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Beijing contrast overview
Temple of heaven

Temple of Heaven

See where emperors prayed for a good harvest and walk around beautiful parkland. The Temple of Heaven is a complex of buildings in the south-east of Beijing’s downtown area. Built between 1406 and 1420 during the Ming Dynasty, it was used by emperors to pray for a good harvest. Made up of several halls and an expansive park, it is one of the city’s most important historic sites.

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See where emperors prayed for a good harvest and walk around beautiful parkland.

The Temple of Heaven is a complex of buildings in the south-east of Beijing’s downtown area. Built between 1406 and 1420 during the reign of the Yongle Emperor in the Ming Dynasty, it was used by emperors to pray for a good harvest.

The temple’s design reflects ancient Taoist beliefs about the earth and the cosmos. The complex covers over 2,700,000 square meters of parkland and paved land, and is enclosed by a wall. Inside the wall, the northern part is semicircular which symbolizes the heavens, while the southern part is square, representing the earth. This follows the old Chinese principle that “the heaven is round and the earth is square”.

The Temple of Heaven’s most striking building is the triple-gabled Circular Mound Altar (Yuanqiutan) with its blue tiled roof and patterned walls. This 38-meter-high structure is where the emperors used to offer their prayers to the harvest gods. The Imperial Vault of Heaven (Huangqiongyu) is a miniature version of the Circular Mound Altar, while the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest (Qiniandian) runs from south to north. The main buildings of the are connected by the Vermilion Steps Bridge (Danbiqiao), also known as the Sacred Way.

Aside from the buildings, the Temple of Heaven’s park is also worth a look. It is popular among local tai-chi performers, and families out for a stroll.

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Summer palace

Summer Palace

Visit the beautiful gardens where the emperor cooled off during the summer months. The Summer Palace is a gorgeous lakeside landscape 15 kilometers outside of Beijing, where the emperor and his family escaped the heat of summer in the capital. The main site includes the 2.9 square kilometer Kunming Lake, and Longevity Hill, which is home to pavilions, gardens, ponds and cloisters.

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Visit the beautiful gardens where the emperor cooled off during the summer months.

The Summer Palace is a gorgeous lakeside landscape 15 kilometers outside of Beijing, where the emperor and his family escape the heat of summer in the capital. The main site includes the 2.9 square kilometer Kunming Lake, which was artificially extended to resemble Hangzhou’s famous West Lake. The excavated soil from the project was used to make Longevity Hill, which is home to pavilions, gardens, ponds and cloisters.

The Summer Palace was begun in the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234), but reached its current size and scope in 1705 during the reign of the Qing Emperor Qianlong. Many of the buildings were damaged during the Anglo-French attacks of the Boxer Rebellion in 1860 and the Eight Allies invasion of 1900, but the gardens survived and were revamped in 1902.

Three quarters of the Summer Palace’s 294 hectares are covered in water. The central attraction is the Tower of Buddhist Incense (Foxiangge) at the top of the hill, but the surrounding area is home to over 3,000 pavilions, towers, bridges, and corridors.

The Summer Palace is split into four parts: the court area, front hill area, front lake area, and rear hill and back lake area. The front hill area has the most attractions including the lakefront and Longevity Hill. There is also the Gate of Dispelling Clouds, Hall of Dispelling Clouds, Hall of Moral Glory, Tower of Buddhist Incense, and Hall of the Sea of Wisdom.

The rear hill and back lake areas are mainly landscaped gardens criscrossed with winding lanes and paths, adjoining Kunming Lake and Back Lake. The Garden of Harmonious Interest was modeled on the classical gardens of Suzhou.

The court area is where the emperor conducted state business and rested. The main palace buildings include the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity (which was the emperor’s office), the Hall of Jade Ripples, the Hall of Joyful Longevity (once home to China’s last empress, Cixi) and the impressive Long Gallery.

The front lake area makes up the largest part of the Summer Palace, and includes Kunming Lake. Here you’ll find the Seventeen-Arch Bridge, Jade-Belt Bridge, Nanhu Island, a bronze ox statue, and the Marble Boat.

UNESCO made the Summer Palace a World Heritage Site in 1998, declaring it "a masterpiece of Chinese landscape garden design." It is an unforgettable site and an essential part of your Beijing itinerary.

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Lama temple

Lama Temple

Admire intricate carvings and beautiful statues at one of China’s most important Buddhist temple dating from 1694. The Lama Temple is located in the Dongcheng District, and started life as a home for imperial eunuchs before becoming the center of Geluk Buddhism. Containing five lavishly decorated halls filled with statues and engravings in Tibetan and Han styles, it is among China’s largest and oldest Buddhist temples.

