china in two weeks--Beijing help

Aug 12th, 2004, 05:43 PM
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china in two weeks--Beijing help

Two of us are going to Beijing and after several weeks researching on this site here are my ideas. We want "different" along with the "must sees".
Day one: arrive at 4:40 pm. We have reservations the first night only at Prime Hotel. $65. We are going to try to negotiate an upgrade and then bargain for hotels as "walk ins" after that.
Day 2unday-- Panjiayuan (sunday) market. Is it worth it? We also want to go to Guanyuan Schichang insect market, Changchun Jie or Yuting. Is there any advantage to Sunday for the latter three? I found Guanyuan market but can't find the other two. What metro stop are they near? Should we split them up over time?
Day 3outh Beijing. Temple of Heaven, Museum of Ancient Architecture. Perhaps Hong Qial (is that redundant from yeserday?) We are going to the markets for local color and not necessarily to buy. Anything else different in the south?
Day4:Great Wall-- Jin Shan Ling to Simatai. Can't decide whether to negotiate for a taxi or just hook up with Far East Youth Hostel, any ideas.
Day 5:Hutong walk or bike. Peter's walk one sounds fascinating, is it possible to bike without endangering one's life and limb? Maybe bike around the Back Lakes area and parks?
Day 6: Summer Palace by canal if it is still happening. Is both the Old and New Palace worth it? Anything else out that way?
Day 7: Forbideen City, Lama Temple.
Is Tiananmen sunset anything? What about the night market. We were thinking about a hike with Beijing Hikers but their web site has disappeared and I fear that they are history. Any news? It seems that Acrobtic shows and dining and partying in Sanlitun are some things to do at night? Any suggestions on massages? We are very flexible and would be up for anything different with a real flavor of Beijing. Sure is a lot of questions. Thanks so much.
bholson is offline  
Aug 12th, 2004, 09:23 PM
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Just got back from Beijing/Xian/Shanghai/Hong Kong. Great cities and lots to see. Having said that, couple of things that may be helpful.
1) Be ready for crowds. Culturally Chinese are used to less personal space and things are crowded all over during the summer. Just something you need to be aware of and not let it bother you.
2) Have extra toilet paper on hand at all times.
3) Learn basic phrases such as "thank you", "Hello" and "I don't want to buy". If you plan on taking a taxi, have your destination written in chinese to show the driver.
4) When shopping, bargaining is expected. If you start to bargain, and in the end you don't like the price, be ready to walk away even when the vendor is agressively trying to get you to buy.
5) Learn a little about the chinese food ahead if you can. While you will be able to find the typical Chinese dishes we are used to, if you study a bit, you can truly experience the Chines cuisine. The fried rice of all types is to die for.

Great Wall-- Jin Shan Ling to Simatai is definately worth the drive. We went last week (had a guide) and found very few people in the middle of summer. Take a light rain jacket as the weather can change very quickly.

Both the Forbidden City and Summer Palace are incredible. Each take at least 2 hours to do especially in the summer when it's very crowded.

I'd advise against the bikes. I found simply walking from point a to point b very dangerous. It seemed like there were bicyclists everwhere competing with the cars on the road.

It's a great city and you will have fun!
onthego2 is offline  
Aug 12th, 2004, 10:29 PM
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>Day 2unday-- Panjiayuan (sunday) market. Is it worth it?

Yes. It's not as colourful as it used to be because many of the ethnic minority people have been squeezed out by the locals, but still worth visiting. Bear in mind that everything is fake.

>We also want to go to Guanyuan Schichang insect market, Changchun Jie or Yuting. Is there any advantage to Sunday for the latter three?

Busier on Sundays, but quite busy enough during the week.

>I found Guanyuan market but can't find the other two. What metro stop are they near?

Well Changchun Jie (will seem very small after Panjiayuan) is near the metro stop of the same name. The Yuting is opposite the southeast corner of the Temple of Heaven.

I wouldn't bother with Hong Qiao which is just for tourists.

> We are very flexible and would be up for anything different with a real flavor of Beijing.

Go and join the retired people flying traditional shanyanr ('sand swallow') kites from bridges on the second ring road.

