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Friday, August 31, 2007

Beijing Hutongs 北京胡同 and Siheyuans 四合院!

Ni hao!


Todays blog will tell you a little bit more about the Hutongs in Beijing. We all call it hutong. But when we talk abut them we really mean siheyuan. Siheyuan are the courtyard houses, and hutong are the streets or alleys inbetween them. So we should really talk about the Siheyuans inBeijing! Hutongs 胡同 are narrow streets or alleys, most commonly associated with Beijing, China. The word hutong comes from the Mongolian hottog meaning "water well." During the growth of towns and cities, wells dug by villagers formed the centres of new communities. In Beijing, hutongs are alleys formed by lines of Siheyuan, traditional courtyard residences. Many neighbourhoods were formed by joining one siheyuan to another to form a hutong, and then joining one hutong to another. The word hutong is also used to refer to such neighbourhoods. In old China, streets and lanes were defined by width. Hutongs were lanes no wider than 9 metres. Many are smaller; Beijing hutongs range in width from 10 metres down to only 40 centimetres. Since the mid-20th century, the number of Beijing hutongs has dropped dramatically as they are demolished to make way for new roads and buildings. More recently, some hutongs have been designated as protected areas in an attempt to preserve this aspect of Chinese cultural history. Historical hutongs: During China’s dynastic period, emperors planned the city of Beijing and arranged the residential areas according to the etiquette systems of the Zhou Dynasty (1027 - 256 BC). At the center was the Forbidden City, surrounded in concentric circles by the Inner City and Outer City. Citizens of higher social status were permitted to live closer to the center of the circles. Aristocrats lived to the east and west of the imperial palace. The large siheyuan of these high-ranking officials and wealthy merchants often featured beautifully carved and painted roof beams and pillars and carefully landscaped gardens. The hutongs they formed were orderly, lined by spacious homes and walled gardens. Farther from the palace, and to its north and south, were the commoners, merchants, artisans and laborers. Their siheyuan were far smaller in scale and simpler in design and decoration, and the hutongs were narrower. Nearly all siheyuan had their main buildings and gates facing south for better lighting; thus a majority of hutongs run from east to west. Between the main hutongs, many tiny lanes ran north and south for convenient passage.Hutongs in the modern era: At the turn of the 20th century, the Qing court was disintegrating as China’s dynastic era came to an end. The traditional arrangement of hutongs was also affected. Many new hutongs, built haphazardly and with no apparent plan, began to appear on the outskirts of the old city while the old ones lost their former neat appearance. The social stratification of the residents also began to evaporate, reflecting the collapse of the Feudal system. During the period of the Republic of China from 1911 to 1948, society was unstable, fraught with civil wars and repeated foreign invasions. Beijing deteriorated, and the conditions of the hutongs worsened. Siheyuan previously owned and occupied by a single family were subdivided and shared by many households, with additions tacked on as needed, built with whatever materials were available. The 978 hutongs listed in Qing Dynasty records swelled to 1,330 by 1949. Decline of hutongs: Following the founding of the People´s Republic of China in 1949, many of the old hutongs disappeared, replaced by the high rises and wide boulevards of today’s Beijing. Many citizens left the lanes where their families resided for generations, resettling in apartment buildings with modern amenities. In Xicheng District, for example, nearly 200 hutongs out of the 820 it held in 1949 have disappeared. The Beijing Municipal Construction Committee stated in 2004, some 250,000 square meters of old housing – 20,000 households – would be demolished in 2004. However, many of Beijing’s ancient hutongs still stand, and a number of them have been designated protected areas. The older neighborhoods survive today, offering a glimpse of life in the capital city as it has been for generations. In Beijing, the hutongs in the vicinity of the Bell Tower and Shichahai Lake are especially well preserved. Some are several hundred years old, and attracts tourists who tour the quarter in pedicabs(rickshaws).Other information about hutongs: Each hutong has a name. Some have had only one name since their creation, while others have had several throughout their history. Names were given to hutongs for various reasons: Place names, such as Inner Xizhimen Hutong. Plants, such as Liushu Hutong (Liushu means willow). Directions, as Xi Hongmen Hutong (Xi means west). Beijing idioms such as Yizi Hutong (a local term for soap is yizi). Words with positive attributes, such as Xiqing Hutong (Xiqing means happy). Markets and businesses, such as Yangshi Hutong (Yangshi is a sheep market). Temples, such as Guanyinsi Hutong (Guanyinsi is the Kuan-yin Temple). People's names, such as Mengduan Hutong. While most Beijing hutongs are straight, Jiudaowan Hutong turns nineteen times. At it´s narrowest section, Qianshi Hutong near Qianmen (Front Gate) is only 40 centimeters wide. A Siheyuan 四合院 is a type of residence commonly found throughout China, but most famously in Beijing. The name literally means a courtyard, a space enclosed by walls, a yard surrounded by buildings, an enclosed quadrangle area. In China a courtyard is called a siheyuan, meaning a yard surrounded by four buildings. Throughout Chinese history, the siheyuan composition was the basic pattern used for residences, palaces, temples, monasteries, family businesses and government offices. There were simple courtyards and there were courtyard villas. History: As early as the Western Zhou period (1122 BC to 256 BC), Siheyuan with a complete layout were already built, carrying the most outstanding and fundamental characteristics of Chinese architectures. They exists all across China and are the template for most Chinese architectural styles. Today, Beijing still has about 400,000 residential quadrangles, mainly distributed over the East, West, Xuanwu and Chongwen districts of the city. Those in the East and West districts are in the best shape. The departments concerned with the preservation of cultural relics in Beijing have identified a number of good-quality dwelling compounds for protection. In addition, the urban construction departments have worked out a plan to limit high buildings in