I got off the night train from Luoyang at Beijing' West Railway station from where I took a taxi to the Yongdingmen Hotel where I had planned to stay. It was closed for repairs so I went to the Jing Hua Hotel on Nanshanhuan Xilu.
The girl at the reception desk curtly told me they had no vacancies but I had been warned that desk clercs in government hotels sometimes say the hotel is full when they need to catch up in their paperwork. I insisted politely and hung around until she did find me a bed in a four place dorm for only 35 yuan (2.85 $US).
The Jing Hua Hotel turned out to be one of the favorite hangouts of backpackers in Beijing as you can see from this night scene at the privately run outdoor cafe of attached to the hotel. There were two such cafes. Thanks to competition, the service was excellent in both.
By pure coincidence, Barry Kowal a backpacker I had met in Shanghai's Pujiang Hotel was also staying here. I have pleasant memories of several evenings spent drinking Quingdao beer and exchanging tips and experiences with fellow travelers here during my two week stay in Beijing.
This is the new face of Beijing. When I was here the last time, in 1973, there were very few cars and they had to negotiate their way through a blue sea of Mao suited cyclists.
Beijing had been the capital of the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties during seven centuries when SunYat Sen chose Nanjing for capital in 1911. When Beijing regained its title with the communist takeover in 1949, Soviet advisors flooded in and the city underwent a period of reconstruction during which much traditional architecture was destroyed to widen Chang'an Dajie and to make Tian'anmen Square large enough to accommodate the massive manifestations favoured by the Soviets.
During this period, Beijing's famous fortified walls were torn down to make way for a ring road like Moscow's. This is part of it, looking North on Chaoyangmen Nan Dajie from Jianguomennei Dajie. Beijing is now circled by 4 ring roads and a fifth one is under construction.
The central section of Beijing's main drag is called Chang'an in front of Tian'anmen Square but it undergoes several name changes as it extends to the western and eastern suburbs. The stretch shown here is called Jianguomennei Dajie.
Further down, Jianguomennei Dajie becomes Dongchang'an Dajie and eventually Chang'an Dajie in font of Tian'anmen Square.
On the western side of Tian'anmen Square, Great Hall of the People where I had the unique experience of meeting Zhou Enlai in april 1973 as I accompanied the canadian Energy and Mines Minister Donald McDonald on a trade mission to China.
On the northern side of the Square, Tian'anmen Gate leads to the entrance of the Forbidden City.
The Monument to the People's Heroes and Mao's Mausoleum appear small in the vast plain of Tian'anmen Square.
The Qianmen Gate on the southern side of Tian'anmen was part of the fabled fortifications that were destroyed in the early '50's. The small upper windows were designed to be manned by hundreds of archers and crossbowmen to defend the gate from any approaching enemy.
I was very busy in Beijing. Of course, I gawked at all the sights that "can't be missed" as any well trained tourist should but I also spent an inordinate amount of time visiting a dozen consulates to beg for all the visas I would need for my trek through the remnants of the soviet empire. I must say that I was not as successful in Beijing as I had hoped for and that begging bureaucrats for visas took a large part of my time in all the ex-soviet capitals I visited.
It was however a pleasure to find the time to meet in person the cybernauts I had encountered on the net. This brought me to the Tsinghua University where I took this picture of their School of Economics and Management which will have an important role to play in helping Chinese managers adapt to international ways in the global market.
I didn't visit the Tsinghua University to see its buildings but to meet with a brilliant physicist, Dr. Jim Song who invited me to have dinner in his campus home.
Tiantan Park or The Temple of Heaven, is a part of the "must be seen" attractions of Beijing. Built in the early 15th century by the Ming Emperor Yong Lo, the Temple of Heaven symbolises the junction of heaven and earth by associating heavenly circles and odd numbers with earthly squares and even numbers. In front of me is the Imperial Vault of Heaven with its octagonal base and round roof. Behind me is the Round Altar, a three tiered marble mound where the heavenly number nine and its multiples are honoured .
This gate in the Echo Wall surrounding the Vault of Heaven, gives access to the Bridge of Vermilion leading to another gate that opens onto the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests in the northern part of the park. The concepts symbolised by the architecture of the park are abstract and mathematical rather than religious in the sense that they do not refer to any of the three then prevalent schools of thought, Confucianism, Taoism or Buddhism. If anything, they are more related to numerology issued from ancient Shamanism.
The Hall where the Emperor carried out the annual rituals of Prayer for Good Harvests stands on a three tiered marble mound similar to the Round Altar in the southern par of the park. The three circular roofs are supported by 4 central pillars related to the 4 cardinal points of the earth, an inner row of 12 pillars said to symbolise the months of the year and an outer one supposed to represent the day broken into 12 two hour watches.
In carrying out these rituals the Emperor placed himself in the role of "Son of Heaven" at the junction of heaven and earth. It is significant to note however that the "Mandate of Heaven" given to a Dynasty by virtue of the role of "Son of Heaven" played by the successive members of that Dynasty could be withdrawn by "The Heavens" if the Emperor did not fulfill his role of looking after the well being of his people adequately. In that case, the downtrodden peasants could exercise the "right to rebellion" (as long as they succeeded in overthrowing their oppressor).
Along with cuisine and landscaping, the art of acrobatics place the Chinese culture in a niche of its own. I watched this group go through its complex balancing routines for two hours without a single mishap. It's amazing that not one of these 54 spinning plates would fall. The odds are just against it!
No tour of Beijing is complete without a visit to the Forbidden City which was initially built by the Ming Emperor Yong Le in the early 15th century. When corruption weakened the Ming in the 17th century, its northern Manchu neighbours marched in with the help of a traitorous Ming general, took Beijing and razed the Imperial Palaces. They lost no time to adopt Chinese ways, to rebuild the Forbidden City and to set up their own Qing Dynasty.
This place is so extraordinary that it is worth several visits. I had come here with a group of two dozen canadians a long time ago. This time I asked my friend Yang Dong to show me around (a metallurgical engineer that I had met a month earlier on the train between Liuzhou and Chongqing). We entered by the Wumen gate in the south wall, shown here, and exited by the Shenwu gate in the north.
The palace complex consists in a series of courtyards separated by ornate gates leading to the Emperor's private living quarters and gardens. The first courtyard has a stream flowing across it. On the other side, the Supreme Harmony Gate leads to an even larger courtyard.
The Hall of Supreme Harmony on the north side of the second courtyard is one of three ceremonial halls used by the Emperor to appropriately impress ambassadors, generals and anyone else he had to meet in the exercise of his imperial duties (the other two are called the Middle Harmony and the Preserving Harmony Halls).
On the other side of these halls, a small courtyard brings us to the Heavenly Purity gate decorated with golden lions and ceremonial vessels. Yang Dong and I stopped here for the photo on the left below because I remembered having posed for the one on the right 24 years earlier (I have always enjoyed horsing around even when I was supposed to be a "serious businessman"!).
The gate of Heavenly Purity leads into the first of three progressively smaller private courtyards leading to the Imperial garden parts of which can be seen below.
Finally we came out of the Forbidden City through the North Gate that can be glimpsed at the left of this shot of the moat and North West corner Tower.
After a quick tour of beautiful Beihei Park, Lake and Island, Yang Dong brought me to his home in a northern suburb where we enjoyed a gourmet dinner with his charming wife. It had been an exciting, interesting day topped with warm hospitality but I was glad to crawl into bed after the long taxi ride to my southern suburb.