbidden City has been under the charge of the Palace Museum.


The Temple of Heaven (天坛) in Chongwen District is the symbol of Beijing and is surrounded by a lively park typically packed with hordes of local people drinking tea, practicing calligraphy or tai-chi or just watching the world go by. The Yonghegong (Lama Temple) (雍和宫) in Dongcheng District is one of the most important and beautiful temples in the country.


Other parks are scattered around Beijing. Some of the best are Zhongshan Park (中山公园) in Xicheng District, Beihai Park (北海公园) in Xicheng District, Chaoyang Park (朝阳公园) in Chaoyang District and Ritan Park (日坛公园) in Chaoyang District. The Beijing Zoo (北京动物园) in Xicheng District is famous for its traditional landscaping and giant pandas, however like many zoos, the conditions for the animals have been questioned. The Beijing Aquarium is on the same grounds.


Haidian District is home to the Summer palace (颐和园), the ruins of the Old Summer Palace (圆明园), Fragrant Hills (香山), and the Beijing Botanical Garden (北京植物园). All are quite close together and worth a visit.


Nanluoguxiang(南锣鼓巷) Nanluoguxiang a total length of 786 meters and 8 meters wide. The Lane is a north-south channel during Yuan Dynasty, as the Beijing Hutong protected areas. That "the capital city of Square Lane alley set of five," said Luo Guo Lane.


JuYong Guan Juyongguan Pass, also known as Juyongguan in Chinese, is located 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of Changping County, about 60 kilometers (37 mi) from Beijing. It is a renowned pass of the Great Wall of China. Enlisted in the World Heritage Directory in 1987, it is a national cultural protection unit.


Olympic Water Park (奥林匹克水上公园). Covering a planned area of 162.59 hectare and a floor area of 32,000 square meters, Shunyi Olympic Rowing-Canoeing Park is designated as the venue for rowing, canoeing and marathon swimming competitions of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, and also rowing events during the Beijing Paralympics.  



Museums and galleries

Beijing has more than 100 museums but most are not visited by foreign tourists. The city contains one of the largest and most well-known museums in the world, the Palace Museum, also known as the Forbidden City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Several museums may have free admission throughout the year or on certain holidays. Additionally, entry tickets must be reserved three days in advance.


One of the most well-known museums in Beijing is the National Museum (国家博物馆) in Dongcheng District. The Military Museum (军事博物馆) in Haidian District has long been a favorite with domestic and foreign tourists. The Capital Museum (首都博物馆) in Xicheng District is a high profile museum with historical and art exhibitions. The China Aviation Museum (中国民航博物馆) located in the Beijing/Northern Suburbs hosts 200+ rare and unique Chinese (mostly Soviet-era) aircraft. Finally, a number of restored former residences of famous Beijingers, especially in Xicheng District, give a good insight into daily life in former times.


The contemporary art scene in Beijing is booming and a large number of artists exhibit and sell their art in galleries around the city. The galleries are concentrated in a number of art districts, including the oldest and easiest accessible, but also increasingly commercial and mainstream. The most well known is Dashanzi Art District in Chaoyang District. Other newer and perhaps more cutting edge art districts include Caochangdi in Chaoyang District, Dashilar near Qianmen, and Songzhuan Artist's Village in Tongzhou District.


Buy

Throughout nearly all markets in Beijing, haggling is essential. Especially when browsing through large, "touristy" shopping areas for common items, do not put it beneath your dignity to start bargaining at 15% of the vendor's initial asking price. In fact, in the most "touristy" markets final prices can often be as low as 15%-20% of the initial asking price, and "removing a zero" isn't a bad entry point in the bargaining process. After spending some time haggling, never hesitate to threaten walking away, as this is often the quickest way to see a vendor lower his or her prices to a reasonable level. Buying in bulk or in groups may also lower the price. How high or low the vendor sets the asking price depends on the customer, the vendor, the product's popularity, and even the time of day. Vendors also tend to target visible minorities more, such as Caucasians or people of African descent.

They are a number of interesting markets around Beijing where you can find all kinds of cheap (and often fake) stuff. Some of the most popular places are Xizhimen in Xicheng District, Silk Street or Panjiayuan in Chaoyang District and Hong Qiao Market in Chongwen District.


