When it comes to moving forward, the old adage holds true: one must look into the past to see the future.
by Nimfa May Idea
China, now holding the record for the world’s largest economy, has its fair share of a glorious yet notorious past. Before late ‘70s, China was one of the most densely populated and poorest countries in the world. There were a number of hunger strikes and sit-ins as people aimed for social equality and democracy. Aside from its huge population, the low literacy rate and immense untapped resources added fuel to the fire.
Thanks to the 1978 economic reform, the “middle kingdom” finally found its financial system booming like never before. This led to China investing in industrial production and educating its workforce. The country opened its doors to foreign trades and investments. It has been able to maintain its high growth rate for more than three decades now. Today, it serves as a headquarters to more than a hundred Fortune 500 companies in its Central Business District. The three leading foreign embassies in the world are also found in China’s main city.
Regardless of China’s success with its economic system today, the country has never forgotten its past. The principality was able to preserve its rich culture through age-old temples and pagodas. It serves as a home to the world’s much-frequented places such as the Great Wall and the Tiananmen Square. Most structures remained the same since the time they were built, like the Tianning Temple in Xicheng District and Ditan Park in Andingmen. Let’s pay a visit to this Asian powerhouse by taking a trip around its capital city, Beijing.
Tranquil spots in the metro
Beijing, previously called Peking, has 20 subway lines and 16 localities. At present, more than 21 million people inhabit China’s chief town. You will be surrounded with hundreds of people, cars, and even bikes crossing the roads of Beijing. But there are a few hidden corners where you can escape from the busy Beijing life. The Summer Palace and the Great Wall are certainly the two most serene places in the city.
Find comfort in the Summer Palace, where you can see traditional Chinese gardens, waterfronts, and royal residences. It is located in Haidian District, only half an hour away from the city central. Also known as Beijing’s Imperial Garden, the Summer Palace was first built in 1750. It was greatly damaged during the war in 1860 and was restored after nearly three decades.
At this tourist spot, you can go on a paddle boat ride on the lake or just take a long walk down the palace’s seemingly endless corridor. If you are planning to visit the Summer Palace this month, you will catch sight of the lake still partly iced. Winter is over and spring will give you a more comfortable trip at the Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake. When you go to the northern shore of Kunming Lake, you’ll see a number of pillars depicting Chinese history and geography. Morning is the best time to go if you want to luxuriate in the peacefulness of the place.
When in Great Wall, you’ll find quieter spots in quiet sections of Mutianyu, Jinshanling, and Gubeikou. The nearest section from the city center is Badaling but this one is the most crowded of them all. Ride a cable car or a chair lift to get to Mutianyu, where the atmosphere is quiet and very green. If you ever find yourself hungry, the food outlets and market stalls are just on the outskirts of Mutianyu. Gubeikou, the unrestored section of Great Wall is the perfect place for those who want to see breathtaking views and picture-perfect landscapes. If you are up for hiking, start from Jinshanling then move all the way to Simatai. A beautiful sunset awaits you after the long hike. Tourists who are tired from this lengthy walk can find overnight accommodations in the local guesthouses around the area.
A haven of momentous structures
Getting around Beijing will lead you to one of its most-visited surreal places. The Temple of Heaven or Altar of Heaven was built in 1406 during the 18th year of Emperor Yongle, the third ruler of the Ming Dynasty. It’s a complex of religious buildings where emperors carried out important rites. China’s rulers also prayed here whenever asking for good harvests during the winter solstice.
Situated in the southeastern part of central Beijing, the temple consists of three groups of buildings: Earthly Mount, the House of Heavenly Lord, and the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests.
From above, one will notice two recurring geometrical shapes in this man-made structure. The square figures represent earth, while the round ones symbolize the sky. This pattern shows the relationship between heaven and earth. Beijing’s places of interest are indeed symbolic.
When you get to the Danbi Bridge, which is in fact a main road, you’ll find the connection between the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests and the Imperial Vault of Heaven. The bridge itself represents that the roads from heaven is long. Likewise, the park gates in four cardinal points symbolize China’s seasons.
Less than five kilometers away from the Temple of Heaven lies another long-established edifice, the Forbidden City. Also known as the Palace Museum, Forbidden City was also constructed during Emperor Yongle’s reign. In the ancient times it was called Da Nei meaning the Great Within. The old name symbolized the forbidden nature of the palace grounds. Today the locals fondly call it Gugong. The prominent colors, red and yellow, indicate the imperial dignity and central position of Forbidden City. Based on popular culture, there are 9,999 rooms inside, which represent the biggest number in ancient China. Whatever it is, the Forbidden City is the perfect getaway if you’re looking a serene and beautiful park.
On the other side of the street is another iconic place, the Tiananmen Square. This is a must-see if you have a penchant for historical places. The fourth largest square in the world can hold as much as one million people. Located at the very heart of Beijing, this square is indeed more than what meets the eye. The May Fourth Movement (a sociopolitical revolution) took place in the square in 1919. Thirty years later, Chairman Mao declared the National Day of the People’s Republic of China in the Gate of Heavenly Peace. About 25 years ago in the same place, hundreds or even thousands of people were assassinated during tragic event dubbed as the June Fourth incident.
Innovations in an ancient city
Aside from age-old architectures, modern attractions also embellish Beijing. Revel in China’s highly urban side from the Central Radio and TV Tower, the tallest structure in the metropolis. The 405-meter building will show you a bird’s eye view of Beijing. Formerly known as the Beijing TV Tower, the CCTV Tower was designed by Paulus Snoeren in 1987. The tower took seven years to build and was opened to the public in October 1994.
This open-air multifunctional building allows for great photo opportunities. The attraction, which locals ironically call “the building that will fall down” displays a fantastic panorama on a clear day. When atop the CCTV tower at night, make sure to bring gloves and hat as the weather can be freezing cold.
On the main floor of the building, you will get a glimpse of gigantic stone carvings inspired by China’s most peculiar rivers and mountains. Then if you want to enjoy an indoor viewing hall, the nineteenth floor is the best place to go. Foodies from all over the world should not miss the Chinese and Western cuisine served on the eighteenth floor. The revolving restaurant inside can accommodate more than 250 guests.
Just a 20-minute ride from CCTV Tower will take you to the National Aquatics Center. The state-of-the-art water sport center stands next to Beijing National Stadium. This became the destination for the swimming events of the 2008 Summer Olympics. Because of its blue, box-like appearance, locals call it Water Cube. In 2010, the south part of the aquatics center was opened to public as an indoor waterpark. This is the right place to visit for a nice bonding time with the family. If you are looking for places to buy souvenirs in Beijing, the business section inside the aquatic center is one of the best places to go.
Beijing, where the best days are yet to come
As Beijing develops at a fast pace, it’s an interesting fact that palaces and pagodas stay intact in this old city. Rickshaw, which was first used hundreds of years ago, is still being used in Beijing today. Hutong or narrow alleys are also very prominent in Beijing. In Beijing, one of the few remaining hutongs is the Bell and Drum Towers. Enjoy the unique blend of eastern and western culture on the west side of the Drum Tower or simply walk around the area to see an alluring view of the city.
What really drives China’s success is its people and culture. Their ambition, hard work, and family values play a huge role in their work ethic and economic success. Because of China’s triumph in almost every aspect, we can say that the best days are yet to come. Indeed, revisiting the past will ensure our future. The Confucian value surely created a huge impact on China’s beliefs today. As the mantra goes, “study the past if you would divine the future.” Even in our personal lives, this axiom is a good inspiration to move forward.