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Admire intricate carvings and beautiful statues at one of China’s most important Buddhist temple.

In Beijing’s Dongcheng District sits a gorgeous temple that started life as a home for imperial eunuchs, before becoming the center of Geluk Buddhism. Containing five lavishly decorated halls filled with statues and engravings in Tibetan and Han styles, it is among China’s largest and oldest Buddhist temples.

The Yonghe Temple (also known as the Palace of Peace and Harmony, or simply Lama Temple) was built in 1694 as a residence for the court eunuchs. It then became the court of the Kangxi Emperor’s son, who later became Yongzheng Emperor and turned half of the complex into a lamasery (Buddhist monastery). When his successor Qianlong ascended to the throne, he granted the temple imperial status, changing the turquoise tiles for yellow ones to signify royalty. The Lama Temple escaped the ravages of the Cultural Revolution thanks to an appeal by former prime minister Zhou Enlai.

The temple is laid out along a central axis that runs north to south for 480 meters. At the southern end is the main gate, and there are five main halls along its length, separated by courtyards. There are the Hall of the Heavenly Kings, the Hall of Harmony and Peace, the Hall of Everlasting Protection, the Hall of the Wheel of the Law, and the Pavilion of Ten Thousand Happinesses. The Hall of the Heavenly Kings used to be the main entrance to the monastery, and contains a statue of the Maitreya Buddha along with icons of the four Heavenly Kings.

The Hall of Harmony and Peace is the temple’s main building, housing three bronze statues of the Buddhas of the Three Ages. The Buddha of the Present (Gautama) is in the middle, between the Buddha of the Past (Kasyapa Matanga) and the Buddha of the Future (Maitreya). The Hall of Everlasting Protection served as Emperor Yongzheng's living quarters when he was a prince. It is now home to a statue of the Healing Buddha (Bhaisajya-guru).

The Hall of the Wheel of the Law is used for reading scriptures and holding religious ceremonies, and has a statue of Je Tsongkhapa who founded the Geluk School. The Pavilion of Ten Thousand Happinesses houses a 26-meter-tall statue of the Maitreya Buddha carved from a single piece of white sandalwood.

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Beijing zoo

Beijing Zoo

Watch giant pandas roam around a leafy indoor habitat at Beijing Zoo. The zoo was the first in China, and now houses 5,000 animals across 450 species. Among the 16 areas, the Panda Hall is the most popular. It was built in 1989 and covers 10,000 square meters. Filled with trees and bushes, it replicates the panda’s natural habitat.

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Watch giant pandas roam around a leafy indoor habitat at Beijing Zoo.

Without a doubt, the giant panda is one of China’s most beloved national treasures. Endangered in the wild, very few pandas remain in their natural habitat. The research and protection center in Sichuan has made great steps towards preserving the species, and is the most famous place to see the pandas. However, the Panda Hall at Beijing Zoo provides an equally good opportunity to get up close to China’s national animal.

Beijing Zoo was the first in China, and now houses 5,000 animals across 450 species. Among the 16 areas, the Panda Hall is the most popular. It was built in 1989 and covers 10,000 square meters. Filled with trees and bushes, it replicates the panda’s natural habitat.

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Kung fu show

Kung Fu show

Watch a breathtaking display of Shaolin-style martial arts performed by a group of talented fighters. Martial arts developed over many centuries in ancient China as a form of self defense in dangerous times. Kung fu has become famous across the world thanks to the films of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, and the recent fame of the Shaolin monks of the Songshan Monastery has spread its popularity even wider. Shaolin kung fu mimics the movements of birds and animals through a series of kicks and chops.

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Watch a breathtaking display of Shaolin-style martial arts performed by a group of talented fighters.

Martial arts, or “wu shu”, developed over many centuries in ancient China, and were designed as a form of self defense in dangerous times. Through kicking, chopping, tumbling and leaping, kung fu fighters could overmaster their enemies in a few deft moves. Kung fu became famous across the world thanks to the films of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, and the recent fame of the Shaolin monks of the Songshan Monastery has spread its popularity even wider.

Shaolin is the type of kung fu practiced in the north of China, as opposed to Wudang in the south. Shaolin is considered to be the most pure and original, since the monks integrated the movements of birds and animals into their actions. Sticks and spears are also used.

Watching a kung fu show is a great way to get to know this ancient martial art, and enjoy a spectacular stage performance at the same time.

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