the city proper to protect the dwelling compounds. Since housing is now one of the most difficult problems facing Beijing, a city that is growing both spatially and in terms of population at a fast rate. The siheyuan, designed as single, extended family residences, today most often house multiple families, with courtyards being infilled to provide extra living space. The hutong laneways are similarly built into, creating cramped and poor quality physical environment. The living conditions in many siheyuans are now considered squalid, with very few having private toilets. Siheyuan are being torn down to address problems of overcrowding, replaced by modern apartment blocks. There are, however, still some grand siheyuan in Beijing that have been preserved in all their former glory. Mainly built for nobles and high officials before the turn of the century, many have been turned into museums, and others are being lived in by governmental officials or used as government offices. The reasons why these peaceful quadrangles are hard to find in Beijing are as follows: 1. Recent, massive population growth in the city has created a significant housing shortage. Since 1949, large-scale construction programs carried out in the city involve the demolition of many siheyuan compounds. 2. During the initial post-liberation period, government offices occupied some quadrangles. Later they were demolished to build office buildings. 3. During the "Cultural Revolution" (1966-1976), air-raid shelters were dug everywhere in Beijing, resulting in the destruction of some dwelling compounds. Systematic demolition of old urban buildings took place during China’s rapid economic development of the 1990s. Large-scale demolition of siheyuan began when the municipal government implemented a housing renovation policy that allowed developers to replace old and derelict dwellings with high-rise buildings. Between 1990 and 1998, a total 4.2 million square meters of old housing was demolished, most of it siheyuan. Today, the area occupied by siheyuan has shrunk from the 17 million square meters of the early 1950s to just three million square meters. According to Beijing Municipal Administration of Cultural Heritage statistics, of the 3,000 courtyards remaining in Beijing, only 539 are in Cultural and Historical Conservation Areas. The remaining siheyuan exist within a damaged ecological environment, and as they have not been refurbished for many years, their historical and aesthetic value is greatly reduced. General Layout: Stepping over the high wooden base of the front gate of a large compound, you will find a brick privacy wall located a few feet inside. In front of the privacy wall is the outer courtyard, which is flanked by structures to the east and west. In former days, these were the kitchen and servants' living quarters. A red-painted gate leads through the north wall of the outer court into the inner courtyard. The main building faces south to get the maximum possible sunshine in winter, and the eaves provide a pleasant shade in summer when the sun is high. The building is divided into three or five rooms: living or community rooms in the centre with smaller bedroom or studies at each end. The buildings facing east and west on each side of the court were constructed to accommodate married children and their families. Some dwelling compounds consist of several courtyards. With no steel or concrete, the entire dwelling was generally wood-framed with brick infill. The compounds are quiet, beautiful and compact. It is normal for the four buildings of the quadrangle to be positioned along the north-south, east-west axes. The building positioned to the north and facing the south is considered the main house and would traditionally have accommodated the head of the family. The buildings adjoining the main house are called "side houses" and were the quarters of the younger or less important members of the family. The building that faces north is known as the "opposite house" and would generally be where the servants lived or where the family would gather to relax, eat or study. The entrance gate to the courtyard is usually at the southeastern corner. Normally, there is a screen-wall, called a yingbi: 影壁, inside the gate so that outsiders cannot see directly into the courtyard, and believed to protect the house from evil spirits. Outside the gate of some large siheyuan, it is common to find a pair of stone lions. The gates are usually painted vermilion and have large copper door knockers. All the rooms around the courtyard have large windows facing onto the yard and small windows high up on the back wall facing out onto the street. Some do not even have back windows. Some large compounds have two or more courtyards to house the extended families that were a mark of prosperity in ancient times. The layout of a simple courtyard becomes a vivid representation of traditional Chinese morality. Due to Beijing's geographical location, four buildings in a single courtyard receive different amount of sunlight. The northern one receives the most, thus serving as the living room and bedroom of the Siheyuan owner. The eastern and western buildings receive less, and serve as guestrooms. The southern one, opposite the owner's house, receives the least sunlight, and usually functions as the quarters for service staff. The northern, eastern and western buildings are connected by beautiful decorated passages. These passages serve as shelters from the sunshine during the day, and provide a cool place to appreciate the view of the courtyard at night. Behind the northern building, there would often be a separate building for unmarried daughters. In ancient China, unmarried girls weren't allowed direct exposure to the public, thus, they would occupy the most secret building in the Siheyuan. Though built a long time ago, a Siheyuan is a scientific, human-oriented architecture. Northwestern walls are usually higher than the other walls, to protect the inside buildings from the harsh winds, blowing across northern China in the winter. The eaves curve downward, so when it rains the accumulated rainwater will flow along the curve rather than dropping straight down. The rooftop has ridge design, so when sunshine falls down on the roof, shade is provided. This helps the room to escape direct exposure to sunshine in the summer while retaining warmth in the winter. In Gansu, Qinghai and other northwest regions, where a sand-laden wind is very strong, the height of courtyard walls is increased. The northeast region is extensive, but the weather is cold, so that, in order to take in as much sunshine as possible, the courtyard is broad and large, and there