Combining both modern and traditional features, Beijing is one of the oldest cities in the world. As the last of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China, Beijing has been the political center of the country for most of the past eight centuries. With a rich history dating back three millennia and a population of 21,707,000, Beijing now offers an array of historic, artistic, and cultural destinations.
As the saying goes, one who fails to reach the Great Wall is not a true hero. Without visiting the Great Wall, no trip to Beijing is complete. The Great Wall of China is a series of stone and earthen fortifications in northern China that was built, rebuilt, and maintained between the fifth century BCE and the sixteenth century ACE to protect the country's northern borders from Xiongnu, a confederation of nomadic peoples' attacks of repeated periods of conflict and intrigue during various successive dynasties.
At the heart of Beijing is the Forbidden City, home to the emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties and the largest palace complex in the nation and the world. The Forbidden City houses the Palace Museum, which boasts imperial collections of Chinese art.
Siheyuan and Hutong
Beijing's siheyuan (courtyard houses) and hutong (alleys) give visitors a glimpse of traditional Chinese living. Siheyuan are typical of houses of northern China and exemplify the Chinese philosophy of "unity between man and nature". These courtyards were built from more than 3000 years ago to the 1930s in most cases. Hutong, the narrow alleys between siheyuans, is the most typical type of old lanes. More than 7,000 alleys are scattered throughout the city, and each has a story to tell. They twist through older neighborhoods and form an open-air museum where one can wander aimlessly for hours.
798 Art District
Originally the site of state-owned factories, including Factory 798, which produced electronics, the 798 Art District became a "Sohoesque" area of international character since 2001, replete with "loft living" and attracting attention from all around Beijing.
However, 798 is more than a three-digit number: in Beijing these numbers symbolize the country's cutting-edge art movement led by the Chinese vanguard. The largest, most influential art district in China, the 798 hosts world-class international and Chinese exhibitions in the midst of former weapons factories. Bringing together contemporary art, architecture, and culture with a historically interesting location and urban lifestyle, 798 has evolved into an influential cultural concept.
National Centre for the Performing Arts
The National Centre for the Performing Arts is part of Beijing's iconic national and cultural infrastructure, consisting of the Opera House, Concert Hall, Theater, Multifunctional Theatre, and Fifth Space. With a seating capacity of more than 2,000, the Opera House is the grandest venue in the NCPA. It stages operas, dance dramas, ballets, and other performances, and is equipped with a modern stage that can be moved up, down, backward, forward, or rotated; a ballet stage that can slant; and a rising orchestra pit that can hold up to ninety musicians.
Surrounding the lake is a 190,000 m2 belt of trees that blocks noise from Chang'an Avenue, making NCPA a spacious relaxation and leisure complex in the heart of the city. The egg-shaped shell appears to float in a 355,000 m2 lake full of gleaming water. These not only contribute to the surrounding environment, but also embody the concept of harmony among people, art, and nature.
Formerly an imperial palace, later converted into a Tibetan Buddhist monastery, the Lama Temple is one of Beijing's most famous monasteries. Originally known as the Yonghe Temple, its construction began in 1694 during the Qing Dynasty. It was then converted into the residence of Yinzhen (Prince Yong), the fourth son of the Kangxi Emperor. After Prince Yong took the throne as the Yongzheng Emperor in 1722, half of the building was converted into a lamasery—a monastery for monks of Tibetan Buddhism. The other half remained an imperial palace.
The Qianlong Emperor, who succeeded the Yongzheng Emperor, gave the temple imperial status by replacing its turquoise tiles with the yellow tiles reserved for the emperor. Subsequently, the monastery became a residence for large numbers of Tibetan Buddhist monks from Mongolia and Tibet, making the Yonghe Lamasery the national center of Lama administration.
After the Chinese Civil War ended in 1949, the temple was declared a national monument and closed for the following thirty-two years. It is said to have survived the Cultural Revolution due to the intervention of Premier Zhou Enlai. Reopened to the public in 1981, it is today both a functioning temple and highly popular tourist attraction in the city.