As an alternative to the markets, you can go to some of the shopping areas lined with shops. This includes Nanluoguoxiang in Dongcheng District and Qianmen Dajie Pedestrian Street, Dashilan and Liulichang in Xuanwu District.


If you are looking for traditional Chinese food shops try Yinhehua Vegetarian in Dongcheng District, Daoxiangcun, Liubiju or The Tea Street in Xuanwu District. Please note that Chongwenmen Food Market in Chongwen District has been demolished in 2010.


Visiting hotel shops and department stores is not the most characterful shopping in China, but worth a look. While generally significantly more expensive, they are less likely to sell truly low-quality goods. The old style of Chinese retailing is gradually being transformed by shops with a better design sense and souvenir items are getting better each year. Silk clothing, table settings and so on and other spots around town, are worth a look, as are porcelain, specialty tea and other traditional items. Some of the most popular areas for this kind of shopping are Wangfujing and The Malls at Oriental Plaza both in Dongcheng District as well as Xidan in Xicheng District.



Eat

Beijing provides an ideal opportunity to sample food from all over the country. Some of Beijing's best restaurants serve food from Sichuan, Hunan, Guangzhou, Tibet, Yunnan, Xinjiang, and more.


Peking Roast Duck is a famous Beijing specialty served at many restaurants, but there are quite a few restaurants dedicated to the art of roasting the perfect duck. Expect to pay around ¥90 per whole duck at budget-range establishments, and ¥160-200 at high-end restaurants. Beijing duck (北京烤鸭 Bĕijīng kăoyā) is served with thin pancakes, plum sauce (甜面酱 tiánmiàn jiàng),and slivers of scallions and cucumbers. You spread the sauce on the pancake, put a few pieces of duck, cucumber, and scallions.The end result is a mouthwatering combination of the cool crunchiness of the cucumber, the sharpness of the scallions, and the rich flavors of the duck.


The best way to eat well and on the cheap is to enter one of the ubiquitous restaurants where the locals are eating and pick a few different dishes from the menu. Truth be told, visitors can find Beijing a very inexpensive city for food, especially considering that tipping is not practiced in China (instead along with taxes, built into the menu price). Some of this is due to low wages for restaurant workers and farmers, use of genetically modified or engineered ingredients, or flavor enhancers or preservatives to help speed flavors along or quicken the cooking process. A combination of small eateries and street vendors are popular in areas such as Wangfujing, Huguosi Street, Gui Jie, and Gulou areas.


Some of the cheapest and most delicious meals can be had on the streets:


  • Savory pancakes (煎饼果子 Jiānbĭng guŏzi) are one of the most popular street snacks, eaten from morning till night with most carts operating during the morning commute and then opening again at night for the after-club crowds and night-owls. This is a North China specialty. This delicious pancake is cooked with an egg on a griddle, a fried dough crisp is added, and the whole thing is drizzled in scallions and a savory sauce. Hot sauce is optional. Not all street vendors are licensed and more than a fair share use recycled oil. For travelers unused to such and spending a few weeks in town may do well to avoid street vendors all together, or risk upset stomachs or worse. Diehard fans often go on a quest for the best cart in the city. This treat should only cost ¥2.50, with an extra egg ¥3. There are many styles, such as the egg is fried flat on top of the pancake and the toppings wrapped inside, or folded like a taco.


  • Lamb kebabs (羊肉串儿 yángròu chuànr) and other kebabs are grilled on makeshift stands all around Beijing, from the late afternoon to late at night. Wangfujing has a "snack street" selling such mundane fare like lamb, chicken, and beef as well as multiple styles of noodle dishes, such as Sichuan style rice noodles, but the brave can also sample silkworm, scorpion, and various organs all skewered on a stick and grilled to order. Huguosi Street (Line 4 or 6 Ping'anli Station) is also another popular area for goodies such as Shanxi noodles, stuffed buns (or filled, such as xiǎobǐng jiāròu 小饼夹肉), mutton soup and sweets of all kinds.


