A Travellerspoint blog

Beihai Gongyuan (Beihai Park) and the Temple of Heaven

An oasis in the sprawling concrete and modern buildings of Beijing

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Beihai Gongyuan (Beihai Park)

The Hidden Beijing Oasis, Beihai Gongyuan (Beihai Park) is an over 1,000 year old imperial classic mixture of northern and southern chinese style gardens. This morning we were greeting with a surprise of a beautiful blue Beijing sky with a cool breeze and warm sun so we tracked on down to Beihai.

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Beihai Park was initially built in the Liao Dynasty (916 - 1125) and was repaired and rebuilt in the following dynasties including Jin, Yuan, Ming and Qing (1115 - 1911). The large-scale rebuilding in the reign of Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911) generally established the present scale and pattern of Beihai Park.

Beihai Park covers an area of about 0.71 sq km (about 0.27 sq miles), more than half of which is taken up by the lake. In the middle of the lake and on the central axis of the whole park lies the Jade Flowery Islet, topped by the imposing White Dagoba which is the landmark of Beihai Park. Besides the Jade Flowery Islet, the park has four main scenic areas: the Eastern Shore Area, the Northern Shore Area, the Botanical Garden and the Circular City near the north gate. There are many famous and beautiful places you should not miss when touring Beihai Park.

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On top of the Jade Flowery Islet, the White Dagoba was built in 1651 on the former site of the Palace in the Moon where Kublai Khan received Marco Polo. At the suggestion of a famous Tibetan lama, Emperor Shunzhi, the first emperor of the Qing Dynasty agreed to build such a Tibetan dagoba to show his belief in Buddhism and his desire for the unification among various Chinese ethnic groups. The White Dagoba was destroyed in an earthquake and reconstructed twice. Now, resting on a huge stone base, it stands 35.9 meters (about 118 feet) high and is capped by two bronze umbrella-like canopies, with 14 bronze bells hanging around them. Inside, the dagoba holds the Buddhist Scriptures, the monk's mantle and alms bowl and two pieces of Sarira. Since the White Dagoba is the highest point in Beihai Park, it served as a vantage point with a beautiful view of the whole park.

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In front of the White Dagoba is the White Dagoba Temple. There are several other buildings and halls you could visit if you have enough time. These include Zhengjue Hall, the Bell and Drum Towers, the Stone Tablets of 'Qiongdao Chunyin' (means the beautiful scenery of the Jade Flowery Islet in spring; inscribed by Emperor Qianlong of Qing Dynasty) etc, all scattered on the slope of the Qionghua Islet.

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It was great to watch the chinese caligraphy artists writing in water along the old pathways, listening to elderly persons singing in groups in the temple areas. We also learned and became hooked playing a game called Jianzi, which is like hackeysack only played with a special shuttlecock. We played that game for about an hour!

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Overall, this was Ben's most favourite park and resting spot in Beijing proper and we recommend it to anyone as a top destination to just sit, take a nice long slow walk and enjoy this oasis in the cement and asphalt modern forest which is Beijing.

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Thomas, Alexis and Sophie also had a great time with Mr. Liu dressing up and pretending to be Emperors and Empresses.

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The Temple of Heaven

Afterwards, we headed to the Temple of Heaven complex. An interesting fact is that while the Emperor's called themselves the Sons of Heaven, they made sure that the Temple of Heaven complex which was built to the gods was larger than their own Forbidden City! It sprawls on and on in lush greens and colours.

The Temple was built in 1420 A.D. during the Ming Dynasty to offer sacrifice to Heaven.

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The Temple of Heaven is enclosed with a long wall. The northern part within the wall is semicircular symbolizing the heavens and the southern part is square symbolizing the earth. The northern part is higher than the southern part. This design shows that the heaven is high and the earth is low and the design reflected an ancient Chinese thought of 'The heaven is round and the earth is square'.

The Temple is divided by two enclosed walls into inner part and outer part. The main buildings of the Temple lie at the south and north ends of the middle axis line of the inner part. The most magnificent buildings are The Circular Mound Altar (Yuanqiutan), Imperial Vault of Heaven (Huangqiongyu) and Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest (Qiniandian) from south to north. Also, there are some additional buildings like Three Echo Stones and Echo Wall.Almost all of the buildings are connected by a wide bridge called Vermilion Steps Bridge (Danbiqiao) or called Sacred Way.

We enjoyed the Vault of Heaven and we tested out the saying that you can hear an echo anywhere within that encircled temple section. It is true! Using a very soft voice, you can still pick up what the other person is saying on the other side, it was pretty interesting.

