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Beijing, or Peking, is the capital of the People’s Republic of China. The vast, sprawling city of more than 21 million inhabitants, is a city that combines ancient history with super modern life. Seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites nestle in and around the city, while state-of-the-art skyscrapers reach dizzy heights in the Central Business District. The city that has accommodated leaders of a world power today, as well as hundreds of years back, is a constantly growing metropolis.
Yet, step out from the modern metro or turn an unexpected corner, and you see sights that have not changed for centuries, or even millennia, with traditional ways of life going hand in hand with modern stresses.
There is much to see and explore, but Beijing is also surprisingly manageable, whether you go on an organized tour with a guide, or take your chances in the metro by yourself, which is not as scary as it might sound. Either way, prepare for your mind to be blown by amazing wonders, historic facts, and sights not to be seen anywhere else.
While this list does not mention all the sights, these are my personal favorites in and around Beijing and come highly recommended.
Forbidden City has housed 24 emperors over the years, starting back in the early 1400s, when it became the residence of Emperor Yongle of the Ming Dynasty and his family. The vast complex covers 7.75 million square feet, making it not only the largest imperial palace in the world, but with its 980 buildings and more than 8,500 rooms, also a formidable challenge to visitors trying to see even a fraction of it. Especially as some 40 percent of it is still out of bounds to them. Even if you were to move right in, you’d probably miss some hidden corners. I spent a few hours there, but eventually admitted defeat, with my head swimming from seeing too many dragons, turtles, and rich architectural details. What life must have been like in those days. Amazing.
You literally can’t miss Tiananmen Square as it lies by the entrance to the Forbidden City. Back in the 1600s, there stood the Great Ming Gate on this vast square, which today is hemmed by the Great Hall of the People, the National Museum of China, the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, and said entrance to the Forbidden City. It leaves a bad aftertaste because of the political tragedy that took place here in 1989, but it is the place where visitors are likely to meet up with their tour guides, and its sheer size is worth a look.
Strictly speaking not in Beijing, but an easy drive outside the city limits, the Great Wall of China is nevertheless considered a sight under Beijing’s umbrella. Some of the closest sections of the wall are a mere 45 miles from Beijing, so easily doable within half of a day. I had opted to visit the Mutianyu section for three reasons: It is one of the closest sections to Beijing, and I was under time restraints; it is one of the lesser visited, so fewer tourists; and also, it is one of the gentler sections, easier on the knees. Some sections, including the most popular section called Badaling, are practically vertical and, while interesting, I did not want to go mountain climbing, and rather preferred to walk comfortably as far as I could. Covering several lookout posts and fortified sections, this part meanders along the ridge of a mountain, with either ends stretching into the distance and beyond. I believe my mouth hung open throughout the visit, my mind blown by the incredible sight.
I do believe the locals refer to the Summer Palace also as the Winter Palace, which confuses things a little, but despite traveling there in winter, I officially went to see the Summer Palace. Whatever the name, it is a stunning palace and imperial garden of the Qing Dynasty, which preceded the Ming Dynasty of Forbidden City fame. My favorite part was the 2,360-foot-long canopied and ornately decorated Long Corridor walkway, which allowed the richly dressed members of the imperial court to stroll along regardless of the weather, looking out across the large lake that was excavated to add to the scenic setting. The dug-up soil of the lake formed Longevity Hill next to the path.
An architectural feat, laid out according to a precise method, and depicting the belief that Heaven was round while the Earth was square, this vast temple complex is not only a place of worship but also a site of statesmanship. The emperor visited twice a year, seated on a 40-foot-long sedan chair carried by 10 men, accompanied by horse chariots and elephants to pray for things like good harvests for his people. For those who understand architecture, this is a sight to be seen, as many of its constructions were ahead of their time, when it was constructed in the 1400s.
Jingshan Park might be one of the “lesser” parks in Beijing, but a little gem. On the opposite side of the Forbidden City, from Tiananmen Square, the hill in the middle of the park is the result of the excavations of the Forbidden City moat. As such, the park is a perfect place to climb after seeing the former Imperial Palace, for an overall grand view of the vast site. It is also a great place to watch Beijing life as it happens: The park is filled with families taking their kids there for a little bit of history, a walk in the green surroundings, and a few candies and balloons. The little temple at the top is lovely, and overall, it is a more manageable park than some, and the one with the best views.
