The Emperor Yongle decided in 1409 to move the capital from Nanjing to Beijing. The palace district was occupied in 1420 and remained the seat of government of the Chinese emperors until 1911. The palace district is in the middle of a north-south axis that divides Beijing into east and west. The Imperial Palace is 960 m long and 750 m wide. The "Forbidden City" was the center of the country and was only allowed to be entered by selected people. That is why the Forbidden City is enclosed by a moat and a city wall.
There is a gate in the south the "Tian An Men" and a gate in the north the "Bei Men" (north gate). The gates to the east and west are usually closed for tourists. In the center of the Forbidden City is the Hall of Supreme Harmony (Tai He Dian) here is the throne of the Chinese emperor. There are many areas within the Forbidden City, which in turn are enclosed by a wall. The former 3,000 residents of the Imperial Palace had access to a very limited area. Only women and eunuchs lived in the Forbidden City, the only man who was able to father in the palace was the emperor.
Many symbols of the palace refer to the emperor. The number 9 is the imperial number and yellow is the imperial color. The roofs have yellow roof tiles with 9 riders (small figures of luck against fire on the ridge). Also famous is the Nine Dragon Wall, the Treasury and the Palace Garden.
In 1949, Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People's Republic of China on the "Tiananmen Square". In 1989, students demonstrated here for more democracy. The picture on which a protester bravely stood in front of a tank went around the world. In the largest square of the world is the Mao Mausoleum and the Monument to the Heroes of the People. "Tian An Men" (The characters stand for Heaven Peace and Gate) actually means "Gate of Heavenly Peace". It is the entrance to the "Forbidden City", the former palace district of the Chinese emperor.
The famous picture of Mao Zedong hangs on the "Tian An Men" gatehouse. The Chinese National Museum and the "Great Hall of the People" are located at Tiananmen Square. The People's Congress takes place here where the President of China is elected. In the south, Tiananmen Square is bordered by the two gates Zheng Yang Men and Qian Men.
The outstanding white stupa in Tibetan style, was erected in 1651 in honor of the Dalai Lama. Tip: Take the ferry to the other side of the lake. There you will find the famous "Nine Dragon Wall", the most beautiful view of the Beihai Park and dancing retirees.
The belfry and drum tower complete the central axis of Beijing. The two towers stand directly one behind the other. In the red drum tower (Gulou), from which you can see the central axis down to the coal hill, there are still the large signal drums with which the time was previously beaten.
The bell tower (Zhonglou) was built in stone in 1747 because the previous wooden building was destroyed by a fire. The 33 m high building stands in an area characterized by hutongs, in the north of the old town.
Emperor Qianlong turned the residence of his father, into a Lamaist temple complex in 1744. There are 6 halls on the central north-south axis. In the "hall of the infinite happiness" stands an 18 m high Buddha statue. The "Lama Temple" is the most famous temple in Beijing.
Hutongs are narrow streets with single-storey courtyard houses called "Siheyuan". The hutongs were the typical residential areas of the Beijing. The houses are completely closed to the outside, there are no windows to the street. Inside the wall there are individual buildings around a courtyard. The northern building served as the parents' house, the children lived in the side buildings in the east and west of the courtyard. The entrance was in the south. It's the same principle as in the Forbidden City, but much smaller.
In the 1990s, these residential areas were demolished to build high-rise residential buildings. There were no baths in the hutongs and only old and poor people lived here. Only a few quarters were spared from the demolition. The houses made of gray bricks have a lot of atmosphere and are currently being renovated in luxury.
Where can you find hutongs?
In the area around the Houhai there are posh hutongs that have been expanded like residences. Normal hutongs can still be found around the Liulichang, in the south of the city center.
The southern city gate of Tian An Men Square was built during the Ming Dynastyin in 1421. Beijing consisted of an Inner City (Neicheng) and an Outer City (Waicheng). The Qianmen was a gate connecting both cities and had a more representative function.
The "Bai Yun Guan" is the most important Daoist temple in China. It is the seat of the Daoist society of China and is still used as a monastery. It was built in 741 under the name Tianchang Guan (Temple of the Wide Sky). In the Ming Dynasty it was rebuilt and received its present name. The Daoism is a very fine-minded philosophy, with a tendency to superstition, which makes the temple very popular among the locals. There are countless lucky charms in the temple complex. You can throw coins, touch an donkeyatn the place where you have pain and hope for relief, touch your zodiac and find your patron saint. The "White Cloud" is my favorite Temple in Beijing.