Peter N-H
PeterN_H is offline  
Aug 13th, 2004, 12:09 AM
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My wife and I spent about a week in Beijing in March last year and we had a great time there. I have posted a trip report and some pictures on my personal homepage Maybe you can find some useful information there

Stavanger, Norway
gard is offline  
Aug 19th, 2004, 10:09 AM
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onthego2: can you tell me what guide you used and how much it cost? thanks, glad your trip was great!
dperry is offline  
Aug 20th, 2004, 07:58 AM
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Old Palace? Do you mean Yuan Ming Yuan? There are not much left to see except the ruins. (I know there are a lot of renovations being done over the past several years. Not to make it look like what it used to look like (Certainly this is an impossible task), rather to make it more of a public park. However, the old palace is worth visiting in the sense of understanding history. It was the most magnificent garden ever built in China (probably in the world too) and thousand times more significant than the current Summer Palace. Its destruction represents one of the darkest moment in China's history.
xgao is offline  
Aug 20th, 2004, 11:12 AM
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"One of the darkest moments in China history"

Pure xenophobic propaganda, and worthy of the Chinese media (including the channel we've recently been recommended to watch).

I'd think the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward, political campaigns which took the lives of tens of millions of Chinese might be thought just a little darker?

How about the sending to their deaths of thousands of PLA soldiers in the absurd attempt at an invasion of Vietnam in the 1970s?

I'd have thought the slaughter in Tian'an Men Square in 1989, although it took a relatively tiny number of lives, might be thought to be down there somewhere amongst the darkest moments of Chinese history?

I could spend all day listing man-made and natural disasters in China all far darker than the destruction of one small group of palaces and gardens.

But if we're just to stick to dark moments of cultural destruction only, I would have thought the destruction of the misnamed 'old' Summer Palace paled beside the destruction of tens of thousands of temples. palaces, city walls, mosques, tomb sites, and vernacular housing around China since 1949, which continues to this day, not to mention the almost complete destruction of old Beijing from city wall inwards. Oh, and have a word with any Tibetan on this topic.

Of course, stress is put on the 'old' Summer Palace's destruction in the media and in China's xenophobic education system, because its destruction was begun by foreigners in 1860, whereas as the tens of millions of deaths of Chinese within living memory, and the destruction of most of China's cultural heritage, were inflicted by the Chinese upon themselves--a little detail which it is preferred was forgotten.

School education in 'history' also neglects to mention that the most significant part of the gardens was commissioned by foreigners (the Qing dynasty) and the most significant remains were built by foreigners (French and Italian Jesuits), that the whole place was dilapidated and falling down before the Anglo-French forces arrived (in fact by the second half of the 18th century it was already neglected), and that the Chinese continued to pull down the rest and put the gardens under the plough as soon as the foreigners had gone. Why the foreigners were there in the first place (to revenge the incarceration and murder of envoys) is also never mentioned.

Modern discussions also ignore that this 'site of patriotic education' as it is offensively called, has been further destroyed in recent years by those employed to look after it: some lakes are filled with weeds and algae, others provide tawdry paddleboat entertainments, there are bumper car rides, shooting galleries, ghastly restaurants in gimcrack buildings, and more.

What's 'dark' about all this is the casual dissemination of the opposite of the truth, either by commission or omission. It's certainly to be deplored that the original was torched, but even more of a shame that the remainder of the country has been similarly torched by the Chinese themselves, a process which continues to this day and makes it utter hubris to criticise others.

And for the record, the 'new' Summer Palace became part of the same complex as the 'old' in the Qing, and is in fact far older than 'old' gardens to which is was once connected. The buildings are newer because they are the only ones rebuilt or renovated after 1860, and again after 1900, whereas most of the remainder, including all the land between the modern boundaries of the 'old' and the 'new' was put under the plough, built on, or completely abandoned. So much for China's care about its preservation.

