Beijing’s Big Sites

After scouting out the concert venue and potential collaborations, it was the turn of the tourist’s sites. China has a rich history with a lineage of 5,000 years. This has produced some of the world’s most interesting and valuable sites.

Located right next to each other is Tian’anmen Square and The Forbidden City. Tian’anmen Square is recognized as the largest public square in the world. Located in the middle is a large monument to the People’s Heroes and Mao’s Mausoleum. Flanking the square are a number of grand and imposing communist party buildings and at the far end in the Ming era gate with Chairmen Mao Zedong’s portrait watching over the entire square. These images are so iconic it is strange to be there looking at them for real. The memory of the gory outcome of the student protests in 1989 also haunt you.

From Tian’anmen Square you walk directly north in the Forbidden City. Built in the early part of the 15th century, this walled city contains 9,999 rooms and was the primary home for 24 emperors for 500 years. If you haven’t watched the famous movie “The Last Emperor” then it is a must before you embark on the tour next summer. It tells the tale of Pu Yi who ascended as Emperor in 1908 at the grand old age of three years. His reign only lasted until 1912 when the Republican government took power. He remained in the city until the age of 19, never leaving the city gates for his own safety. After a tumultuous life living for many years in Japan and then imprisoned by the new Chinese communist government in 1950, he eventually worked for seven years as a gardener in the Beijing Botanical Gardens before his death in 1967.

The Forbidden City is wonderful to explore but a couple of things to be careful about. There is a lot of walking so be sure you are wearing your most comfortable shoes. It is also extremely crowded so our students will need to be diligent about sticking together and not moving from one section to the next without being sure all the members of their chaperone group are together. This will certainly be a day when we will ask all of our students to wear their complimentary YOSA tour T-shirts.

The next day we took the 90 minute drive north of the city to explore the Great Wall of China. Extending across the north part of China for several thousand miles, the wall was an attempt to keep the enemies coming south and invading. It never really worked as it was breached several times in its long history. While a lot of the wall is now in disrepair, there are a number of visitor friendly sections. We will visit Juyong Guan which is one of the steeper sections. This keeps away a lot of visitors but will be fun for the students who want to spend about an hour to climb to the very top and enjoy some spectacular views across the mountains. While it was busy at the bottom, the crowd thins out as you climb — clearly not everyone makes it all the way up.

On the way back there is a chance to stop at the Olympic sites. To see the bird’s nest stadium and the water cube up close is just plain neat. You are so used to seeing these iconic structures on TV which now stand as a monument to a stunning Olympic games last year. It is possible to pay and go in but no one recommends this as worth the time or money.

Steven Payne

Tiananmen Square

Tiananmen Square

The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China

Olympic Sites

Olympic Sites


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