History is Long, Chinese History is Longer: Beijing


I visited this city of history in the middle of winter.

Blisteringly windy and outfitted for Californian cold, Beijing was rough. Luckily, I was rewarded for my efforts with some incredible sights.

The photos below were taken in front of, inside, and behind Beijing’s most famous landmark: the Forbidden City. This cultural and historical monolith is “remarkable” many times over. The 980-building and 160-acre palace complex was the seat of the Ming and Qing Dynasties for nearly 500 years (1420-1912 CE).¹ It took 14 years to construct, more than a million workers, whole logs of precious wood from southwest China, marble from quarries outside Beijing, and specially baked tiles imported from Suzhou.¹ Perhaps the most famous part of this already world-famous structure is the Tiananmen Gate adorned with Mao Zedong’s universally recognized portrait [Tile 1], which separates the Forbidden City’s Imperial Palace from Tiananmen Square, the scene for some of China’s most pivotal moments in history.

Beijing’s night markets are known for their unorthodox selection of meats — notably, silk worms, starfish, and scorpions. Hawkers are well-versed in both Mandarin and English and will prepare an assortment of expensive culinary curiosities for you at the drop of a hat.

UNESCO World Heritage site and a modern wonder of the world, the Great Wall of China is truly incomparable. The Wall is actually a multitude of interconnected, behemoth fortification structures built as early as the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BCE), some of which can still be seen near Dunhuang, Gansu Province.² The part of wall closest to Beijing receives the vast majority of tourists and is also the most recent, built during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644 CE). The majority of what exists of the 10,000+ mile-long defensive barrier is the 5,500 mi (8,850 km) Ming Dynasty structure.²

Yet another of Beijing’s copious UNESCO sites is the Temple of Heaven. Also constructed from 1406 to 1420 along with the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven played an important religious role during the Ming and Qing Dynasties — visited by Emperors during prayer ceremonies to Heaven for good harvest.³ Depicted below is the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests; the currently standing structure having been built after the original burned down in a fire caused by lightning in 1889.³

The five photos below were taken inside the massive Summer Palace complex. Most recently in its history, the palatial park and grounds served as the summer resort of Empress Dowager Cixi, who famously (or infamously) spent 3 million taels of silver originally designated for the Chinese navy on the enlargement of the palace, purportedly causing China to lose the First Sino-Japanese War six years after the renovations. You can read more about the Summer Palace’s history, and see pictures of its countless sights (my photos do not do it justice) here.

The Jingshan Park lies directly north of the Forbidden City complex depicted in the final tile. Hoary trees and their shadowy crone counterparts abound in the park, as do large groups of senescent women dancing in choreograph and equally gray-haired men practicing tai chi.

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Author: Erik Fruth

Erik lived in Shanghai from September 2014 to July 2015 while studying Mandarin at Fudan University and teaching English. Since then, he's continued writing and working in Ventura County, California.