Xicheng, meaning “West City,” is the central district west of the Forbidden City and the lakes. Beijingers think of this area as a seat of money and learning – both the Financial District and Haidian University are here. Western Beijing is best experienced as a series of half-day expeditions: a visit to the Military Museum with a look at the Millennium Monument afterward, or a trip to the aquarium followed by the Temple of the Five Pagodas. Expect to make liberal use of taxis and the subway.

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1. Capital Museum

prac_info 16 Fuxing Men Wai Dajie, Xicheng • 6337 0491 • Subway: Muxidi • Open 9am–5pm Tue–Sun • en.capitalmuseum.org.cn

The popular Capital Museum celebrates China’s civilization in general and Beijing’s history in particular. The five-story building is easily recognizable thanks to its huge bronze cylinder. Exhibits include porcelain art, calligraphy, Buddha statues, furniture, and crafts. Reserve online.

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Gilded bronze statue at the Capital Museum

2. National Library of China

prac_info 33 Zhongguancun Nandajie • 8854 5426 • Subway: National Library • Open 9am–9pm Mon–Fri, 9am–5pm Sat & Sun (except pub hols) • www.nlc.cn/newen

One of the five biggest libraries in the world, the National Library of China has been expanded to accommodate its collection of approximately 12 million books. The building’s floating roof houses the Digital Library. Most books are reference only, but visitors can request a reader’s pass.

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Immense reading room in the National Library of China

3. White Cloud Temple

prac_info 6 Baiyun Guan Jie, off Lianhuachi Dong Lu • 6346 3531 • Subway: Nanlishi Lu • Open 8:30am–4:30pm daily (Oct 8–Apr: to 4pm) • Adm

The first temple on this site was founded in AD 739 and burnt down in 1166. Since that time, it has been repeatedly destroyed and rebuilt. It even survived being used as a factory during the Cultural Revolution. The shrines, pavilions, and courtyards that make up the compound today date mainly from the Ming and Qing dynasties. Monks here are followers of Daoism and sport distinctive top-knots. Each Chinese New Year this is the venue for one of the city’s most popular temple fairs, with performers, artisans, and traders.

4. Temple of Heavenly Tranquility (Tianning Si)

prac_info Guanng’an Men Nanbinhe Lu • Subway: Daguanying, then taxi

This temple, built in the 5th century AD, is one of the city’s oldest. The striking octagonal pagoda was added in the early 12th century. The bottom of the pagoda is decorated with carved arch patterns, symbolizing Sumeru, the mountain of the gods. Above are 13 levels of eaves, with no doors or windows – the pagoda is without stairs inside or outside and is, in fact, solid.

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Temple of Heavenly Tranquility

5. Yuyuan Tan Park

prac_info Xisanhuan Lu • Subway: Military Museum • Open Dec–Mar 6:30am–7pm daily; Apr, May & Sep–Nov 6am–8:30pm; Jun–Aug 6am– 9:30pm • Adm

Lovely Jade Lake Park is at its most beautiful during cherry-blossom season. Rent a boat and traverse the massive lakes, go for a swim, or grab a snack from the food stalls and have a picnic – unusually for Beijing – on the grass.

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Brightly colored flower beds in full bloom at Yuyuan Tan Park

6. Military Museum of the Chinese People’s Revolution

prac_info 9 Fuxing Lu • 6686 6244 • Subway: Military Museum • Open 8am–5pm daily

Vast halls of hardware from the Cold War-era, including lots of silvery fighter planes and tanks, fill the first floor of this interesting military museum. The floor upstairs has exhibitions on historic conflicts, including the Opium Wars and Boxer Rebellion. Unfortunately, there is very little labeling in English. What isn’t mentioned is that the museum is close to the Muxidi intersection, scene of a massacre of civilians by the Chinese army during the democracy protests of 1989. To gain entry into the museum, ID is required.

7. Miaoying Temple White Dagoba (Baita Si)

prac_info 171 Fucheng Men Nei Dajie • 6616 6099 • Subway: Fucheng Men • Open 9am–4:30pm daily • Adm

Celebrated for its tall, Tibetan-style white dagoba (stupa), this temple dates to 1271, when Beijing was under Mongol rule. The temple is also noted for its fascinating collection of thousands of Tibetan Buddhist statues.

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Statue in Miaoying Temple White Dagoba

8. Lu Xun Museum

prac_info 19 Gong Men Kou Er Tiao, off Fucheng Men Nei Dajie • 6616 4080 • Subway: Fucheng Men • Open 9am–4pm Tue–Sun

Lu Xun is regarded as the father of modern Chinese literature, responsible for such ground-breaking works as “Diary of a Madman” and “The True Story of Ah Q”. This is the house in which he lived from 1924 to 1926. The rooms display artifacts relating to his life and there’s also an adjacent exhibition hall with more than 10,000 letters, journals, photographs, and other personal objects.

9. Temple of the Five Pagodas

prac_info 24 Wuta Si Cun • 6217 3836 • Subway: National Museum or Xizhi Men • Open 8:30am–5pm Tue–Sun • Adm

This temple displays obvious Indian influences. Built in the early 15th century, it honors the Indian monk who came to China and presented the emperor with five golden Buddhas. The pagodas sport elaborate carvings of curvaceous females, as well as the customary Buddhas. Also here is the Beijing Art Museum of Stone Carvings, with 2,000 decorative stelae.

10. Beijing Aquarium

prac_info 108 Gao Liang Qiao Xijie • 6217 6655 • Open 9am–5:30pm daily (Nov–Mar: 10am–4:30pm daily) • Adm • www.bj-sea.com

Located in a corner of the zoo is this conch shell-shaped building. It is reputedly the largest inland aquarium in the world, with massive tanks containing thousands of weird, wonderful fish, plus a shark tank, coral reefs and an “Amazon rainforest.” Both children and adults love this place.

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Close encounters in Beijing Aquarium

BUDDHISM IN CHINA

Buddhism started in India and probably came to China along the Silk Road. The earliest sign of the religion is linked to the founding of the White Horse Temple near the old capital of Luoyang in AD 68. Buddhism surged in popularity during periods of instability, when Confucianism’s veneration for authority did not sit well with the populace. It was eventually adopted by China’s rulers.

WAR AND PEACE

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MORNING

Even if you’re no big fan of mechanized heavy armor, the Military Museum of the Chinese People’s Revolution is worth a visit. Exhibits begin with the technology that made China one of the world’s first military superpowers, including the “Flying Dragon,” an early form of missile launcher. One room is devoted to the gifts that have been bestowed on China’s army chiefs and leaders, such as a pistol presented to Chairman Mao by Fidel Castro. Mao’s limousine is displayed on the first floor, and one hall is devoted to statues and assorted representations of the Communist Party’s great and good. It all makes for a fascinating insight into the mentality of late 20th-century China.

AFTERNOON

Leaving the museum, walk west along Fuxing Lu and take the first right. You will see the Millennium Monument and, behind it, Yuyuan Tan Park, a relaxing place for a stroll. Pick up a snack from one of the vendors here and have a picnic, or head out to Cuiwei Mudan Yuan (3rd Floor, Cui Wei Da Sha, 2 Hua Yuan Lu) for hot pot before continuing on Fuxing Men Wai Dajie toward Muxidi and the Capital Museum. Audio self-guided tours in Chinese and English are available at the entrance. Don’t miss the Peking Opera exhibition on the top floor, or the short film on Beijing’s urban development, screened in the auditorium on the first floor.

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