are many open areas inside the courtyard walls. Why Siheyuan? Such a residence offers space, comfort and quiet privacy. It is also good for security as well as protection against dust and storms. Grown with plants and flowers, the court is also a sort of garden. In feudal times, the courtyard dwellings were built according to the traditional concepts of the five elements that were believed to compose the universe, and the eight diagrams of divination. The gate was made at the southeast corner which was the "wind" corner, and house was made to face the south with the main building on the north side which was believed to belong to "water"-- an element to prevent fire. Siheyuan represent Beijing residents’ childhood happiness, an old image branded on their collective memory. From a foreign visitors’ point of view, the siheyuan scenario, with fruit sellers along the hutong, or narrow lanes, lined with small shops selling various daily life utensils, has a bewitching charm redolent of the rich flavor of Beijing life. Such areas offer the best chance to interact with the local people and observe their daily life. Siheyuan, in effect, shorten the distance between people. Beijing's Siheyuan are cordial and quiet, with a strong flavor of life. The courtyard is square, vast and of a suitable size. It contains flowers and is set up with rocks, providing an ideal space for outdoor life. Such elements make the courtyard seem like an open-air, large living room, drawing heaven and earth closer to people's hearts; this is why the courtyard was most favored by them. The verandah divides the courtyard into several big and small spaces that are not very distant from each other. These spaces penetrate one another, setting off the void and the solids, and the contrast of shadows. The divisions also make the courtyard more suited to the standards of daily life. Family members exchanged their views here, which created a cordial temperament and an interesting atmosphere. In fact, the centripetal and cohesive atmosphere of Beijing's Siheyuan, with its strict rules and forms, is a typical expression of the character of most Chinese residences. The courtyard's pattern of being closed to the outside and open to the inside can be regarded as a wise integration of two kinds of contradictory psychologies: On one hand the self-sufficient feudal families needed to maintain a certain separation from the outside world; on the other, the psychology, deeply rooted in the mode of agricultural production, makes the Chinese particularly keen on getting closer to nature. They often want to see the heaven, earth, flowers, grass and trees in their own homes. Rich and Poor: All the quadrangles, from their size and style one could tell whether they belonged to private individuals or the powerful and rich. The simple house of an ordinary person has only one courtyard with the main building on the north facing, across the court, the southern building with rooms of northern exposure and flanked on the sides by the buildings of eastern and western chambers. The mansion of a titled or very rich family would have two or more courtyards, one behind another, with the main building separated from the view of the southern building by a wall with a fancy gate or by a guoting (walk-through pavilion). Behind the main building there would be a lesser house in the rear and, connected with the main quadrangle, small "corner courtyards". The lord and lady of the house lived in the sunny main building and their children in the side chambers. The southern row on the opposite side, those nearest to the entrance gate, were generally used as the study, the reception room, the man servants' dwelling or for sundry purposes. Not only residences but ancient palaces, government offices, temples and monasteries were built basically on the pattern of the siheyuan, a common feature of traditional Chinese architecture. Best-preserved Siheyuan in Beijing: Nanchangjie and Beichangjie (southern long street and northern long street). Nanchangjie and Beichangjie both start from Xihuamen Dajie with Nanchangjie running south to Changan jie and Beichangjie running north to Jingshan Qianjie. In the Qing Dynasty, the various departments of the domestic affairs ministry were established here. At present various temples, including the Fuyou Temple, Wanshou Xinglong Temple, Zhaoxian Temple and Jingmo Temple line this street. Location: east to Beihai Park, Dongcheng Wusi Dajie. Named after the famous "May 4 Movement", Wusi Dajie was built after the liberation of the country, connecting already existing mansions, temples and Hutongs. Famous scenic spots include Beida Honglou (Peking University red building), the birthplace of the "May 4 Movement", the Longfu Temple, hosting the largest book fair, and National Art Museum of China. Location: northeast of the Forbiden City Nanchizi and Beichizi (southern pond and northern pond). Divided by Donghuamen Dajie, Nanchizi runs south to Changan jie and Beichangjie runs north to Jingshan Qianjie. Nanchizi and Beichizi are separated from Nanchangjie and Beichangjie by the Forbidden City in the north and Tiananmen Square in the south. Location: east of Tiananmen Square, east of the Forbidden City, Dongcheng Wenjin Jie. Crowned by expatriates as the most beautiful street in Beijing, Wenjin Jie boasts old houses, beautiful scenery and profound cultural relics. The Jinao Yudong Bridge divides Zhonghai and Beihai. Location: the street south of Beihai Park, dividing Beihai Park and Zhonghai Zhishanmen Jie. Named after the east gate of Beihai Park, and literally meaning the gate to climb a mountain, Zhishanmen Jie is the home of the famous Hutong, Xuechi Hutong. This particular Hutong was once used as the storehouse of ice blocks by royal families. Location: between Jingshan Xijie and Beihai Park. Jingshan Dong, Xi, Hou and Qian Jie (Jingshan east, west, back and front street). These four streets circle Jingshan Park forming a square. Location: at the northern gate of the Forbidden City, Xicheng Dianmen Neidajie. Starting from Jingshan Houjie, running along Beihai, Qianhai, and Houhai until Zhonggulou (drum and bell tower), Dianmen Neidajie connects several quite reminiscent lanes. Location: starts from Jingshan Houjie and runs north to Dianmen. They say before the Beijing Olympics there are some 3000 hutongs in Beijing, and after 2008 there are some 1000! I do hope they are right, because we all that come as visitors need to see and feel these areas! Believe me that I know of the problems with ambulances and the fire brigade can not go there. But this is a way of living for thousands of years! Please. don´t take all of them away! Old!Zai jian!

Peter



Thursday, August 30, 2007

Jingshan Park 景山公园 and Beihai Park 北海公园!

Ni hao!


As I told you before I want to give you the real pearls of Beijing. One at a time! Here I will give one more interesting sight. Jingshan Hill (Chinese: 景山 is an artificial hill in Beijing, China. It is located in Xicheng District, immediately north of the Forbidden City on the central axis of Beijing. Originally an imperial garden, it is now a public park, known as Jingshan Park (景山公园). The 45.7-metre high artificial hill was constructed in the Yongle era of the Ming Dynasty entirely from the soil excavated in forming the moats of the Imperial Palace and nearby canals. It is especially impressive when one considers that all of this material was moved only by manual labor and animal power. According to the dictates of Feng Shui, it is favorable to site a residence to the south of a nearby hill (and it is also practical, gaining protection from chilly northern winds). The imperial palaces in both of the other capitals of the Ming Dynasty were situated to the south of a hill. When the capital was moved to Beijing, no such hill existed at this location, so one was constructed. It is popularly known as "Feng Shui Hill". It is also known as Coal Hill, a direct translation of its old popular Chinese name (Chinese: 煤山). The last emperor of the Ming Dynasty, Chongzhen, committed suicide by hanging himself here in 1644. Relationship with the Forbidden City: Jingshan hill is separated from the Forbidden City by the palace moat. However, until 1928 the park sat directly by the moat and was accessible on the south side only from the Forbidden City via the Gate of Divine ight. In 1928, a new road (New Jinghshan Street) was built to the north of the palace moat. This fully separated Jingshan Hill from the Forbidden City. The Gate of Divine Might became the front door of the Palace Museum, and the front gate of Jingshan Park now stood to the north of the new road. The street addresses of both the Forbidden City and Jingshan Park are on New Jingshan Street. The Beihai Park (Chinese: 北海公园) is an imperial garden northwest of the Forbidden City in Beijing. Initially built in the 10th century, it is a typical Chinese garden. Before the end of the Qing Dynasty in 1911, this area was part of the Forbidden City; since 1925, it is open to the public. The Park has an area of more than 700,000 square meters, with a water area that covers more than half of the entire Park. At the center of the Park is an island called Qiongdao Island with a highest point of 32 meters. In the north area of the park is a big pool called Taiye Pool connecting the two other pools, which are called Middle Sea and South Sea respectively. Therefore the Taiye Pool is also called Beihai (Northern Sea). Beihai literally means "Northern Sea". There are also corresponding "Central" and "Southern Seas" (Zhongnanhai). The complex of buildings around Zhongnanhai houses China's paramount leaders. Noticeable places: White Dagoba Temple (Bai Ta). The Bai Ta(White Pagoda) is 40 m high and placed on the highest point on Qiongdao Island. Its body is made of white stone. Sun, moon and flame engravings decorate the surface of the tower. Destroyed in 1679 by an earthquake, it was rebuilt the following year. Same in 1976, because of an earthquake which occurred at Tangshan City, near Beijing City. Hidden inside the tower are Scriptures, Buddhist monk's mantle and alms bowl, and bones of monks (left after they are burned). On the north bank lies the Five-Dragon Pavilion, which was built in the Ming Dynasty. The Nine-Dragon Wall lies north of the Five-Dragon Pavilion. It was built in 1756 and is one of three walls of its kind in China. It was made of seven-color glaze bricks. Nine complete dragons playing in the clouds are decorated on both sides of the wall. Also on the north bank is Jingxin Room (Quieting Heart Room). It is a garden in the garden, which covers an area of more than 4,000 m². The Circular Wall (Tuancheng) with its main structure the Hall of Received Light (Chengguangdian), a spacious building with a double-eaved roof made of yellow glazed tiles bordered in green. Inside there is a 1.6 m tall Buddha, which was presented to Emperor Guangxu by a Cambodian king. It is carved from a single piece of pure white jade inlaid with precious stones. The Eight-Power Allied Forces damaged the statue’s left arm when they invaded Beijing in 1900. This is a very good place to visit, but you will need a whole day for these two parks! I say so because it takes time to relax and enjoy this lovely city of Beijing. With my local family guides we had a nice rest with eating before going to the next place. Parks!


