TIAN’AN MEN SQUARE AND THE FORBIDDEN CITY AREA

The geographical, spiritual, and historical heart of Beijing, Tian’an Men Square and the Forbidden City together represent a yin and yang arrangement; one is a vast, empty public space, the other is an even larger walled enclosure. One represents modern China, while the other is a silent repository of ancient imperial glories. It is worth setting aside a whole day for each. Afterward, wander around the corner for a look at the National Center for the Performing Arts and a glimpse of the China of the future.

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1. Tian’an Men Square

Although now synonymous with Beijing, until relatively recently there was no Tian’an Men Square. For centuries this was just a main thoroughfare leading to the Gate of Heavenly Peace (Tian’an Men). Cleared in the first half of the 20th century, the area quadrupled in size in 1959, supposedly allowing for up to one million people to gather. Many of the buildings on the square were erected at this time.

2. Great Hall of the People

prac_info West side of Tian’an Men Square • 6309 6156 • Subway: Tian’an Men West • Opening hours vary • Adm

This is the parliament building, home of China’s legislative body, the National People’s Congress. Tours visit the banquet room and the 10,000-seat auditorium, with its ceiling inset with a massive red star. The building is closed to the public when the Congress is in session.

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The vast Great Hall of the People

3. Forbidden City

The Forbidden City is Beijing’s top “must-see” sight. A seemingly endless collection of pavilions, gates, courts, and gardens, this majestic complex encompasses five centuries of colorful – and occasionally lurid – imperial history. Until the mid-1900s, only members of the imperial court were allowed inside – hence the name. Trying to see everything in one go will bring on a severe case of Ming fatigue, and it is highly recommended that you tackle this wonderful palace over at least two separate visits.

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Bronze lion at the Forbidden City

4. Imperial City Art Museum

prac_info 9 Changpu Heyan • 8511 5114 • Subway: Tian’an Men East • Open 10am–4pm Tue–Sun • Adm • Audio tour available for a fee

Much of Beijing’s Imperial City was destroyed under the Communists. A model in this museum shows just how much has been lost, including the wall that once encircled the city and many temples. There are also collections of armor and ceramics.

5. Wangfujing Dajie

prac_info Subway: Wangfujing

One of downtown Beijing’s most famous shopping precincts, Wangfujing Dajie is filled with department stores, restaurants, and malls (see Shops and Venues), as well as several bookshops and stores selling silk, tea, and shoes. To the north is St. Joseph’s, one of the city’s most important churches.

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Fountain at Wangfujing Dajie

6. National Art Museum of China

prac_info 1 Wusi Dajie • 8403 3500 • Subway: Dong Si Shi Tiao • Open 9am–5pm Tue–Sun • Audio guides available for a fee • www.namoc.org

China’s largest art gallery was one of ten key buildings erected in 1959 to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic. Its 14 halls, spread over three floors, host a constant rotation of temporary exhibitions of Chinese and international art.

7. National Museum of China

prac_info East side of Tian’an Men Square • 6511 6400 • Subway: Tian’an Men East • Open 9am–5pm Tue–Sun • www.chnmuseum.cn

Combining the original Museum of Chinese History and the Museum of the Revolution, this huge space offers an unsurpassed collection of Chinese artworks and other historical, archaeological, and cultural objects. There are also models, documents, and photographs connected with the history of the Chinese Communist Party – for political enthusiasts only. The museum also hosts temporary exhibitions.

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Vase at the National Museum of China

8. National Center for the Performing Arts

prac_info 2 West Chang An Jie • 6655 0000 • Subway: Tian’an Men West • www.chncpa.org

This modern opera house, a major landmark on Beijing’s skyline, hosts a year-round program of opera, theater, and concerts. Designed by French architect Paul Andreu, it is built of glass and titanium and takes the form of a giant parabolic dome – earning it the nickname “The Egg.” Entrance is through an underwater tunnel.

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National Center for the Performing Arts

9. Jing Shan Park

prac_info 1 Wenjin Jie • 6404 4071 • Subway: Shichahai • Bus: 5, 111, 124 • Open 6am–9pm daily (Nov–Mar: 6:30am–8pm daily) • Adm

Jing Shan (Coal Hill) lies north of the Forbidden City. The hill, created from the earth that was excavated while building the moat around the palace complex, was meant to protect the emperor and his court from malign northern influences, which brought death and destruction according to feng shui. The park is dotted with pavilions and halls, but the highlight is the view over the Forbidden City from the hilltop Wancheng Pavilion.

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View from the hill of Jing Shan Park

10. Zhong Shan Park

prac_info 6605 5431 • Subway: Tian’an Men West • Open 6am–9pm daily • Adm

Northwest of the Tian’an Men, Zong Shan (also known as Sun Yat Sen Park), the oldest and largest park in the city, offers respite from the crowds thronging the nearby sights. It was once part of the grounds of a temple, and the square Altar of Earth and Harvests remains. Located here is the Forbidden City Concert Hall, Beijing’s premier venue for classical music.

THE CULT OF MAO

Mao Zedong was an ideologue whose impatience at the pace of reform often brought disaster, yet skillful maneuvering by the Party meant that he remained a heroic figure. Mao’s status diminished in the years after his death as his influence was overshadowed by the political and economic reforms carried out by Deng Xiaoping and other leaders.

A DAY AROUND TIAN’AN MEN SQUARE AND WANGFUJING DAJIE

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MORNING

Arrive early to beat the crowds at Mao’s Mausoleum and shuffle through for the permitted few minutes in the presence of the Great Helmsman. The Forbidden City can be saved for another day, but climb the Tian’an Men for the views from the gallery. From the gate, walk east along the Imperial City wall, soon arriving at an entrance overlooked by most visitors: this leads to the Imperial Ancestral Temple, an ancient place of worship. Take a walk through Zhong Shan Park and stop by the box office to check about concert tickets before heading east to Wangfujing Dajie and the Oriental Plaza mall. Browse Beijing’s first ritzy shopping district, then hit Haidilao Hot Pot for lunch.