Peter N-H
PeterN_H is offline  
Aug 20th, 2004, 12:25 PM
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The destruction of the palace is a reflection of how mismanaged China was under the Qing dynasty, rather than just an action taken by the Anglo-French forces. To say that the destruction of the palace is a tragedy doesn't dispute the fact that there are other tragedies thoughout China's history. I myself would rather see the place remain what it was 15 years ago v.s. what it is today. And I am apalled by the destruction of the old Beijing as well. The topic of discussion here is whether it is worth visiting the old palace. And I would say yes if you care about history (good and bad, old and current).
xgao is offline  
Aug 20th, 2004, 12:57 PM
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I can't help to add this. Being a student of Beijing University in 1989, I certainly understand what 1989 stands in China's history. I am not satisfied with Western media's coverage of the event either. And I understand how easily truth can be lost throughout human history.
xgao is offline  
Aug 20th, 2004, 02:56 PM
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I'd like to add a bit to this discussion of Yuan Ming Yuan without engaging in "hubris" or talking about "darkest moments" of history - anyone's history (mine in particular has some very inglorious dark moments).

The place, later to be named "Yuan Ming Yuan" by the Kangxi Emperor, had had buildings constructed on it for several hundred years before the Ching Dynasty (1644-1911). It's true, however, that the gigantic construction projects were begun by the Ching Emperors, who were MANCHUS (more properly "Manjus") and not Chinese. This is kind of like saying that Catherine the Great of Russia really wasn't Russian but German, nevertheless, she was Empress of RUSSIA. Likewise, these were Manchus, but they were Emperors of CHINA. So, Yuan Ming Yuan is a CHINESE site. It is even more of a Chinese site for what it contained.

Yuan Ming Yuan had about 150 large structures/buildings/palaces - whatever you want to call them. Only a very small percentage were constructed in the European style under the supervision of Europeans, the vast majority were Chinese in concept, design, and construction. When the Great Burning took place, the Chinese buildings, mostly made of wood, burned readily, while the European-style buildings, parts of which were made of stone, stood. This is the origin of the mistaken impression that YMY was "European".

Classic Chinese gardens are supposedly to be each a microcosm of the entire world of nature. In a similar vein, Yuan Ming Yuan was conceived to be a microcosm of all China, ruled over by the Emperor. For this purpose, the Qienlung Emperor, who is responsible for the bulk of the construction of YMY, gathered the best construction people to imitate the best of what he, the Emperor, saw in his empire - a bridge here, a library there, a garden elsewhere. YMY was intended to be a reflection of what the Emperor saw as he voyaged around his empire, China, and was intended to be a reflection of his empire, China. It was, until its destruction, the largest man-made palace-garden in the world.

YMY covered about 1.3 square miles and all parts of it was carefully arranged. Although there are larger (in terms of acreage) European castles/chateaus, a lot of the grounds of these European castles are rolling hills or forests. YMY consisted, on the other hand, of countless constructions and rearrangements of "nature".

Moreover, the Ching Emperors gathered in YMY a considerable treasury of the best of jade, ceramics, books, etc. from all over China. Thus, YMY was not only the largest museum in terms of precious articles but also the largest library, possibly the largest library ever in human history.

The construction and the collecting at YMY went on for about 150 years - give or take a few years - under several emperors. Thus, YMY was not just another complex of palaces, it contained the best of what the nation had to offer. In a way, you can say, it was the soul of China in terms of its contents.

In 1860, during the Opium Wars (today politically correct to refer to them as the Anglo-Chinese Wars), at a time when the Ching Dynasty had been in decline for many years and was very weak, a combined Anglo-French force gained control of Peking (nowadays politically correct to write "Beijing") and of YMY, which, by then, was really the seat of the Chinese government, with the Emperor in residence with his family, retinue, ministers, and officials for 3/4 of the year (the rest of the time was spent in the Forbidden City).

After four days of continuous looting (this is a term used by a Frenchman who was there), with the "best" set aside for Queen Victoria, other goodies being split among the officers, and the rest given to the regular troops - after four or more days of constant looting and whatnot, Lord Elgin - with protestations from the French - ordered the torching of YMY. It took 3500 troops to set the entire place ablaze and took three whole days to burn.

YMY suffered another ravaging. In 1900, what was not destroyed in 1860 was taken care of by the Allied Forces of 8 nations.

Walking through YMY today is like walking through a graveyard, a place where one tries mightily to reconstruct what was there and is no more.