Built during the Yuan Dynasty in the late 1200s–early 1300s, the Hutongs are narrow lanes with single-story residences, in a square street layout, and all with hidden courtyards behind them. A time-wrap worthy neighborhood that is still viable in the middle of Beijing, the Hutongs allow a great insight into what life was like for those not residing in vast Imperial complexes. You can take a rickshaw through the tiny lanes and stop at the many small art galleries in some of the buildings.
The colorful Lama Temple, also known as Yonghe Temple, is a baby when it comes to historic sights in Beijing, dating to as recent as 1745. Still, it is a beautiful temple complex, the most sacred Tibetan temple outside of Tibet, and a working monastery. There are several halls to see, with the fifth one housing an enormous 60-foot-tall statue of the Maitreya Buddha, dressed in imperial yellow satin, and reportedly carved from one solid piece of Tibetan sandalwood.
This nighttime market with food stalls all along Donghuamen Street, within easy walking distance of the Forbidden City, is an assault on the senses. As you approach, it starts with sweet treats and candy floss, and then the savory stalls with live cooking take over. Anything from fat grubs, scorpions, lizards, insects, and even seahorses are being roasted on sticks and sold. Not for the faint-hearted, there are crowds of locals enjoying a snack as well as tourists daring each other on. Me? I chickened out, literally. The Satay chicken skewers are very nice. Just along from the market, you have the neon-lit, glittering, and loud shopping area of Dongdansan; a few hundred yards, yet a million miles away from the ancient Forbidden City. This is modern Beijing, and it is worth seeing as well.
The Beijing National Stadium was built for the 2008 Summer Olympics by architects Jacques Herzog, Pierre de Meuron, Li Xinggang, and contemporary artist Ai Weiwei, which might explain its hyper modern take on an old Chinese favorite: the bird’s nest. It is a spectacular construction, and beautifully lit up at night, all set in the Olympic Park which can be explored via a self-guided walking tour. The stadium is set to also host the opening and closing ceremonies for the 2022 Winter Olympics.
This is an entire quarter of the city given over to art. A former industrial space covering more than 5 million square feet of a former military factory complex is crammed full with galleries, art studios, shops, ateliers, cafes and restaurants. It’s dotted with sculptures on every corner — all set among large former warehouses and industrial spaces linked by tiny alleys and amazing reinvented spaces. If this was in London, it would not look out of place at all, and it rounds up the contrast between ancient and historic Beijing, and young and innovative Beijing, very well.
Pro Tip: While I am a fan of “going it alone” when traveling, in China, I hired a local guide to show me around — the same woman for several sights and outings. Not only do you learn more about the history of the sights, but also about the lives of the local people, many of whom do not speak English and thus have limited contact.
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A travel writer and guidebook author for the last 20 years, Ulrike’s work has been seen in National Geographic, BBC, The Independent, Australian Women’s Weekly, The Telegraph, The Australian, AFAR, Fodor’s, Brides, France Today, Four Seasons magazine, CNN Travel, numerous inflight magazines, and many others.
She has written three books for Moon Travel Guides: ‘Living Abroad in Australia’ (3rd edition), ‘Sydney & the Great Barrier Reef’, and the shorter version ‘Spotlight Sydney’ and are all available in print and as e-books.
Having lived in seven countries (Germany, UK, Qatar, Oman, UAE, Australia, currently France) to date and traveled to more than 90, she specializes in writing about travel, art and architecture, expat living, and life & style.
China says Biden comments likening leader Xi to a dictator ‘extremely absurd and irresponsible’
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden’s remarks calling Chinese leader Xi Jinping a “dictator” and China a country with “real economic difficulties” drew fast condemnation from China on Wednesday, cracking open a new rift just after the two countries agreed to tentative steps to stabilize the relationship.
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning condemned Biden’s unusually pointed comments as “extremely absurd and irresponsible.”
The clash of words comes after Secretary of State Antony Blinken concluded a visit to Beijing on Monday that sought to break the ice in a relationship that has hit a historical low. While both sides saw those talks as productive, they did not result in any significant breakthroughs beyond an agreement to return to a broad agenda for cooperation and competition.
China’s quick response to Biden, a president known for seemingly off-script remarks that venture beyond his administration’s policies, raises questions whether his remarks would undo the limited progress that had been made in Blinken’s carefully engineered trip or whether the two sides would move on.