Zai jian!

Peter


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Shopping in Beijing: Wangfujing Dajie(Alley) 王府井大街!

Ni hao!


Wángfujing Alley(Wangfujing Dajie) 王府井大街, located in the Dongcheng District of Beijing, is one of the Chinese capital's most famous shopping streets. Much of the road is off-limits to cars and other motor vehicles, and it is not rare to see the entire street full of people, turned into one of China's most attractive and modern boulevards. Since the middle of Ming Dynasty there have been commercial activities. In the Qing Dynasty, eight aristocratic estates and princess residence were built here, soon after when a well full of sweet water was discovered, thereby giving the street its name "Wang Fu"(=aristocratic residence), "Jing" (=well). In 1903, Dong'an market was formed. Prior to 1949, the street was also known as Morrison Street, after the Australian journalist George Ernest Morrison. Wangfujing has become one of the four traditional downtown shopping areas of Beijing, in addition to Dashilar, Xidan, and Liulichang. It starts from Wangfujing Nankou, where the Oriental Plaza and the Beijing Hotel are located. It then heads north, passing the Wangfujing Xinhua Bookstore, the Beijing Department Store as well as the Beijing Foreign Languages Bookstore before terminating at the Sun Dong An Plaza. Prior to the late 1990s trolleybuses, buses, and other traffic ran through the street, making it rather congested. Modifications in 1999 and 2000 made much of Wangfujing Street car-free (aside from the tour trolley and occasional milatary vehicles doing bank transfers). Now through traffic detours to the east of the street. Wangfujing is now home to around 280 old brands of Beijing, such as Shengxifu hat store, Tongshenghe shoe shop, Wuyutai tea house. A photo studio which took formal photos of the first Chinese leadership, the New China Woman and Children Department Store helped established by Song Qingling were also located on the street. Wangfujing is served by the Beijing subway networks, just one stop away from Tiananmen Square to the west. Line 1 has a station at the southern end of the street, which bears the same name. A word of warning, this street and the shops are so full of people that it´s hard to move yourself! Inside the shops there is no free area more than half a meter for yourself. So keep your money and valuables in a safe place. I had no trouble but if you are not careful it could happen to you. During my 30 day visit in Beijing I kept my money in my jeans and the latger amount in an inside pocket of my vaist coat. Though every chinese told me to be careful, I never had any trouble or heard of anyone having lost their money. OK!

Zai jian!

Peter



Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Forbidden City, Gugong 故宫!

Ni hao!


