The North Capital, Beijing is the political centre of today's economic powerhouse of China.
Although rapidly developing, the city still hangs on to its cultural heritage through such
attractions as the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace and of course the incomparable Great Wall of
China. The city has been on-and-off capital of China since the Ming Dynasty, most recently
regaining its capital status when the communists took control in 1949.
After an absence of nearly twenty years, I returned to China in 2008 to work in TEDA, Tianjin, and
my travels quickly took me back to Beijing itself. I arrived just after the 2008 Olypmics (which had
in fact delayed my visa application) but found myself in or passing through the city many times over
the course of my year in China, giving me fantastic opportunities to explore the city at leisure.
Most of these pictures are from 2009.
The Tiananmen after which the adjoining square is named, is literally the "Gate of Heavenly Peace"
and forms the southern main entrance to the Forbidden City, with the portrait of Mao proudly hanging.
This was the only time I ever saw the fountains running.
On the south side of Tiananmen Square you can still pay Mao a visit if you like, where he lies
in a glass box in his specially built mausoleum, in the tradition of all great communist leaders.
Seeing Mao is free, but you'd have to be really keen as the queue is almost as long as the Great Wall.
Detail of one of the scenes of the stone carved people flanking Mao's mausoleum. I remember
this from visiting in
On the west side of Tiananmen Square is the Great Hall of the People, where the 3000-odd
party representatives of the people of China meet for the National People's Congress each year.
Effectively it's the parliament, and the auditorium is the largest I've ever seen, capable of
seating 10,000 people.
The National Center for the Performing Arts was a controversial addition to the centre of
Beijing, sitting immediately behind the historic Great Hall of the People as it does. It is clad
in titanium, and looks like a silver egg floating on an ornamental lake.
Inside the Forbidden City, absolutely classic Chinese architecture replete with bronze lions.
The lions always come in pairs, with the male identified by the ball under his paw, and the female
with a lion cub under hers.
Detail of the artwork on the buildings of the Forbidden City, much of which was retouched in
preparation for the Olypmics.
A courtyard in a traditional hutong, the old style housing which is rapidly disappearing
under modern developments. This one has been preserved as a museum.
Inside the Lama Temple an old man has just spun this prayer wheel. I had also been to the
Lama Temple in 1989 but I didn't realise until I recognised part of it from the
my parents had taken back then.
Boating in Beihai Park on a lovely summer's day, with the white Bai Ta stupa on Qionghua Island.
Close-up of the Temple of Heaven, which I remember clearly from my first visit in
1989. I also tried
to recreate the picture from then, but didn't get the angle right...
If you fancy a tasty treat, you're bound to find something interesting at the night food market
off Wangfujing Avenue, Beijing's answer to New York's 5th Avenue. Aside from the fairly regular
fried fruits, shredded cow's stomach and dog meat pots, you can sample scorpions, crickets and sea snake,
all deep fried to perfection. I speak from experience.
Like any large city, Beijing has numerous transportation hubs - this is Beijing Station, where
we arrived on our journey back from Shanhaiguan.
I was much more regularly hanging around in Beijing South Station though, the shimmering new
cathedral to high-speed rail travel, where I'd pick up the 210 mph bullet train back to Tanggu. The
station was still operating way below capacity, so it was always very pleasantly quiet.
I had to get a shot of this, primarily because it was one of very few concentrations of bikes
I saw! The old adage of all Chinese pedalling around the pancake-flat city no longer stands true,
I reckon less than 10% of road users are on bikes these days.
Out at Beijing Zoo a giant sculpted tiger greets you. I checked out the pandas too, of course,
but unfortunately didn't get any decent shots.
The most famous of the new Olympic constructions in Beijing is almost certainly the Bird's Nest
Stadium, its wonderfully wirey weave of steel defying gravity goodness knows how.
Facing the stadium is the equally prominent National Aquatics Center, otherwise known as
the Water Cube. Close up, the cells are pleasingly like blue bubble wrap.
Chinese state media is faithfully spouted by CCTV, the national television broadcaster. Their new
headquarters were almost complete, another gravity defying structure of epic proportions, unfortunately
tainted by the torching of the adjacent Mandarin Oriental Hotel during new year fireworks in 2009.
A short drive out of town can deposit you at the Great Wall of China itself, although there are many
spots that can be visited, it is after all a very long wall. This is Badaling, the most visited section,
which is almost certainly where we came in
The winding wall stretches forth across hill and dale, and in fact has many loops and spurs
which would further confuse the enemy.
Closer to town, the Summer Palace is another key stop on the tourist trail. It was built for
the royals to escape the summer heat of the city, and chill out by the beautiful Kunming Lake. Here
the Seventeen Arch bridge crosses to a small island.
Another sight I vividly recall from
is the Long Corridor within the Summer Palace, a covered walkway running along the north shore of
Kunming Lake towards the marble boat, which is happily still there to be admired.
A local artist calligrapher writes Chinese characters on the path with a sponge and water.
View across Kunming Lake while crossing back to the entrance from the marble boat. In the
background you can see the Yu Feng (or Jade Peak) Pagoda.