Colossal monuments of the recent past and relics of even more ancient history frame China’s vibrant capital city.
1 Tiananmen Square
It would be unthinkable to visit the Chinese capital without setting foot in this gargantuan square – the world’s largest, which is flanked by major historical landmarks including Chairman Mao Zedong’s mausoleum. First-timers should take a gander at the entranceway to the Forbidden City, heading underneath the giant portrait of Mao and into the cobbled ante-courtyards. For time-pressed visitors it gives a feel for the size and scale of the world’s largest palace, which has almost a thousand different rooms.
The square itself is generally thronged with overawed provincial tourists; the keener ones arrive in time to see the dawn flag-raising ceremony, or linger to witness the five-star Chinese flag make its way down the pole at dusk. The buildings on the fringes are magnificent examples of stern Stalinist architecture: the National Museum of China, to the east, traces the 5,000 years of recorded Chinese history (clearly not practical to cover during a whistle-stop tour), and the Great Hall of the People, to the west, is where all the major Party meetings are held.
Repeat visitors might want to visit the Beijing Planning Exhibition Hall, just off the southern end, which has a scale model of the city spanning an entire floor. It traces Beijing’s history in some detail, acknowledging that it was designated as the capital by Genghis Khan’s grandson, Kublai Khan, and the grid pattern designed by Mongolian planners – facts that are not generally trumpeted in local history books.
2 Ritan Park
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