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The Circular Altar has three layered terraces with white marble. During the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368 A.D. - 1911 A.D.), the emperors would offer sacrifice to Heaven on the day of the Winter Solstice every year. This ceremony was to thank Heaven and hope everything would be good in the future. Also, if you stood in the middle flagstone in the circular altar and stomped your foot extremely hard, you would hear the voices of men down below. We tried, but couldn't recreat that although the altar was filled with people.

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The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest is a big palace with round roof and three layers of eaves. Inside the Hall are 28 huge posts. The four posts along the inner circle represent four seasons-spring, summer, autumn and winter; the 12 posts along the middle circle represent the 12 months; and 12 posts along the outer circle represent 12 Shichen (Shichen is a means of counting time in ancient China. One Shichen in the past equaled two hours and a whole day was divided into 12 Shichens). The roof is covered with black, yellow and green colored glaze representing the heavens, the earth and everything on earth. The Hall has a base named Altar for Grain Prayers which is made of three layers of white marble and has a height of six meters. Another important building in Temple of Heaven is Imperial Vault of Heaven. If you look at it from far away, you will find that the Vault is like a blue umbrella with gold head. The structure of it is like that of Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, but smaller in size. The structure was made of bricks and timber. The Vault was used to place memorial tablets of Gods. White marble railings surround the vault.

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The Vermilion Steps Bridge connects the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest and the Imperial Vault of Heaven. The south end of the Bridge is lower than its north end. The emperors in the past believed that they could go to heaven through this Bridge, which is why this bridge is also called Sacred Way. A Yu Route and a Wang Route are on two sides of the Sacred Way. The former one is only for the emperors to walk on and the later one is for the princes and the high officials to pass.

At the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, off to the side is a very special door called the 70 year old door. Only one emperor ever used that (as only one ever made it to such an old age!) and decreed that to stop his children and offspring from becoming lazy, that only an imperial family member aged 70 or more could access it (as it cuts the length of the route back to the Forbidden City by quite a lot). Near that door is a 500 year old Cyprus tree called the 9 Gnarled Dragon tree. We stopped nearby to listen to a great group of chinese opera musicians playing that was just fantastic.

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The Beijing Centre for Performing Arts

We then stopped by the Centre for Performing Arts which is a HUGE glass and metal dome. We made it inside just in time as a large storm came for about 20 minutes pouring rain. Inside, we listened to a woman singing various opera songs, looked at an art gallery and then headed home after a long day out.

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Posted by giffords 08:04 Archived in China Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

The Ming Tombs and the Great Wall

These boots were made for walking.....

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Today was full of action as we went to quite a few places just outside of Beijing proper.

First stop: The Ming Tombs. Did you know that 13 of the 16 emperors of the Ming Dynasty were entombed here with their families? We went to the Dingling Tomb, in which Emperor Wan-li and Empresses Wang and Wang were buried. It was quite interesting to walk down inside it (and I believe is the only tomb that has been excavated and allows tours) and see the various artifacts such as the marble grand thrones, the sacrificial altar and the burial spots. Further interesting was the ingenius methods that they came up with in those times to seal the grand doorways which is pretty hard to describe! You can still though see the golden well, and while the majority of artifacts are in the museums, the entire burial grounds were accessable to visit.

Thomas earned a soldier's green hat with a red star and he enjoyed playing 'soldier' and standing at attention ahead of us and waiting for us to walk past him.

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Second Stop: The Jade Museum. This wasn't as interesting as the Ming Tombs, and in fact was just a ploy to hawk jade. The museum tour was about 4 minutes long before two large doors opened up and bang, time to buy jade. We opted out of purchasing and went upstairs to our country meal of a large bowl of rice, some fish caught nearby, some tofu in peppers and a zucchini dish that had invisible chilli powder in it. We were a bit happy to leave that place.

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Third Stop: Badaling Chong Chong! The Great Wall at Badaling! Now this was the most fantastic part of today's trip. We visited the wall and walked towers 7 to 6 and visited the fortress. There was a very cool slidecar you could choose to go down but we didn't have the time. We drove to Badaling and boarded the cablecar gondolas which allows us to take a pleasant trip over the bare mountain face and deep valleys of stone. While it was disappointing to see people carved their names into the stones of the Wall, just the sheer enginuity, drive and determination to build such a defense was very impressive to witness first-hand. Badaling is pretty famous as former US president Nixon and Mao Zedong climbed and walked and visited here many years ago.

Everyone in the family agreed that today was a very special day.
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Posted by giffords 10:36 Archived in China Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

The Beijing Zoo

Not all the animals are ones in cages, sometimes they are 4 years old and blonde haired....

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Today we went and visited the Beijing Zoo.

Beijing Zoo, situated to the west of Beijing Exhibition Center, was known for a short time after the founding of the People's Republic as the Western Suburbs Park (Xijiao Gongyuan). The grounds combine cultivated flower gardens with stretches of natural scenery, including dense groves of trees, stretches of grassland, a small stream, lotus pools and small hills dotted with pavilions and halls.

In the 18th century, the zoo was known as the Sanbeizi Gardens, supposedly named after the third son of Emperor Kangxi, Prince Cheng Yin. Another explanation is that Sanbeizi refereed to the Qing courtier Fu Kang' an and the Gardens the site of his villa. In fact, as early as the Ming Dynasty, an imperial mansion called the Garden of Happiness and Friendship constructed for Prince Kang stood here, and during the Qing, part of the Sanbeizi Gardens called the Garden of Continuity (Jiyuan) became the private property of an official in the Bureau of Palace Affairs.

In 1906, during the reign of Emperor Guangxu, the park area became an agricultural experimental farm and a zoo. Known as the Garden of Ten Thousand Animals (Wanshengyuan), it opened to the public in 1908.

Under the successive rule of the Northern Warlords, the Japanese and the Kuomintang, the park became increasingly desolate. The only elephant died in 1937, and the Japanese, under the pretext of protecting themselves against air raids, poisoned the remaining lions, tigers and leopards. On the eve of the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the park housed only 12 monkeys, two parrots and a blind emu. The park was reopened to the public in 1950, and on April 10, 1955 formally named the Beijing Zoo.

The zoo has developed rapidly and by 1987 it covered an area of over 40,000 square meters. Bears, elephants, pandas, lions, tigers, songbirds, hippopotamuses, rhinoceroses, antelopes and giraffes were brought in the late 1950s, and a gorilla cage, leaf-monkey cage and aquarium house, was opened, containing specimens of over 100 species of reptiles from all over the world, including crocodiles and pythons.

At present, the zoo houses over 7,000 creatures of 600 different species, including the giant panda, red-crowned crane and Pere David's deer-all unique to China-as well as the African giraffe, rhinoceros, chimpanzee and antelope; American continent; wild ox from Europe; and elephant and gibbon from India.

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While we spent a significant time in the great panda exhibits, we also went to a canal ride from the Beijing Zoo to Zhenjue Si (Temple of True Awakening), or the Five Pagoda Temple. The one ancient building remaining on this site is a massive stone block with magnificently preserved Indian Buddhist motifs carved out of the bare rock. Peacocks, elephants, and dharma wheels adorn the base, which is also decorated with sutras copied out in Sanskrit and Tibetan. The central pagoda has an image of two feet,artisans could only hint at the presence of Buddha through symbols. The circular pavilion was added by the Qianlong emperor to honor his mother. The surrounding courtyard is gradually filling up with stone tombstones, spirit-way figures, and stelae commemorating the construction or renovation of temples; most are refugees from construction and road-widening projects around the capital. The wonderfully curated Shike Yishu Bowuguan (Stone Carving Museum) is at the rear of the complex. It was amazing watching all the children there sitting with mothers and family members doing incredible drawings of the temple grounds!

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You'll have the choice of either the fast boats that swerve, or the dragon boats (as they go in opposite directions). We recommend the dragon boats to give your feet a rest and see more of Beijing from the canal viewpoint and look at that temple.

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The Forbidden City and Tian' anmen Square

To the Noon Gate!!!

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The Forbidden City

Lying at the center of Beijing, the Forbidden City, called Gu Gong in Chinese, was the imperial palace during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Now known as the Palace Museum, it is to the north of Tiananmen Square. The great red main gates welcomed us in with probably around 10,000 others. Rectangular in shape, it is the world's largest palace complex and covers 74 hectares. Surrounded by a six meter deep moat and a ten meter high wall are 9,999 rooms. The wall has a gate on each side. Opposite the Tiananmen Gate, to the north is the Gate of Divine Might (Shenwumen), which faces Jingshan Park. The distance between these two gates is 960 meters, while the distance between the gates in the east and west walls is 750 meters. There are unique and delicately structured towers on each of the four corners of the curtain wall. These afford views over both the palace and the city outside.

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The Forbidden City is divided into two parts. The southern section, or the Outer Court was where the emperor exercised his supreme power over the nation. The northern section, or the Inner Court was where he lived with his royal family. Until 1924 when the last emperor of China was driven from the Inner Court, fourteen emperors of the Ming dynasty and ten emperors of the Qing dynasty had reigned here. Having been the imperial palace for some five centuries, it houses numerous rare treasures and curiosities.

Construction of the palace complex began in 1407, the 5th year of the Yongle reign of the third emperor of the Ming dynasty. It was completed fourteen years later in 1420. It was said that a million workers including one hundred thousand artisans were driven into the long-term hard labor. Stone needed was quarried from Fangshan, a suburb of Beijing. It was said a well was dug every fifty meters along the road in order to pour water onto the road in winter to slide huge stones on ice into the city. Huge amounts of timber and other materials were freighted from faraway provinces.