Because of its contents and because the man-made features of YMY were intended to represent various parts and aspects of China, its destruction was like the destruction of the soul of China.

Here's an imaginary equivalent: it would be as if the Huns/Goths/whatever went swepting into France, torched and destroyed Versailles - which, at the time, just happened to contain all the wealth of art and history that is stored in the Louvre, thus the invaders also looted France of its national treasures, carefully gathered by 150 years of enlightened French kings.

We all decry the beastie that is in each of us. However, pointing fingers at what the Chinese have done to China does not take away the awfulness of what happened at YMY.
easytraveler is offline  
Aug 20th, 2004, 04:17 PM
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Peter, I was in Beijing in May for only 3 nights and doing the tourist things, I didnt have much time to shop which is my passion. I went to the Pearl market and the Silk market. At the Silk market I bought a fake Tommy Bahama shirt that I love for 70 yuan. I am going back the first week of September and I will have plenty of time for shopping. I realize everything is a fake and I dont mind. Which markets do you recommend? Also can you tell me approximately how much I should pay for a taxi from the airport to Forbidden City area? Thanks for all your info.
pooky is offline  
Aug 20th, 2004, 05:03 PM
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This is mostly rubbish.

The Qing emperors were from a completely different ethnic group (or artificially fused collection of ethnic groups), regarded as barbarians by the Chinese, and were emperors of the Great Qing Empire, not China, an empire which grew by force to contain the territory which had previously been under the control of the Ming and much more beyond that. The comparison with Catherine the Great and Russia is fatuous. Chinese were not allowed to marry Manchus, not allowed to enter or live in the territory from which the Manchus had invaded China (now the three northeastern provinces, which had not previously belonged to any Chinese dynasty) and Chinese males were forced to shave the tops of their heads and wear a long queue at the rear. From 1644 to 1912, the Chinese were under foreign occupation against their will.

It always helps to read what is said, which is that 'the most significant remains' were built by foreigners, not that these formed a significant part of the total gardens. But these are the very items, built for the Manchus between 1747 and 1759, which feature in all discussion of the site, in its promotion of itself, and in proposals which are made from time to time for reconstruction (in order to make it a more attractive site to tourists, of course). These buildings were partly pulled down by the invading troops, but sequences of photographs subsequent to 1860 show the Chinese continuing to pull down the buildings themselves, taking away the stone for building and the metal ties for other purposes. As late as 1939 Osbert Sitwell reported watching children batter down a stone bridge. Although to be sure the foreign troops caused most of the devastation, it's nice to have a complete picture, which is also that the 'graveyard' is partly of Chinese making.

Luckily, the foreign invaders didn't carry out their initial plan of torching the Forbidden City. This was because they didn't want the Qing to fall, much as big business today prefers the Party to remain in power rather than face a probably yet more unstable environment in which to do business. Shame on all concerned.

The rest of the description is completely over the top or wildly inaccurate. It is a nonsense to say that the Yuanmingyuan was the seat of government for 75% of the time. From the Kangxi emperor's time until the mid-19th century, the emperors mostly spent their summers in Chengde (constructed by the Kangxi and Qianlong emperors) which was where Lord Macartney had in fact to go to find the Qianlong emperor in 1793 and where the reigning emperor signed Conventions of Peking in 1860.

Partiality for the Yuanmingyuan varied from emperor to emperor, although it happened to be where the Empress Dowager Cixi, in successive regencies and periods of rule by force, preferred to spend her time. The gardens in the Yuanmingyuan date from no earlier than 1709, while the Yiheyuan (incidentally 1.11 sq. miles and part of the original complex, so something's wrong with the sums, unsurprisingly) was originally begun in the Jin, improved in the Yuan, and again in the Ming. By the time of Macartney's visit, in the reign of the Qianlong emperor, the Yuanmingyuan, where he was housed, was impressive, but already falling to pieces. So much for the Qianlong emperor's supposed obsession with it. Most of the work was in fact done by his grandfather the Kangxi emperor, absorbing existing princely gardens into a whole. The Qianlong emperor is best known for adding the 'Europeanerie', as George Kates amusingly named it.

