Beijing is the capital of the People's Republic of China and the municipality is under the direct administration of the Central People's Government. The city is the political, cultural, scientific and educational hub of the country, as well as a major stage for international activities.
Tartars, Mongols, Mings, and Manchus have, in turn, swayed the empire of which Beijing for so long was the keystone. The height of royal magnificence was attained from 1200 to 1300 A.D. during the reign of the great Kublai Khan, the glories of whose court were recounted by the Venetian explorer, Marco Polo.
Although much of its grandeur has departed since the removal of the Chinese capital to Nanking, Beijing yet remains a city of romance and charm. From its lofty walls, thirty miles in circumference and enclosing an area of twenty square miles, the golden tiled roofs of the Tartar and Chinese cities gleam in symbolism of the immeasurable wealth they shelter. Palaces decorated with grotesque gargoyles record the reigns of otherwise forgotten Emperors. And, as in centuries past, the camel caravans leave the Imperial City for the lands of mystery to the North and West.
Beijing is a city of walls. Private homes, the legations, and public buildings are surrounded by walls, all sheltered by the tremendous wall which girdles the entire city. Beijing is in the same latitude as southern Italy, but it has a wide seasonal range of climate, cold winters and hot summers.
For many years the Forbidden City was a complete and engaging mystery to the Occident, for foreigners were not admitted to its sacred precincts until after the Boxer uprising in 1900. It is, perhaps, the most famous of all the walled cities within Beijing. Despite looting and spoliation, much of the grandeur of this Imperial City remains. The present palaces date from the Ming dynasty and occupy, roughly, the site of the court of Kublai Khan, 1214-1294, the Grand Khan of the Mongols, who conquered China and founded the Yuen dynasty, making Buddhism the state religion. He was the heroic figure made immortal by Mareo Polo. The Museum section of the Forbidden City is composed of fifteen buildings, and here once were stored the most remarkable art collections in all China. During the Sino-Japanese troubles of 1932 thousands of cases of these priceless treasures were shipped out to Nanking and Shanghai for safekeeping. Their return is still an open question. Much of interest, however, remains to be seen within the fabled Forbidden City. The jade and bronze collections are beyond question the finest in the world.
Once a place of indescribable grandeur, the Summer Palace, some seven miles out from the Tartar City of Beijing, was a favourite resort of the old Empress Dowager, who was responsible for its construction. It is still well worth the time required for a visit. There is a haunting beauty in the temples, palaces, shrines and pagodas. The land- and waterscaping are particularly effective. Some of the more modern buildings and the famous marble boat were the work of the Empress Tz'u Hsi, who used for the purpose $30,000,000 which had been appropriated for the construction of a Chinese Navy. To this circumstance some historians have attributed the defeat of China by Japan in the war of 1894. The war was lost but the marble boat remains. Three miles West of the Summer Palace is the Jade Fountain, a spring which has been giving forth water for countless centuries. It supplies the lakes of the Summer Palace grounds. The park at the fountain is beautiful and there are interesting pagodas in the adjacent hills.
Within Beijing there was no more beautiful spot than the grounds of the Winter Palace, in which are included the group known as the Sea Palaces. There are many pavilions and two attractive lakes, separated by a marble bridge. In Autumn the lakes were almost covered with lotus blooms. Boat picnics on the lakes were a favourite summer-time diversion.
Located in the Chinese City are the famous Temple of Heaven and the Altar of Agriculture. The temple grounds are interesting and are surrounded by a wall more than three miles in circumference. This was long the imperial shrine where the Emperors made their addresses to the gods of ancient China. Five temples really form the group collectively known as the Temple of Heaven. The Altar of Heaven, long regarded as the most sacred place in China, is a huge marble platform with three terraces and 360 balustrades. The first terrace is 210 feet in width. Many visitors have adjudged the Temple of Heaven the most impressive of Peiping's many scenic attractions.
Shopping in Beijing becomes more convenient by the day. Every year new shopping centers and plazas are sprouting up all over the capital. Just a few years ago there were only a few department stores and small bazaars, but now there are many superstores, mega-malls and markets where you can buy just about anything you need. The Silk Market at Xiushui Jie and the free market at Sanlitun are favorites among tourists, expats and locals alike. Native products of Beijing such as antiques, porcelain, lacquerware, jade, carpets, silk, painting & calligraphy scrolls, handicraft and traditional Chinese medicine are all popular items of purchase. Cotton shoes, snow-lotus cashmere sweaters, woolen bed sheets, cotton shirts, and other practical clothing items are some of the best bargains in the world. Shops are open seven days a week, from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. (7 p.m. in winter). Large shopping centers and the Friendship Store may stay open to 9 p.m. and offer more Westernized favours. Night markets usually begin their business at twilight. Bargaining is only possible with private vendors in street stalls.
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