Biden’s characterization of China comes as the campaign for next year’s presidential election is already taking off, with Republicans accusing him of being weak on China.
Biden also was preparing to welcome Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Washington on Wednesday evening for a lavish state visit where a central theme will be a shared wariness of China.
Biden, at a fundraiser in California on Tuesday night, referred back to January and February’s two-week overflight of what the U.S. says was a Chinese spy balloon. The balloon’s surprise appearance over U.S. skies roiled relations and transfixed the American public.
Speaking to wealthy donors at the event for his 2024 reelection campaign, Biden depicted Xi as out-of-touch and embarrassed by the incident, which ended with the Air Force shooting down the balloon just off the East Coast.
“The reason why Xi Jinping got very upset in terms of when I shot that balloon down with two box cars full of spy equipment is he didn’t know it was there,” Biden told the crowd.
“No, I’m serious,” he added. “That was the great embarrassment for dictators, when they didn’t know what happened.“
Biden also played down trade competition from China, which is the world’s second-biggest economy after the United States but struggling to emerge from COVID-era financial troubles.
“By the way, I promise you, don’t worry about China. Worry about China but don’t worry about China,” Biden said. “I really mean it. China has real economic difficulties.”
Biden’s remarks came hours after his secretary of state, in an interview with MSNBC, had called for the two countries to put the balloon incident behind them, saying it was a chapter that “should be closed.”
In Beijing on Wednesday, Mao told reporters that Biden’s remarks “go totally against facts and seriously violate diplomatic protocol, and severely infringe on China’s political dignity.”
“It is a blatant political provocation,” Mao said.
Mao also reiterated China’s version of the balloon episode, saying the balloon was for meteorological research and had been accidentally blown off course.
Administration officials signaled Wednesday that Biden had no intention of walking back his comments.
Biden and Blinken have made clear “we will continue to responsibly manage this relationship, maintain open lines of communication with the PRC,” Vedant Patel, a State Department spokesman, told reporters, using an abbreviation for the People’s Republic of China.
“But that, of course, does not mean we will not be blunt and forthright about our differences,” including differences on the global competition between democracies and autocracies, Patel said.
U.S.-China tensions have mounted for years as rivalry builds over trade and global influence. Repeated flare-ups have helped escalate the tensions, including over the balloon, U.S. tariffs, sanctions on China, and self-ruled Taiwan.
The U.S. is pressing China to embrace direct communications between Biden, Xi and other senior U.S. and Chinese military and civilian leaders, as a channel to defuse tensions and keep incidents from escalating into open hostilities.
Despite the administration’s diplomatic efforts to soothe relations, analysts point to the Republican political pressure, and note Biden regularly seems to go off-script to criticize Xi.
Bonnie Glaser, Asia director of the George Marshall Fund of the United States, pointed Wednesday to Biden’s state of the union address in February, soon after the balloon flight, as Republican lawmakers in the audience heckled him over China and other issues. Waving a finger in the air, Biden cried out, “Name me a world leader who’d change places with Xi Jinping! Name me one! Name me one!”
For Biden, “he’s under a lot of criticism from the right. He doesn’t want to be seen as soft on China. He views Xi Jinping as a dictator,” Glaser said.
“And he’s not very good … at differentiating what should be said in public and what should be said in private,” Glaser said. “And the relationship pays a price for it. There’s no doubt about it.”
Xi was likely upset by the claim that he hadn’t been fully informed about the balloon incident, said Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at the London University School of Oriental and African Studies and a longtime observer of Chinese politics.
“My sense is that Xi may not want to overreact and put the relationship back on ice again,” Tsang said in an email.
The initial Republican response to Biden’s remarks was approving. “It’s an appropriate description of their system of government,” Sen. Marco Rubio, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said.
While Xi heads a country formally named the People’s Republic of China, he faces no limits on his terms as head of state, commander of the military and leader of the ruling Communist Party, which brooks no challenges to its authority.
In California, Biden had told donors that Xi “wants to have a relationship again.”
Blinken “went over there … did a good job, and it’s going to take time,” he said.
Associated Press writer Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.
Macron appeals to China’s Xi to ‘bring Russia to its senses’
BEIJING (AP) — Chinese leader Xi Jinping called Thursday for peace talks over Ukraine after French President Emmanuel Macron appealed to him to “bring Russia to its senses,” but Xi gave no indication Beijing would use its leverage as Vladimir Putin’s diplomatic partner to press for a settlement.
