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Beijing Travel guide

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The city has expanded from its old confines within the nine gates of the Inner City wall to the seven outer gates and out into the suburbs. Beijing now covers an area of about 750 square kilometers, which includes a dozen new living districts built on the outskirts of town. New buildings like the International Post Office and Bank of China have been built along the Second Ring Road, the former line of the Inner City wall.

Future development in Beijing will continue to preserve the symmetry of the old city layout while integrating modern architectural design into the overall plan.

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The Palace

The Forbidden City stands in the center of Beijing. It is protected by high walls and a moat on all four sides and consists of dozens of halls and courtyards. The emperors of two dynasties, the Ming and the Ching, lived here with their families and hundreds of court ladies and palace eunuchs. From their throne in the Forbidden City they governed the country by holding court sessions with their ministers, issuing imperial edicts and initiating military expeditions.

The Forbidden City

In Chinese the Forbidden City is called Purple Forbidden City. "Purple" doesn't refer to the color of the buildings or walls, but has a mythological origin. It is said that the Emperor of Heaven has his palaces in the region of the North Star, of which purple is the symbolic color. The abode of the temporal emperor, therefore, is supposed to have the same color. The Purple Forbidden City was inaccessible to the common people. Even the highest civil and military officers could not enter it without good reason.

The Forbidden City was completed in 1420 during the Ming Dynasty. It was the home of 24 emperors of the Ming and Ching dynasties. Naturally it was the scene of many important events affecting the course of Chinese history, including political struggles and palace coups, some of them extremely tragic.

After the republican revolution of 1911, the last emperor of the Ching Dynasty, then still a child, abdicated the next year. But he and his family and their entire entourage were allowed to stay in the palaces. They were finally expelled by republican troops in 1924. The Forbidden City was renamed as the Palace Museum and opened to the general public.

The Gardens

The imperial gardens in Beijing and its suburbs were built as a complement to the Forbidden City. Symbolic of the supremacy of royal power, the Forbidden City had to be given an atmosphere of magnificence and solemnity in architectural style and layout, which did not suit recreational purposes. Thus emperors of different generations gave orders for the construction of gardens at several sites in the Beijing area and spent fabulous amounts of money and manpower on them.

In addition to the Imperial Garden at the back of the Forbidden City, the gardens for enjoyment by the royal family included the Prospect Hill, once also known as His Majesty's Hill, the Beihai (North Sea), the Zhongnanhai (Central Sea and South Sea), the Garden of Good Health and Harmony, better know as the Summer Palace, the Yuanmingyuan (Garden of Perfect Splendor) which was burn down by the allied forces of Great Britain and France during their invasion of Beijing in 1860, and the Enjoy-the-Spring Garden which also lies in ruins. All the well-preserved ones have become parks today. The Beijing Zoo used to be a garden owned by a prince of the Ching Dynasty and later became a royal garden. The Fragrant Hills Park was first named the Garden of Congenial Tranquility as one of the five gardens of the Ching Dynasty, the other four being the Garden of Light and Tranquility, the Garden of Perfect Splendor, the Enjoy-the-Spring Garden and the Summer Palace (originally the Garden of Clear Ripples).

The Great Wall

To the northwest and north of Beijing, a huge, serrated wall zigzags its way to the east and west along the undulating mountains. This is the Great Wall, which is said to be visible from the moon.

Construction of the Great Wall started in the 7th century B.C. The vassal states under the Chou Dynasty in the northern parts of the country each built their own walls for defence purposes. After the state of Chin unified China in 221 B.C., it joined the walls to hold off the invaders from the Tsongnoo tribes in the north and extended them to more than 10,000 li or 5,000 kilometers. This is the origin of the name of the 10,000-li Great Wall.

The Great Wall was renovated from time to time after the Chin Dynasty. A major renovation started with the founding of the Ming Dynasty in 1368, and took 200 years to complete. The wall we see today is almost exactly the result of this effort. With a total length of over 6,000 kilometers, it extends to the Jiayu Pass in Gansu Province in the west and to the mouth of the Yalu River in Liaoning Province in the east.

Through the millennia, people in China have been brought up to show respect for the older generation. This respect also extends to the dead. One way of showing respect has been by arranging expensive funerals with a profusion of burial gifts.
Many Chinese believe that the living and the dead are interconnected, and that the living would not meet success in life if they do not first see to the wellbeing of the dead. Horrific retribution could befall a family if an ancestor bears grudge.
The grave figurines show that the Chinese of ancient times imagined the kingdom of the dead as a mirror image of this world. Perhaps a camel is needed on the other side, a camel whose saddlebags were protected by gargoyles to keep thieves away.
Camels were the condition for the trade along the Silk Route. They could carry up to 200 kg and endure the climate in the dry Takla Makan and Gobi deserts. They could smell water far below the ground, and by lying down close together and burying their muzzles in the sand also warn their riders about approaching sand storms.

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