Sunday, October 1, 2017

Beijing, China

Beijing北京, is the capital of the People's Republic of China.  Some still refer to it as Peking.  With a population over 21,5 million it is the second-largest city in the world after Shanghai.  However, it is the world's biggest capital city.

The city has a long history and it dates back to 1046 BC.  It has been the centre of Chinese politics for most of the last 800 years.

Following the Chinese Civil War, Mao Zedong and the People's Liberation Army peacefully took the city in January 1949.  On 1 October 1949, the People's Republic of China was declared from Tiananmen Square.

There is plenty to keep tourists busy here; well beyond our 72-hour visa free stay.  Beijing is rich in both traditional and modern architecture.  The city is home to more than 140 museums and galleries, along with seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites.  And no visit to Beijing is complete without checking out the Great Wall of China which passes north of the city.

Hutong with toilets on the left.
Housing in such a big city is a problem.  Traditional housing in urban Beijing is made up of siheyuans, a residence where a courtyard is shared with connecting buildings.  The siheyuans are divided by narrow alleys called hutongs.  The living conditions aren't luxurious but there is a sense of community.
Every hutong has community toilets as few places have private facilities.  Since the 1990s, many siheyuan have been torn down and replaced with modern apartment blocks in order to tackle the overcrowding problem.

Beijing hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics and it will host the 2022 Winter Olympics becoming the first city ever to host both summer and winter games.

The most popular landmark is the Forbidden City.  The enormous palace is located in the historical heart of the city and it was listed by UNESCO in 1987.  It was built from 1406 to 1420 and served as the Chinese imperial palace form the Ming dynasty to the end of the Qing dynasty in 1912.

It is huge!  The complex has 980 buildings and covers 180 acres.  It's the word's largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures.

Mausoleum of Mao Zedong
Across from the Forbidden City is Tiananmen Square - the largest public square in the world.  This is where you find the Great Hall of the People, the National Museum of China, the Monument to the People's Republic, and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong.

Monument to the People's Heros
Tiananmen Square was the site of the 1989 student protests where the PLA opened fire.  Of course, there's no marker in the square to commemorate where it took place.

National Museum of China
There's plenty to see here but don't try to see things on National Day as it's extra crowded and you'll spend most of your day in queues.

The Temple of Heaven is another UNESCO site, listed in 1998.  It was built in 1420 and this is where emperors came for annual prayer ceremonies to receive good harvests.

The Nine Dragon Juniper tree is over 500 years old.

The circular mound was built in 1530 and was used as an altar during the winter solstice.

The Fasting Palace was built in 1420.  This is where, three days prior to conducting sacrificial rites, the emperor would come to abstain from meat, alcohol, music, and women.

Jingshan Park Temple is on a hill overlooking the Forbidden City.

The China Railway Museum opened in 2008.

The "Bird's Nest" is the national stadium that was built for the 2008 Olympic Games.

The "Water Cube" is the national aquatics centre, also built for the 2008 games.

The Temple of Confucius was built in 1302.  It is the second-largest Confucian temple in China.

72-hours goes by pretty fast here.  But it is enough time to get a taste of the city and know that it is worth coming back to.  Just maybe not on National Day.  The city was way cleaner that I had expected and getting around on the subway here was remarkably easy.

The biggest challenge was not being able to use Google to research sightseeing or for Google Maps.  Beijing is the capital of China and China is still a communist country where the Internet is highly restricted.  Fortunately Yahoo worked because there was no Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Wikipedia, Blogspot, Tumblr, or YouTube.  No BBC or CNN either as most western news websites are also blocked.

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