Xi gave no sign China, which declared it had a “no limits friendship” with Moscow before last year’s invasion, had changed its stance since calling for peace talks in February.
“Peace talks should resume as soon as possible,” Xi said. He called on other governments to avoid doing anything that might “make the crisis deteriorate or even get out of control.”
Beijing, which sees Moscow as a partner in opposing U.S. domination of global affairs, has tried to appear neutral in the conflict but has given Putin diplomatic support and repeated Russian justifications for the February 2022 attack. Xi received an effusive welcome from Putin when he visited Moscow last month, giving the isolated Russian president a political boost.
The Chinese leader said “legitimate security concerns of all parties” should be considered, a reference to Moscow’s argument that it attacked Ukraine because of the eastward expansion of NATO, the U.S.-European military alliance.
During talks earlier, Macron appealed to Xi to “bring Russia to its senses and bring everyone back to the negotiating table.”
Macron pointed to Chinese support for the United Nations Charter, which calls for respect of a country’s territorial integrity. He said Putin’s announcement of plans to deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus violated international agreements and commitments to Xi’s government.
“We need to find a lasting peace,” the French president said. “I believe that this is also an important issue for China.”
Macron was accompanied to Beijing by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in a show of European unity.
Von der Leyen said she encouraged Xi to call Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and the Chinese leader “reiterated his willingness to speak when conditions and time are right.”
“I think this is a positive element,” von der Leyen said.
Von der Leyen warned China against sending military equipment to Russia, echoing a warning Wednesday by NATO’s 31 member governments of “severe consequences” for shipments of weapons or ammunition.
“Arming the aggressor is a clear violation of international law,” von der Leyen said. “This would indeed significantly harm the relationship between the European Union and China.”
China is the biggest buyer of Russian oil and gas, which helps prop up the Kremlin’s revenue in the face of Western sanctions. That increases Chinese influence, but Xi appears reluctant to jeopardize that partnership by pressuring Putin.
“China has always adhered to an objective and fair position on the issue of the Ukraine crisis,” said a Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Mao Ning. “We have been an advocate of a political solution to the crisis and a promoter of peace talks.”
Also Wednesday, the French and Chinese governments announced agreements including the purchase of 160 Airbus aircraft by a Chinese leasing company and for their companies to collaborate on nuclear, solar, wind power and biofuel development.
ITF resumes tennis in China with no word on Peng Shuai
TOKYO (AP) — The International Tennis Federation will play tournaments this year in China with no word of a resolution to the case of Chinese doubles player Peng Shuai.
Peng disappeared from public view shortly after accusing a former high-ranking Communist Party official — in a web posting in November of 2021 — of sexual assault.
The ITF, which conducts tournaments below the elite level in its World Tennis Tour, lists its first tournament in China on June 5-11 at Luzhou. The ITF’s last full season in China was 2019, prior to COVID-19.
“The ITF anticipates a resumption of tournament activity within China for each of the ITF Tours later this year,” the ITF said in a statement.
The WTA, which runs the sport’s top-tier women’s events, hasn’t announced if it will resume staging tournaments in China.
In late 2021, WTA Chairman and CEO Steve Simon announced that the WTA would be suspending all of its tournaments — including the season-ending WTA Finals — that were held in China because of concerns over Peng, costing the tour millions.
The men’s ATP has scheduled several event for later this year in China. It canceled 2022 events because of COVID-19 restrictions in China.
Peng gave a controlled interview a year ago during the Winter Olympics in Beijing and had dinner at the event with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach. She left many questions unanswered and has largely been out of public view since then.
Simon has repeatedly called for a “formal investigation” into the allegations made by Peng, and has asked to meet privately with Peng. It’s not clear those conditions have been met.
In a statement announcing the ITF men’s and women’s tournaments returning to China, ITF President David Haggerty said the sport’s world governing body had to invest in the professional events that worked as “the main artery for the top level of the game.”
“As the global guardians of the game, we are passionate about providing a pathway for up and coming talent in all countries, and providing more opportunities for players to play closer to home,” Haggerty said, adding that the ITF was pleased to be returning to countries such as China, Burundi, Cyprus, Trinidad & Tobago and Taiwan.
AP Tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports