It’s August in Beijing; the city’s expat community has shed its departing families and welcomed a fresh batch. Whether you’re new to Beijing, or just returning from vacation, walking the city’s streets is a great way to acquaint, or reacquaint, yourself with the capital. We spotlight four walking itineraries across the ‘Jing selected by some of its best tour guides. Get out and explore before school starts! This is part one of a four part series.
Featured Guide: Daniel Newman (Newman Tours)
Englishman Daniel Newman began his China story at age 18, first coming here to study martial arts before returning home to receive an MPhil in Modern Chinese Studies from the University of Cambridge. He has lived in China for the past nine years and is the founder and managing director of Newman Tours.
Newman Tours provides public, private and tailored tours led by western English speakers in and around Shanghai, Beijing, Xi’an, Hangzhou and Suzhou. Their tours around Qianmen include The Forbidden City Tour, The History of China in 50 Objects at the National Museum, Beijing, and The Beijing Future Tour, and cost RMB 190 – 440 per person, depending on the type of tour guide and tour type selected. (RMB 120-340 for children under 14). To find out more visit www.newmantours.com, email email@example.com, or call 138 1777 0229
Qianmen is the southern entry gate to what was once the Inner City of Beijing, where imperial China’s political elite lived. It also marks the approach to the Forbidden City along which officials and generals traveled in order to deliver information to the Emperor. Overlooking Tiananmen Square, it is still seen as the center of Beijing today, and offers some of the city’s most popular historical sites. Here is a route you can take to see the very best that Qianmen has to offer:
Start your adventure outside exit A of Qianmen Metro on Line 2. Here you can see the famous gate from which this area takes its name. When the Eight Nation Alliance of colonial powers attacked Beijing in retaliation for the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, the Qing Dynasty’s Hui Muslim Kansu Braves tried to hold them off at Qianmen using the gate’s archery towers, but their efforts were of course unsuccessful.
From here you can walk or even take a tram along Dashilan (Qianmen Dajie), which has been bustling with commerce for well over 500 years. Amongst many things you can see the Ma Ju Yuan Hat Shop, which used to make hats for imperial officials, and Da Guan Lou Cinema, where China’s first ever public screening of a film took place.
If you have already worked up an appetite then you can eat Beijing Duck that is literally fit for an Emperor in the original Quanjude Restaurant. It’s not cheap and you need to book in advance, but the open oven method of preparation that was introduced here by a retired chef from the imperial kitchens in 1864 makes for a delicious meal.
After lunch you can walk along the eastern edge of Tiananmen Square. It isn’t really worth going through the security check to get onto Tiananmen Square itself unless you’re particularly keen to see Mao’s Mausoleum, which is only usually open from 8-11:30am from Tuesday to Sunday, and doesn’t allow you to enter with bags and cameras (these can be left in luggage storage offices to the east and west of Tiananmen Square). But from the edge here you can still get a good view of the world’s largest public square, the Great Hall Of The People, the Monument To The People’s Heroes, Mao’s Mausoleum, and the legendary Tiananmen Gate.
Next you could head to the Beijing Urban Planning Exhibition Hall where you can book one of Newman Tour’s guides to provide their Beijing Future Tour. This includes a look at how China’s capital is planning to cope with its population of more than 20 million people, and highlights how you can benefit from the challenges that will arise in the next fifty years. See p36 for more information on this stop.
Alternatively you can check out the National Museum of China, where Newman Tours offer their History of China in 50 Objects Tour. “A personal favorite of mine is the collection of original Qin Dynasty (221-206BC) Terracotta Warriors, who were commissioned to accompany China’s self-proclaimed first Emperor into the afterlife,” says Newman. “They are based on his merciless soldiers, who fought whilst drunk on millet beer, and were incentivized on a per capita basis (i.e. they were paid according to how many enemy heads they chopped off). If you like them as much I do then you could always check out our Terracotta Warrior Tours and Muslim District Tours in Xi’an.”
Finally, no visit to Beijing would be complete without seeing The Forbidden City which was commissioned by Emperor Yongle in 1406 when he moved the capital to Beijing after having killed and stolen power from his own nephew.
The Forbidden City contains endless seemingly identical courtyards and endless uninspiring historical plaques. It is therefore a destination that benefits from a well informed guide to bring its rich history to life. “One of my favorite stops on our Forbidden City Tour is the narrow well in which Empress Dowager Cixi’s eunuchs drowned the beautiful Pearl Concubine,” says Newman. “You can still see the spot where this talented young concubine suffered her cruel fate at the hands of one of the most powerful women the world has ever known.”
Ma Juyuan Hat Shop 马聚源帽店
Free. Daily 9am-10pm. 8 Dashilan Jie, Dongcheng District东城区大栅栏杰8号
Daguanlou Cinema 大观楼影城
Free. Daily 9.30am-10.30pm. 36 Dashilan Jie, Dongcheng District (6303 0878) 东城区大栅栏杰368号
Quanjude Restaurant 全聚德烤鸭前门店
Free. Daily 11am-2pm, 4.30-8.30pm. 30 Qianmen Jie, Dongcheng District (6511 2418) 东城区前门杰30号
Beijing Urban Planning Exhibition Hall 北京市规划展览馆
RMB 30. Tue-Sun 9am-5pm. 20 Qianmen Dongjie, Chongwen District (6701 7074) 崇文区前门东街20号
National Museum of China 中国国家博物馆
Free. Tue-Sun 9am-5pm. 16 East Chang’an Jie, Dongcheng District (6511 6400) 东城区东长安街16号
The Forbidden City
RMB 60 adults. Tue-Sun 8.30am-4.30pm. 4 Jingshanqian Jie, Dongcheng District, (85007422, 85007421) 东城区景山前街4号
This article originally appeared on page 56-57 of the beijingkids August 2015 issue. Click here to read the issue for free on Issuu.com. To find out how you can get your own copy, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos: Courtesy of Newman Tours