Confucius was a Chinese philosopher who lived about 500 BC and pursued the harmony of all people as a noble goal. Reaching this aim could be achieve best by aspiring scholarship. The Confucius Temple was built in 1306.
In the Buddhist temple of the Law Source "Fayuan Si" has survived Communism. Monks are learning the sacred writings of Buddhism. The whole area has been renovated recently and exudes a holy spirit and rich colors.
The Wanshou Mountain and the Kunming Lake, make this huge garden to one of the most beautiful places on earth. The construction of the garden started in 1750. In 1860 the colonial powers France and Britain destroyed parts of the garden, because China did not want to buy opium anymore.
The former factory has turned into a magnificent art district. Galleries, designer shops and cafes in old industrial buildings, give the place a rugged atmosphere. The "798 Art District" is already commercialized, it is not as rough as it was 10 years ago. But it is still a place to be in Beijing and different from the rest of the city.
Welcome to Beijing
Beijing is the capital of China, with about 12 million inhabitants. The city was already capital of the Yan from 500 BC onward. At this time, the city was called "Yanjing" (capital of Yan). After conquering China, the Mongols also made this city to their capital. They called the city "Dadu" (Great Capital) and rebuilt it completely new, creating the right-angled street pattern, that still characterizes Beijing today. Beijing has built many important sights in its long history. The main attractions include the "Forbidden City", the "Summer Palace", the "Temple of Heaven", the "Lama Temple", the "Ming Tombs" and the "Great Wall of China".
The historic center of Beijing is shaped like a square, with the "Forbidden City" as center. The north-south axis divides Beijing into east and west. Streets west of the street get the suffix "Xi" (west), those to the east end on "Dong" (east). Between Fuchengmen and Chaoyangmen the division runs in north-south direction, "Bei" 8north) and "Nan" (south).
The subway network was expanded for the 2008 Olympics. You can now get to all major sights in Beijing by Underground. Even the "Summer Palace" and the airport are part of the metro network.
Buses are slow and the routes are difficult to understand for foreigners. If you do not get a taxi, you can take a bus in the direction of your destination. The buses usually run on straight routes, taking you to a metro station.
Taxi drivers usually do not speak English. You should have the address of your destination, written in Chinese at hand. The English name of a hotel or place might be totally different from the chinese name, the taxi drive will have no idea were you want to go. Sometimes it is very hard to get a taxi. Foreigners are not welcome, because the communication is too difficult. In addition, a "surcharge" is required, especially at the "Wangfujing" and other tourist attractions.
On the shopping streets tourists are often addressed by "students" who want to learn English. The goal is actually to lure the tourists into stores or to attend a tea ceremony. At the "tea ceremony", the guest tastes different teas and then receives a dearly bill. If you hear "tea-ceremony" be cautious.
What is the meaning of Beijing?
When the European colonial powers came to China, they wrote down the place names as they understood them, which made Bei-Jing "Pe-King". In order to establish a standard spelling translation for the western alphabet, the transcription language "Pinyin" was developed. This transliteration was introduced by the Peoples Republic of China in 1957 and adopted by Taiwan in 2009. Beijing means "Northern Capital" Bei = North and Jing = Capital.
What else is there to discover in Beijing?
Beijing is also known for good food. The "Peking duck" (Beijing Kaoya) is famous. Typical dishes from Northern China are Jiaozi, Baozi and Kao Yanrou Chuan (lamb skewers). The night market on Wangfujing offers bizarre delicacies from all over China.
There are many beautiful gardens in Beijing. The Summer Palace is the most famous, but there are also many other gardens that enchant the visitor. You shouldn't miss the Beihai Park and the "Fragrant Hills" (Xiang Shan) in the Western Mountains.
The wonderful National Museum of China at Tian An Men Square shows the best finds from the Chinese past. The Capital Museum presented the history of Beijing in an impressive way. For those interested in art, a visit to the Art District 798 is worthwhile.
Anyone interested in contemporary architecture will find buildings by Rem Koolhaas, Ole Scheeren, Zaha Hadid, Steven Hall and Herzog & de Meuron in our Architecture Guide of Beijing.