The Forbidden City was the chinese imperial palace from the mid-Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty. It is located in the middle of Beijing, China, and now houses the Palace Museum. For almost five centuries, it served as the home of the Emperor and his household, and the ceremonial and political centre of Chinese government. Built from 1406 to 1420, the complex consists of 980 surviving buildings with 8,707 bays of rooms and covers 720,000 square metres. The palace complex exemplifies traditional chinese palatial architecture, and has influenced cultural and architectural developments in East Asia and elsewhere. The Forbidden City was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987, and is listed by UNESCO as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world. Since 1924, the Forbidden City has been under the charge of the Palace Museum, whose extensive collection of artwork and artefacts were built upon the imperial collections of the Ming and Qing dynasties. Part of the museum's former collection is now located in the National Palace Museum in Taipei. Both museums descend from the same institution, but were split after the Chinese Civil War. The Forbidden City is the world's largest surviving palace complex and covers 720,000 square metres (0.72 km2 or 0.28 mi2). It is a rectangle 961 metres from north to south and 753 metres from east to west. It consists of 980 surviving buildings with 8,707 bays of rooms. The Forbidden City was designed to be the centre of the ancient, walled city of Beijing. It is enclosed in a larger, walled area called the Imperial City. The Imperial City is, in turn, enclosed by the Inner City; to its south lies the Outer City. The Forbidden City remains important in the civic scheme of Beijing. The central north-south axis remains the central axis of Beijing. This axis extends to the south through Tiananmen gate to Tiananmen Square, the ceremonial centre of the People's Republic of China. To the north, it extends through theBell and Drum Towers to Yongdingmen. The Forbidden City is surrounded by a 7.9-metre high city wall and a six-metre deep, 52-metre wide moat. The walls are 8.62 metres wide at the base, tapering to 6.66 metres at the top. These walls served as both defensive walls and retaining walls for the palace. They were constructed with a rammed earth core, and surfaced with three layers of specially baked bricks on both sides, with the interstices filled with mortar.
At the four corners of the wall sit towers with intricate roofs boasting 72 ridges, reproducing the Pavilion of Prince Teng and the Yellow Crane Pavilion as they appeared in Song Dynasty paintings. These towers are the most visible parts of the palace to commoners outside the walls, and much folklore is attached to them. According to one legend, artisans could not put a corner tower back together after it was dismantled for renovations in the early Qing Dynasty, and it was only rebuilt after the intervention of carpenter-immortal Lu Ban. The wall is pierced by a gate on each side. At the southern end is the main Meridian Gate. To the north is the Gate of Divine Might, which faces Jingshan Park. The east and west gates are called the "East Glorious Gate" and "West Glorious Gate". All gates in the Forbidden City are decorated with a nine-by-nine array of golden door nails, except for the East Glorious Gate, which has only eight rows. The Meridian Gate has two protruding wings forming three sides of a square (Wumen, or Meridian Gate, Square) before it. The gate has five gateways. The central gateway is part of the Imperial Way, a stone flagged path that forms the central axis of the Forbidden City and the ancient city of Beijing itself, and leads all the way from the Gate of China in the south to Jingshan in the north. Only the Emperor may walk or ride on the Imperial Way, except for the Empress on the occasion of her wedding, and successful students after the Imperial Examination. Traditionally, the Forbidden City is divided into two parts. The Outer Court (外朝) or Front Court (前朝) includes the southern sections, and was used for ceremonial purposes. The Inner Court (内廷) or Back Palace (后宫) includes the northern sections, and was the residence of the Emperor and his family's, and was used for day-to-day affairs of state. (The approximate dividing line shown as red dash in the plan above). Generally, the Forbidden City has three vertical axes. The most important buildings are situated on the central north-south axis. Entering from the Meridian Gate, one encounters a large square, pierced by the meandering Inner Golden Water River, which is crossed by five bridges. Beyond the square stands the Gate of Supreme Harmony. Behind that is the Hall of Supreme Harmony Square. A three-tiered white marble terrace rises from this square. Three halls stand on top of this terrace, the focus of the palace complex. From the south, these are the Hall of Supreme Harmony (太和殿), the Hall of Central Harmony (中和殿), and the Hall of Preserving Harmony (保和殿). The Hall of Supreme Harmony is the largest, and rises some 30 metres above the level of the surrounding square. It is the ceremonial centre of imperial power, and the largest surviving wooden structure in China. It is nine bays wide and five bays deep, the numbers nine and five being symbolically connected to the majesty of the Emperor. Set into the ceiling at the centre of the hall is an intricate caisson decorated with a coiled dragon, from the mouth of which issues a chandelier-like set of metal balls, called the "Xuanyuan Mirror". In the Ming Dynasty, the Emperor held court here to discuss affairs of state. During the Qing Dynasty, as Emeperors held court far more frequently, the Hall of Supreme Harmony was only used for ceremonial purposes, such as coronations, investitures, and imperial weddings. The Hall of Central Harmony is a smaller, square hall, used by the Emperor to prepare and rest before and during ceremonies. Behind it, the Hall of Preserving Harmony, was used for rehearsing ceremonies, and was also the site of the final stage of the Imperial examination. All three halls feature imperial thrones, the largest and most elaborate one being that in the Hall of Supreme Harmony. At the centre of the ramps leading up to the terraces from the northern and southern sides are ceremonial ramps, part of the Imperial Way, featuring elaborate and symbolic bas-relief carvings. The northern ramp, behind the Hall of Preserving Harmony, is carved from a single piece of stone 16.57 metres long, 3.07 metres wide, and 1.7 metres thick. It weighs some 200 tonnes and is the largest such carving in China. The southern ramp, in front of the Hall of Supreme Harmony, is even longer, but is made from two stone slabs joined together — the joint was ingeniously hidden using overlapping bas-relief carvings, and was only discovered when weathering widened the gap in the 20th century. In the south west and south east of the Outer Court are the halls of Military Eminence and Literary Glory. The former was used at various times for the Emperor to receive ministers and hold court, and later housed the Palace's own printing house. The latter was used for ceremonial lectures by highly regarded Confucian scholars, and later became the office of the Grand Secretariat. A copy of the Siku Quanshu was stored there. To the north-east are the Southern Three Places (南三所), which was the residence of the Crown Prince. The Inner Court is separated from the Outer Court by an oblong courtyard lying orthogonal to the City's main axis. It is the home of the Emperor and his family. In the Qing Dynasty, the Emperor lived and worked almost exclusively in the Inner Court, with the Outer Court used only for ceremonial purposes. At the centre of the Inner Court is another set of three halls. From the south, these are the Palace of Heavenly Purity, Hall of Union, and the Palace of Earthly Tranquility. Smaller than the Outer Court halls, the three halls of the Inner Court were the official residences of the Emperor and the Empress. The Emperor, representing Yang and the Heavens, would occupy the Palace of Heavenly Purity. The Empress, representing Yin and the Earth, would occupy the Palace of Earthly Tranquility. In between them was the Hall of Union, where the Yin and Yang mixed to produce harmony. The Palace of Heavenly Purity is a double-eaved building, and set on a single-level white marble platform. It is connected to the Gate of Heavenly Purity to its south by a raised walkway. In the Ming Dynasty, it was the residence of the Emperor. However, beginning from the Yongzheng Emperor of the Qing Dynasty, the Emperor lived instead at the smaller Hall of Mental Cultivation to the west, out of respect to the memory of the Kangxi Emperor. The Palace of Heavenly Purity then became the Emperor's audience hall. A caisson is set into the roof, featuring a coiled dragon. Above the throne hangs a tablet reading "Justice and Honour" (Chinese: 正大光明; Pinyin: zhèngdàguāngmíng). The Palace of Earthly Tranquility is a double-eaved building, 9 bays wide and 3 bays deep. In the Ming Dynasty, it was the residence of the Empress. In the Qing Dynasty, large portions of the Palace were converted for Shamanist worship by the new Manchu rulers. From the reign of the Yongzheng Emperor, the Empress moved out of the Palace. However, two rooms in the Palace of Earthly Harmony were retained for use on the Emperor's wedding night. Between these two palaces is the Hall of Union, which is square in shape with a pyramidal roof. Stored here are the twenty-five Imperial Seals of the Qing Dynasty, as well as other ceremonial items. Behind these three halls lies the Imperial Garden. Relatively small, and compact in design, the garden nevertheless contains several elaborate landscaping features. To the north of the garden is the Gate of Divine Might, the north gate of the palace. Distributed to the east and west of the three main halls are a series of self-contained courtyards and minor palaces, where the Emperor's concubines and children lived. Directly to the west is the Hall of Mental Cultivation. Originally a minor palace, this became the de facto residence and office of the Emperor starting from Yongzheng. In the last decades of the Qing Dynasty, empresses dowager, including Cixi, held court from the eastern partition of the hall. Located around the Hall of Mental Cultivation are the offices of the Grand Council and other key government bodies. The north-eastern section of the Inner Court is taken up by the Palace of Tranquil Longevity, a complex built by the Qianlong Emperor in anticipation of his retirement. It mirrors the set-up of the Forbidden City proper and features an "outer court", an "inner court", and gardens and temples. The entrance to the Palace of Tranquil Longevity is marked by a glazed-tile Nine Dragons Screen. A lot of facts to mealt down. A great tip is to be prepared for a long walk in the heat. This is very large. In the south east corner you will find the toilets and can also smoke there, before returning back all the way. Royal!