The National Art Museum of China
Begun in 1958 with its façade inscribed by Chairman Mao Zedong, and officially opened in 1963, the National Art Museum of China (NAMOC) is the only national museum of visual art in China. The building, with twenty-one exhibition halls throughout six stories, covers an area of more than 18,000 square meters. The museum boasts an exhibition area of 6,660 square meters. The sculpture park covers 3,000 square meters, and a modern collection storeroom for artwork storage founded in 1995 spans across 4,100 square meters.
NAMOC integrates exhibition, collection, research, public education, international exchange, restoration of artworks, and cultural and creative industries. The robust development of NAMOC benefits greatly from the support of the central government and the direct leadership of the Ministry of Culture. The government has established a special collection fund, which laid a solid foundation for the museum's collections. Quite a few collectors and artists donated their collections to the country out of their social responsibility and strong belief in "art serving the people", which contributes to rich collections of NAMOC.
The museum houses more than 110,000 pieces in various collections, most of which are representative works by Chinese masters from ancient times through today, including Su Shi, Tang Yin, Xu Wei, Ren Bonian, Wu Changshuo, Huang Binhong, Qi Baishi, Xu Beihong, Lin Fengmian, Liu Haisu, Pan Tianshou, Jiang Zhaohe, Wu Zuoren, Li Keran, Dong Xiwen, Wu Guanzhong, and Zhu Dequn. Sculptors include Liu Kaiqu, Hua Tianyou, Wang Linyi, Zeng Zhushao, Xiao Chuanjiu, Zhang Chongren, Wang Zhaowen, Pan He, Liu Huanzhang, Wen Lou, and Zhu Ming. the museum also features ancient paintings, folk art, and calligraphic pieces by such artists as Yu Youren, Gao Ershi, Sha Menghai and Qi Gong. Works by foreign artists include those by Picasso, Dalí, Käthe Kollwitz, and Ansel Adams.
The current curator of NAMOC is Wu Weishan, and former curators include Liu Kaiqu, Yang Lizhou, Feng Yuan, and Fan Di'an. Under the leadership of the Ministry of Culture and curators, NAMOC is dedicated to showcasing the latest Chinese artistic achievements and the creations of international artists, promoting international artistic dialogue and exchange, and enhancing the cultural awareness and aesthetic level of the Chinese public.
Since its establishment, NAMOC has held thousands of various influential exhibitions, which not only reflect development and prosperity of Chinese art but also provide an important platform of artistic exchange between China and the world. In recent years, NAMOC has organized new series of exhibitions such as the Carrying Forward the Chinese Spirit Series, the Collection Revitalization Series, the Academic Invitations Series, the Donation and Collection Series, the International Exchange Series, and the Belt and Road special exhibition.
NAMOC is planning to build a new venue next to "Bird's Nest" in Beijing's Olympic Park, covering an area of 128,600 square meters. Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, will oversee construction of the new venue, which is one of the national key projects.
Red Brick Art Museum
The Red Brick Art Museum is located in No.1 International Art District in northeast Beijing. Red Brick covers a total of 20,000 square meters, with nearly 10,000 square meters of exhibition space. It was founded by the couple YAN Shijie and CAO Mei, and opened on May 23, 2014. The museum was designed by Professor DONG Yugan of the Architecture Research Center of Peking University.
The main building includes two full stories that feature nine exhibition spaces, two public recreational spaces, a lecture hall, and an art derivatives space, along with a dining room, cafe, and club. The basement level offers a projection room. The landscaped courtyard, which pays homage to the Chinese Garden scenic concept, main characteristic of which is the integration of architectural features with the natural environment, is also a highlight of Red Brick.
In the future, through a series of orderly and high-quality exhibitions along with collections, research, education, publications and public activities, Red Brick Art Museum will dedicate to boost the development of Chinese contemporary art, to participate in the international contemporary artists' programs communication, and to carry out research about distinctive problems and phenomenon in academic field, offering a feasible reference for the operation and development mode for private museums of Chinese Contemporary Art.
In addition to these cultural offerings, Beijing features an endless mixture of theatres, restaurants, clubs, business centers, and shopping, to the delight of visitors from near and far.