Lonely Planet Beijing
(City Travel Guide)

A Glimpse of Chinese History and Culture

Beijing, the capital of the People's Republic of China, is also a major center of Chinese history and culture. The city was the capital of five Chinese dynasties that spanned over 800 years: Liao, Jin, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. As television coverage of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing commences, television viewers may get a opportunity to see some of the ancient symbols of Chinese history and culture that are also architectural wonders and breathtaking attractions in Beijing.

The Great Wall of China symbolizes ancient Chinese culture and civilization. The wall's history dates back to 6th century BC. It was built to protect the Chinese empire's northern border from attack. Between 6th century BC and 16th century AD, the wall was rebuilt and maintained. The current wall that television viewers will see was built during the Ming dynasty that began in 1368 and lasted until 1644.

The Palace Museum of Beijing, also called the Forbidden City - Imperial Palace, is located in the heart of Beijing. It was the home of 24 emperors of both the Ming and Qing dynasties. (The Qing dynasty succeeded the Ming dynasty, spanning the years 1644 to 1912.) During its time as home to emperors, the Forbidden City was also the Chinese government's political center and ceremonial center.

Built in 1400, the Forbidden City is the world's largest architectural palace, with 9000 rooms. It has been declared a World Heritage Site and named the world's largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures. The Forbidden City is located in the heart of modern Beijing and contains precious Chinese relics.

Also located in the heart of Beijing is Tianamen Square, one of the world's largest city squares and city parks. During the Ming and Qing dynasties, Tianamen Square was the front gateway to the Forbidden City. On the northeast corner of Tianamen Square is the Museum of Chinese History. On display at this museum are 9000 ancient Chinese relics as well as bronze pieces that date back 5000 years. Sharing the building with the Museum of Chinese History is the Museum of Chinese Revolution where cultural artifacts from the years 1919 to 1949 are kept. Capital Museum (Confucius Temple) is a former imperial temple and Confucius civil service university. There China's brightest came to serve the state.

Beijing is a city of ancient and historical parks. Beihai Park, one of the oldest Chinese gardens, was the Imperial Garden of the Liao, Jin, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. Jingshan Park, also called Coal Hill, was the royal garden of the Ming and Qing dynasties. It was formed from soil excavated to create a moat around the Forbidden City. At the park's summit is Ten Thousand Springs Pavilion. Jingshan Park is considered the best place to go to get a panoramic view of Beijing. Tiantan Park is the location of The Temple of Heaven, the place where Ming and Qing emperors prayed to Heaven. Built in 1420, this temple was also the place where emperors performed ceremonies in honor of the god of harvests.

One of the most tranquil places in Beijing is said to be The Summer Palace - Imperial Gardens. This grand imperial palace features lakeside gardens, elegant pavilions and a marble replica of a Mississippi steamboat. The Ming Tombs, located outside the city, houses the remains of 13 Ming emperors. In this mausoleum, only two tombs are open to the public. The most famous of which is the Dinling, an underground palace. Other sights to look for that reflect Beijing history and culture include the Hutongs, alleyways lined on both sides with compound houses, Marco Polo Bridge, Beijing's oldest and grandest arch bridge and Yuanmingyuan, the ruins of a Qing dynasty imperial palace.