Ancient Chinese people displayed their very considerable skills in building the Forbidden City. Take the grand red city wall for example. It has an 8.6 meters wide base reducing to 6.66 meters wide at the top. The angular shape of the wall totally frustrates attempts to climb it. The bricks were made from white lime and glutinous rice while the cement is made from glutinous rice and egg whites. These incredible materials make the wall extraordinarily strong.

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Since yellow is the symbol of the royal family, it is the dominant color in the Forbidden City. Roofs are built with yellow glazed tiles; decorations in the palace are painted yellow; even the bricks on the ground are made yellow by a special process. However, there is one exception. Wenyuange, the royal library, has a black roof. The reason is that it was believed black represented water then and could extinguish fire.

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Overall, you could visit the Forbidden City probably over 2-3 days and try visiting the majority of the 9,999 rooms and buildings (good luck!). It was a fantastic place to visit.

Tian 'anmen Square

We next visited the world's largest and probably most well known public square.

At the north end of the Square is Tiananmen Tower. Initially built in 1417 during the Ming Dynasty (1368 A.D.- 1644 A.D.), the Square was the front door of the Forbidden City. The most important use of it in the past was to declare in a big ceremony to the common people who became the emperor and who became the empress. Until 1911 when the last feudal kingdom was over, no one could enter the Tower except for the royal family and aristocrats.

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The granite Monument to the People's Heroes is just at the center of the Tiananmen Square. Built in 1952, it is the largest monument in China's history. ' The People's Heroes are Immortal' written by Chairman Mao is engraved on the monument. Eight unusually large relief sculptures show to the people the development of Chinese modern history. Two rows of white marble railings enclose the monument, simple and beautiful. We weren't able to actually go up to the monument as it was barricaded and had sentries posted all around it. But we were able to see it very well.

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Memorial Hall of Chairman Mao is at the south side of the Square. This Hall is divided into three halls and our dear Chairman Mao's body lies in a crystal coffin in one of the halls surrounded by fresh bouquets of various famous flowers and grasses. It was unfortunate, but as it was around 4pm when we were at the square, we missed the short open period that the memorial hall has (around 9am to 12pm each day). What a shame to miss seeing such a fantastic memorial.

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Day 3: World Expo

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Today we went and saw: Argentina, Egypt, Estonia, Lithuania and the Republic of Korea. The best today was definately the Korean pavilion as it was in three parts; the lower part had a huge drum and dancing display, then there was about a 20 minute video and at the end the screen moved up with a ballet dancer appearing with Thomas chosen out of the entire theatre to come down with her and take a wish ball and lead the crowd into the third area which was an interactive digital aquarium that filled both of the huge walls. You could create a neat fish or turtle with various little gadgets on it to help clean or observe the environment. By the way, we learned that Korea will host the next World Fair in 2012, we'll have to see how things are to go there! Our feet were a bit sore from yesterday's huge day and sometimes we had to take a little rest. At the Argentinian pavilion, Sophie and Alexis were given a special little flag pin from the country ambassador. Estonia had a very interesting pavilion with huge piggy banks that you could place money inside to help build ecologically green/friendly buildings and infrastructure, and also be able to send an sms vote in to decide which ones would be winning. The only bad thing is that it was filled with huge steps! Lithuania was a pretty pavilion inside, with a focus on the country's love for basketball. Cara nearly scored a point, as did Alexis and Sophie. Thomas had the man make a hoop with his arms and scored a few points that way. The Egypt pavilion was a bit of a disappointment as we waited about 35 minutes only to walk in a single room.

Oh, you might notice on the photos that Thomas has what looks like bruises on his face. While we were at the Argentinian pavilion, he wanted his hand stamped with the visa stamp (which was blue). He then wiped and itched his face, spreading it all over and we couldn't get it off until the evening! It looked pretty funny. We also today tried some Pizza Hut; it wasn't bad!

Overall, our whole World Fair Expo Shanghai 2010 experience has been wonderful. Everyone at the Expo treated us very kindly, the entire area was filled with smiles and it was very interesting to see so many countries that might not necessarily agree on many things to come together to agree that the world is a very special place and we need to do what we can to stem pollution.

Dinner was at the Tairyo Teppan Yaki, and the owner/manager gave gifts to Thomas, Alexis, Sophie and Cara and wished us to come visit him again in the future. If you are ever in Shanghai, do come to this restaraunt!

Dinner: Tairyo Teppan Yaki
Interesting thing eaten: Teriyaki Eel, although Thomas, Alexis and Sophie loved the Mango and Flamed Banana with Ice cream

Posted by giffords 17:34 Archived in China Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

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