  • A winter specialty, candied haw berries (冰糖葫芦 bīngtáng húlu) are dipped in molten sugar which is left to harden in the cold and sold on a stick. You can also find variations with oranges, grapes, strawberries, and bananas, or dipped in crumbled peanuts as well as sugar. This sweet snack can also sometimes be found in the spring and the summer, but the haw berries are often from last season's crop.



The most famous street for dinner food in Beijing is probably Guijie (簋街/鬼街 Guǐjiē), Gui Street (簋街) is located within Dongzhimen, East of the street from Second Ring Road of the Western part of the Dongzhimen overpass and West of the street from East Main Street eastern end crossing. Gui Street now showcases many excellent cuisines, the center of a food paradise. Stretching over one kilometer, 90% of the commercial shops in the street house more than 150 eateries. You can definitely find most of the larger restaurants in the capital here. Therefore Gui Street is known for its street food in Beijing.



Some restaurants that we may recommend and most famous are :

  • Quanjude (全聚德) is the most famous restaurant for Peking Duck and is a national chain. Unlike McDonald’s, the quality, as well as price, among different Quanjude restaurants differs greatly. For quality and authentic Peking Duck, only two Quanjude restaurants should be patronized: one in Qianmen (前门) and one in Hepingmen(和平门). Both of them are in central locations, providing the most authentic Peking duck dishes (and their prices are dearest too), but the former is right in the middle of the tourist area and there is always a very long queue during lunch or dinner time. The latter is just one subway station away from the former with a much bigger capacity, and you will be guided to your seats in no time when you walk in.


  • Guolin Home-style Restaurant (郭林家常菜 Guōlín Jiācháng Cài). This well-kept secret among Chinese people has some of the tastiest and most inexpensive ducks in all of Beijing. Half a duck is ¥58. And all its other delicious, innovative dishes keep customers coming back: be prepared for a bustling, noisy atmosphere, though the interior is often quite nice. Locations all over Beijing—look for a sign with two little pigs—including at Fangzhuang, Zhongguancun, Wudaokou, Xuanwu, and more. You can find one on Xisi Beijie between subway stations Ping'anli and Xinjieku. See also Dadong Roast Duck Restaurant in Beijing/Dongcheng or Quanjude in Beijing/Chongwen.


  • Beijing is also known for its mutton hotpot (涮羊肉 shuàn yáng ròu), which originally came from the Manchu people and emphasizes mutton over other meats. Like variations of hotpot (general name 火锅 huŏ guō) from elsewhere in China and Japan, hotpot is a cook-it-yourself affair in a steaming pot in the center of the table. Unlike Sichuan hotpot, mutton hotpot features a savory, non-spicy broth. If that's not exciting enough for you, you can also request a spicy broth (be aware that this is flaming red, filled with peppers, and not for the weak!). To play it safe and satisfy everyone, you can request a yuan-yang (鸳鸯 yuānyáng) pot divided down the middle, with spicy broth on one side and regular broth on the other. Raw ingredients are purchased by the plate, including other types of meat and seafood, vegetables, mushrooms, noodles, and tofu, so it's also perfectly possible to have vegetarian hotpot. A dipping sauce, usually sesame, is served as well; you can add chilis, garlic, cilantro, etc, to customize your own sauce. While "raw" sounds dangerous, boiling the meat yourself is the best way to ensure that more risky meats like pork are fully cooked and free of germs. In the city center, hotpot can run as much as ¥40-50 per person, but on the outskirts it can be found for as little as ¥10-25. Low-budget types may reuse the spices or cooking broth from previous guests, although it has been boiling for several hours.


  • Korean restaurants are also very common in Beijing, due in part by northern Chinese (males in particular) strong liking of meat. A frequent meal is the grill-it-yourself barbeque, including beef, mutton, chicken, and seafood items as well as some vegetables including greens and potatoes. Restaurants that serve abalone and sharkfin are considered the most expensive restaurants in the city. Expect to pay upwards of ¥800 for a "cheap" meal at one of these restaurants, much more if splurging.


  • Mongolian restaurant is a must-try! There are several in the student district among other minority restaurants. Try mutton brains cold cuts, mashed potatoes with spinach, cold lamb with marinated garlic and of course Mongolian tea. You can buy Mongolian tea and candies in places where they sell nuts and dried beef.