Zai jian!

Peter

Monday, August 27, 2007

Shopping in Beijing 北京

Ni hao!


Now you know a little about where we live when we are in Beijing 北京, and about the nearest area around us. You also know a little bit more about Beijing, if you have been reading my blogs. Right now I feel like I would take you out on a shopping round in this lovely city. Firstly Beijing is a fantastic and wonderful place to go to when you want to shop. You will find all kinds of things to buy, and it´s very cheap. So one good tip is to come here with very little in your bagage. You will fill it here. There are many places to go when you want to shop, and they are spread all over the city. The first place we went to was the area near the Drum Tower. Here we found two department stores. One with clothes, shoes, perfume and so on, plus one with everything from electronics to clothes. In fact this last one had everything. I bought sunglasses, memory cards to my mobile phone, t-shirts, thing to use when sewing, umbrellas you name it! Fill up your bagage before going home! In the first department store we bought clothes and shoes mainly. A few days later we went to Xidan. A very large area with many department stores and smaller stores. Here we looked at mobile phones, but we bought one later nearer our home in Dongzhimen. But we bought winter clothes on sale for the last week, and also other clothes. I also bought a second battery for my Olympus digital camera in Xidan. As I told you Beijng is full of shops all over town, but there is also special areas or streets where you go when you want to buy a special thing. Like a street with music stores or department store with curtains for your windows! It´s really very much a paradise for shopping. Though you have to know that I had my special guide, Liping born in and living in Beijing for 40 years with me. So here is what you can do before you go there. Read and learn a lot from the internet and write down the names of the areas where you want to go and shop. Anyway I went to a special musical instruments street to buy a guitar. And found an accustic in green and black for only 380 yuan with case, strap and plectrums! I will not tell you about all these areas in this blog spot. It will come later. But there is one that I just have to tell you about right now. It´s the Wangfujing. It has very many department stores, and also many smaller stores on side streets. It is very exclusive and is very popular among young people and the tourists. We didn´t buy many things here, but we did buy t-shirst, Beijing 2008 caps, souvernirs, and some books(a Beijing Guide book and a Mandarin language book). On this street you will find China´s largest book store. It has 6 floors and some 200.000 volumes of books and CDs! You have to read on a sign at the elevator to find out on which floor the books that you are looking for are placed! Anyway the toilets are on the sixth floor! In my mind comes up the one question that I would like to answer about Beijing! I would like to describe Beijing with three words. Very difficult! But I found out that these words are: large, friendly and building! Both the way people are friendly, helpful, understanding and temprament is the same I have only met in Rhodes, Greece!