AFTERNOON

Wander up Wangfujing Dajie, making sure to look in the chopstick and tea shops. At No. 74 is the attractive St. Joseph’s Church, which is well worth a look. Immediately before the church is a crossroads: head away from the church along Deng Shi Kou Jie looking for signs for Fengfu Hutong on your right. Here is the Former Residence of Writer Lao She, offering a glimpse into a way of life fast disappearing in Beijing. Keep heading north to Susu, for a Vietnamese dinner in a converted courtyard.

Shops and Venues

1. Oriental Plaza

prac_info 1 Dong Chang’an Jie

Several floors of high-end, big-name international retailers, from Apple and Sony to designers such as Armani and Paul Smith. Don’t expect to find any bargains.

2. Foreign Languages Bookstore

prac_info 235 Wangfujing Dajie

Most of the first floor here is devoted to English-language fiction and non-fiction works and the staff are reliably surly.

3. Ten Fu’s Tea

prac_info 88 Wangfujing Dajie • www.tenfu.com

Tea from all over China is sold loose or in beautiful presentation boxes at this lovely shop. Staff will even brew small cups for sampling.

4. APM

prac_info 138 Wangfujing Dajie

This shopping mall full of mid-range clothes shops also has a multiscreen cinema as well as plenty of restaurants on the top floor.

5. Gongmei Building

prac_info 200 Wangfujing Dajie

A vast, multistory emporium of all kinds of handicrafts, from cloisonné vases and jade to wood carvings, lacquer ware, and silks.

6. Mao’s Mausoleum

prac_info Tian’an Men Square • Subway: Qian Men • Open 8:30–11:30am Mon–Sat, 2–4pm Mon, Wed & Fri

The mausoleum gift shop is the best source of Mao badges, posters, and shoulder bags.

7. Forbidden City Concert Hall

prac_info West Chang’an Avenue, Zhong Shan Park • 6559 8285

This venue draws the best musicians in town. In summer, the Gateway to Music Festival sees big names and traditional music concerts (see Forbidden City Concert Hall).

8. Capital Theater

prac_info 22 Wangfujing Dajie • 6512 1598

The city’s smartest theater plays classic Chinese dramas, plus the occasional foreign Shakespeare show, to captivated audiences.

9. Hao Yuan Market

prac_info Off Wangfujing Dajie

A small street market just off Wangfujing, Hao Yuan is crammed with stalls selling knick-knacks, local handicrafts, and curios.

10. Intime Lotte

prac_info 88 Wangfujing Dajie

This high-end mall is jointly owned by the Korean department giant Lotte and the Chinese Intime group. It also hosts cultural events and exhibitions.

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Intime Lotte

Restaurants

1. Susu

prac_info 10 Qiangliang Xixiang, off Qianliang Hutong • 8400 2699 • ¥¥

Susu serves light Vietnamese fare, including spring rolls. The English-speaking staff can turn meat dishes into vegetarian options. Book ahead.

2. Dong Lai Shun

prac_info 198 Wangfujing Dajie • 6513 9661 • ¥¥

An old name well-known for Mongolian-style hot pots. Get plates of sliced meat and vegetables to cook your own meal in a copper-funneled pot.

3. Oriental Plaza Food Court

prac_info Corner of Dong Chang’an Jie and Wangfujing Dajie • ¥

The basement of this upscale shopping mall has a Southeast Asian-style food court offering everything from good Chinese street food to sushi.

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Oriental Plaza Food Court

4. Made In China

prac_info Grand Hyatt, 1 Dong Chang’an Jie • 6510 9608 • ¥¥¥

A classy venture with stunning design and even better food.

5. Jing

prac_info The Peninsula Beijing Hotel, 8 Jinyu Hutong • 8516 2888 (ext 6758) • ¥¥¥

Enjoy an outstanding Asian-flavored French menu in refined surrounds.

6. TRB Forbidden City

prac_info 95 Donghuamen Dajie, Dongcheng District • 6401 6676 • ¥¥¥

One of Beijing’s top restaurants shows its more casual side, but its pedigree shines through. Choose from around 20 selections to customize your three to five courses. Another TRB branch is located at Shatan Beijie, Dongcheng District.

7. Haidilao Hot Pot

prac_info 8th Floor, Tianyingtai Department Store, 88 Wangfujing Dajie • 5762 0153 • ¥¥

Try their delicious hotpot and friendly service. Get your shoes shined, or have a manicure while you wait.

8. Quanjude

prac_info 9 Shuai Fu Yuan Hutong, Wangfujing Dajie • 6525 3310 • ¥¥

Beijing’s famous duck restaurant has several branches but this is definitely the most convenient, just a short walk from southern Wangfujing.

9. Tianjin Bai Jiaoyuan

prac_info 12 Xinwenhua Jie, Xicheng District • 6605 9371 • ¥

Loosely translated as “100 dumplings,” and hailing from the neighboring city of Tianjin, this spot is known for its incredible variety of fillings and dumpling skin colors.

10. Huang Ting

prac_info The Peninsula Beijing Hotel, 8 Jinyu Hutong • 8516 2888 (ext 6757) • ¥¥

Enjoy Cantonese cuisine amid splendid antique furniture in the basement of a five-star hotel.

PRICE CATEGORIES

For the equivalent of a meal for two made up of a range of dishes, served with two glasses of wine, and including service.


¥ under ¥250 ¥¥ ¥250–¥500 ¥¥¥ over ¥500

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