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Beijing – A Walk on The Great Wall

April 16, 2011 by Chelsea Slone

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A visit to China has been one of the many dreams I have had since I was young, and in recent years the desire has grown even stronger as their global presence has strengthened immensely. China is a very diverse country with their culture, customs, and language. While there are the major cities including Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou which are modern and reasonably wealthy, there are still around fifty percent of the Chinese population living in rural areas. The Chinese have always been a leading civilization in the world’s arts and sciences. Creating paper, gunpowder, and the compass are just few of the major accomplishments this fast paced country is known for. Their ancient methods and ways of life, like feng shui, yin-yang, and practices of Chinese medicine are just some of the few fascinating things the Chinese people have to offer.

Our trip to China was special for many reasons. Being our first ever visit to this country was one in itself, but having my parents visit and travel with us throughout China made the whole experience that much better. After visiting here I truly believe a trip to China is not complete without a visit to the historical filled capital city of Beijing. Even with the ever growing population and the skyscrapers filling this hectic city, you will still find the ancient culture and Chinese traditions around each and every corner. Whether it was through exploring the local Hutongs and markets, visiting the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, or walking the Great Wall of China we found a true glimpse into the Chinese culture visiting the fascinating city of Beijing.

I will begin by telling you a little bit about the unique culture of the Chinese people. Within minutes of arriving in this fascinating country you will find loud burping, frequent spitting, and lack of personal space to be extremely common. In fact you will notice foreigners are the only people not participating in the common acts. In the Chinese culture it isn’t rude, and it isn’t gross. Some visitors might consider it disgusting, while others come to understand it is just their way of life. Either way, I think it is definitely difficult to get used to. Due to the pollution and spread of disease awareness there are now public campaigns trying to discourage these acts… but so far as I can tell the habits haven’t been easy to break.

When we think of Chinese food we all think of the same busy night or lazy day take out at the local Chinese joint in town. In China, take out is almost non-existent. The to-go food in this country consists of spiders, snakes, and various bugs found on a stick at the local markets. However, if you don’t loose you appetite after walking through one of these markets the culinary experiences can be wondering. Peeking duck is the specialty of Beijing, and during our visit to the restaurant Da Dong, we were taught the correct way to enjoy this delicacy. At the restaurant we were shown to first dip the skin in sugar and eat it by itself, then we were given the meat to place in a very thin unsweetened pancake with a little bit of hoison sauce and green onions, roll the pancake up and enjoy! It is an incredible dish. Even my mom, who doesn’t particularly enjoy duck, loved it!

To understand more about the Chinese culture we visited a local Hutong, also known to be Beijing ancient alleyways, giving us the opportunity to see the traditional architecture. In the Hutong we were shown inside a local family’s home, given to the opportunity to eat a traditional Chinese lunch with them, and also learn how to make the popular Chinese dumplings. A Hutong is a local neighborhood for the common people, which often houses hundreds of people in same area. While some Hutongs are nicer than others, they all have grey roofs representing their social status. The color of the roof of a home is very important in this country. In the days of the emperor they were given a yellow roof meaning royalty, family and government homes and buildings were given a green roof, and the common people had grey.

At night for local entertainment many people visit the well-known Chinese operas or acrobatic shows. While visiting Beijing we decided to attend one of the more popular acrobatic shows, where they twisted themselves into insane positions and preformed tricks you thought were only seen in Vegas. The stunts were not only incredible, but they incorporated some of the Chinese traditional by using teacups and other such props in the performance.

The culture and food of Beijing might be one of the best parts of the city, but the history to be found here perhaps the most memorable. Tiananmen Square is a place known by many people from the June Fourth Incident or the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Over ten thousand Chinese people gathered at this square to protest and mourn the death of former General Secretary Hu Yaobang, who had been purged for his support to political liberalization. The protesting began mainly by students encouraging the continuation of the economic reform, but after a few short months it turned into a mass movement for political reform. After around eight weeks of protesting in the square and other various parts of the country the government’s military action took place. Firing tanks and troops were sent in to clear the area of protestors, and thousands of Chinese people were killed by their own government. Our visit to Tiananmen Square in some ways was very strange. We had guide to fill us in on all of the interesting facts and important information, but upon arrival she made us aware that if we had any questions concerning the government actions or previous events occurring in the square we were to wait until leaving to ask, as she wasn’t allowed to speak of such things. Guards and military surround the premises, displaying how truly strict the government is over their people and the information shared with them. One of the great and unknown mysteries of this place is the “tank man”, a man whom we still have no idea about today. After he stood up against the tanks in the square on the day of the massacre he was not knowingly killed, and they claim he is still alive, but no one by the Chinese government might ever know. If you haven’t seen it before, you must watch the YouTube video here.

The Forbidden City, also known to be the Chinese imperial palace, is located directly across from Tiananmen Square. The Chinese name Zijin Cheng, as we know in English translates to “forbidden city”, and the name was given to the palace to recognize the fact that no person or thing could enter or leave the palace without the approval of the emperor. The imperial palace began in the Ming Dynasty and ended with the Qing Dynasty. For almost five hundred years the palace served as the home for the emperors and their families. The palace structure, built in 1406, exemplifies traditional palatial architecture and has since influenced architectural structure throughout East Asia. It is now listed as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world. The entire palace is built using Chinese decorating techniques, which are more a lifestyle than decoration. Chinese philosophies such as the Yin-Yang and Feng Shui are very important not only in the everyday way of life, but also in the way they live in their homes, and how their homes are built. Feng Shui literally translates to mean wind and water, is an ancient Chinese system of aesthetics believed to use the laws of both Heaven and Earth or astronomy and geography. Yin-Yang represents the concept that opposites only exist when in relation to each other. In other words meaning that there needs to be a perfect balance of two different things to make something work perfectly. Yin yang are complementary opposites that interact greater as a whole than individually. All of these beliefs and practices are widely used and known throughout the entire country.

Last but not least our visit to the Great Wall of China. Located only an hour and a half outside of Beijing it is something not to miss. Other than being one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the incredible history and architectural work put into this wall is magnificent. Contrary to belief, the wall was built over several hundred years and dynasty’s to project the northern boarder of China from the Mongols. When the wall was first being built it was discontinuous, so the Mongols were able to go around and defeat China. They conquered the Northern part of China from 1211 A.D. through 1223, and ruled until the Mind dynasty defeated them in 1368. Being the longest man made structure in the world, the Great Wall of China is said to be approximately 31,070 miles long. There is a Chinese myth that a helpful dragon created the shape and path of the wall, and the builders had just followed his course. This stems from the importance of the dragon in Chinese culture. The dragon is a protective divinity and is synonymous with springtime and vital energy. The people believed the earth was filled with dragons, which gave shape to the mountains and formed the sinew of the land. To build the wall the men used mortar made from rice flour, and it is still said to be the strongest mortar used in any structure across the world. There are many different areas to visit the wall with the most popular being Badaling, for being closest to Beijing, its also known to be the most crowded. We decided to visit the section Mutianyu, which is a little further out, less crowded, and just as magnificent.

Our entire trip to Beijing was filled with unique and exciting experiences. From walking the Great Wall of China to seeing bugs on a stick in the local food markets, there was always a new adventure around the corner. With all Beijing had to offer we are thrilled to have been able to visit and can’t wait to see what Shanghai has in store!

Zai Hui,

T+C

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2 thoughts on “Beijing – A Walk on The Great Wall

  1. As usual, and extremely interesting account of your visit to Beijing. I’m craving scorpions on a stick to go with my morning coffee, which I am enjoying right now.

    Thanks and Bon Voyage again!!!!

    Mary Littrell

  2. I have been to China about 8 times the past 1 1/2 years and still have not made it to Beijing. After reading your blog its a place I must visit soon.

    Can’t wait to hear what you thought of the Bund and Nanjing Road in Shanghai.

    I can also see you both loving Hong Kong.

    Jeanna

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