Zai jian!

Peter

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Public transportation in Beijing 北京

Ni hao!


A little about public transportation in Beijing 北京. Our apartment is situated very central in this town. You have several ways to help you to get around the city as a tourist. The means of transportation I can put into five groups: 1. Taxi, 2. Subway, 3. Bus, 4. Rickshaw, 5 Boat and 6. Walk! Many times it´s the best to combine them to reach your destination. When I went to the Beijing Zoo and the Summer Palace I used this combination: Walk, Subway and Rickshaw for the Zoo and Boat to the Summer Palace, and finally home by Bus and Taxi. It took me and my two family guides 11 hours before reaching home. I think when you visit for a shorter period like a week or 10 days you must use the taxi a lot. It is very cheap here and you will reach your destination very quick. Though you have to be aware of the language! If not they can charge you night fare prices during the day time as you can not read their equipment. A little warning of this and maybe they don´t always take the shortest way! So know your surroundings and the map! I go mostly with Liping, who is born and has lived here for 40 years. So I don´t have this problem. But anyway it is very cheap for westerners. In Stockholm I would pay 10 or 15 times more for the taxi ride anyway. So for me it´s ok paying 20 or 30 yuan for the same ride. My visit was for 30 days. So I had plenty of time to learn about how to get around in Beijing. Public transportation map in Beijing is from summer 2007. The very fast evolving Beijing Subway has four lines(two above ground, two underground), with several more being built in preparation for the 2008 Summer Olympics. There were 599 bus and trolleybus routes in Beijing as of 2004. Beijing has simplified its bus fare system from January 1st, 2007 as follows: Pay by cash - Lines 1-199(Mainly operated in inner city) 1 Yuan per single journey. Lines 200-299(Night services): 2 Yuan per journey. Lines 300-899(Mainly operated in outer city/suburb): 1 Yuan for the first 12 km and another 0.5 yuan for each additional 5 km. Lines 900-999(Mainly operated from city center to rural area): 1 Yuan per 10 km. Pay by prepaid Yikatong smartcard - Lines 1-499: 0.4 Yuan per single journey.
Lines 500-899: 0.4 Yuan for the first 12 km and another 0.2 Yuan for each additional 5 km.
Lines 900-999: 0.8 Yuan per 10 km. 3-day, 7-day and 14-day bus passes are available for travellers. Surcharges of air-conditioned buses have been cancelled. Subway tickets cost 3 Yuan for the 1, 2, 13, and 8T lines; 5 RMB for tickets allowing a transfer from Line 1/2 to 13, and 4 RMB for tickets allowing a transfer from Line 1/2 to 8T. There is no discount for smartcard users. Taxis are nearly ubiquitous, including a large number of unregistered taxis. As of June 30th, 2006 all fares on legal taxies start at 10 Renmibi for the first 3 km (idling time is also a factor), and are 2.00 Renmibi per extra kilometer. Most taxis are a mixed fleet of new Hyundai Elantra and Volkswagen Jetta(Borla) cars. After 15 km, the base fare is increased by 50%(but only applied to the portion of the distance over 15 km, so that the passenger is not retroactively charged extra for the first 15 km). Between 11pm and 6am, the fee is increased by 20%, starting at 11 RMB and increasing at a rate of 2.4 RMB per km. Rides over 15 km and between 11pm and 6am apply both charges, for a total increase of 80%(120%*150%=180%).
The Beijing subway system is very good and growing all the time. It´s a really quick and cheap way to get around in the town. Though it´s a long way to walk between the stations as Beijing is a very large city. The bus is a much better way to get around as the stations are closer and a little less to walk between. But still very long! Still though the busses cover all of central Beijing and the suburbs too! Together they both use electronic smart cards for payment. It´s a very good system. You fill you card with money and then use it all over Beijing. I now see Stockholm will also use smart cards, but in a different way. I think Beijing´s smart card is better for the local traveller. Stockholm has to learn from this! In Beijing you don´t need to pick up your card, and you can touch with your bag or clothes with card still in it´s pocket!

Zai jian!

Peter