The emperors were given large numbers of beautiful things, which they stored all over the place, including at the Forbidden City and Chengde, not just the Summer Palace. The greatest library of China is generally given out to have been the Hanlin Library, just southeast of the Forbidden City, which the Chinese themselves torched during the Boxer Rebellion siege of the Legation Quarter in 1900 (so start rending your clothes and weeping over that, but do it at the Chinese). What survived was rescued by the besieged foreigners despite being shot at as they did so. When the siege, which had attempted the massacre of the entire foreign population and had put hundreds of Chinese converts to Christianity to the sword, was lifted, the foreign troops (and residents who had survived) were joined in looting and destruction by the Imperial troops, Muslim troops, surviving boxers, and the Chinese themselves. The Chinese, of course, like to airbrush all but the foreigners out of this picture.

The French have been trying for at least 20 years to put all the blame on the English for the damage of 1860, but records and eye-witness accounts do not support this. Items were put aside not only for Queen Victoria but for Napoleon III, too.

The 'soul of China' (made by foreigners) is just poetic hooey to disguise yet again the awful slaughter of Chinese culture conducted since 1949, often in a systematised way. When the Anglo-French forces arrived China was already under a barbarian (as they liked to think) occupation (which happened to go on to produce two of the greatest rulers they ever had) so the analogy with an imaginary sack of the Louvre is flawed from the start. If, however, the Europeans had regained control and then proceeded to smash themselves everything else they had, pulling down the Parthenon, the British Museum, the Pergamon, the Vatican, and selling the contents (often by weight) or melting them down, and using the stone for other purposes, we might be getting somewhere, although to describe the French kings as enlightened is nearly as daft as describing the Manchu emperors of the Great Qing Empire as such.

No one has offered any defence of the deplorable looting and destruction of the Summer Palace, so a straw man has been set up here. It's nice to have the full facts, though, and not to imagine the Anglo-French forces just happened to turn up in Beijing in a bad mood and wanted something to do. There were reasons (not excuses, however) why they were there.

What is wished for is that the indoctrination of the Chinese people wasn't such that even those obviously intelligent and better informed wouldn't forgetfully describe the destruction of a group of palaces and gardens as "one of the darkest moment[s] in China's history" while understanding very well this isn't true. What is also wished for is that the full story (which is bad enough) be told without deliberate omission or gross embellishment, and that it be realised that the destruction of the palaces outside Beijing, while greatly to be regretted, was neither more than a fraction of one per cent of the destruction carried out by the Chinese themselves since then, nor more than a mere blip compared to far viler things carried out by the British and the French elsewhere.

It's a big help if foreigners who should know better don't contribute to the breast-beating and crocodile tears, or to the propagation of vast hyperbole and distorted history, but simply dealt with the unpleasant facts of the case, and in their full context.

I happen to think that the Old Summer Palace is well worth visiting because the ruins that remain are quite a surprise, once you've passed by the rest of the tawdry muck. Best not to read the signs, though, which are so full of lies, half-truths, and xenophobia (also known here as patriotism), that Chinese visitors have been known to accost foreigners and ask "Are you satisfied with what you did?" as if either party to the conversation could conceivably have had anything to do with events before they were born. Such is the triumph of propaganda over logic and common sense.

Peter N-H
PeterN_H is offline  
Aug 20th, 2004, 06:02 PM
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I do not look at the destruction of the palace as a stand alone event. Rather I think it represents an aweful period in China's history. That's why I say it is one of the darkest moments in China's history. I have to admit that I don't know the whole story of YMY, just like I don't know the whole story of many other things that are happening in the world right now, look no further than what is happening in the middle east. Having traveled to many parts of the world, I do realize how limited my formal school education was.
xgao is offline  
Aug 21st, 2004, 10:52 AM
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Well now, here's an interesting post! Having gone off against the English and their continued disingenuousness about the Elgin marbles on the Europe board, Spygirl finds that Elgin was busy doing his looting thing over in this part of the world as well! (acc. to ET)

Btw, Peter, who, in your estimation, are the two greatest emperors, Qianlong and?

Then comes Pooky, with his amusing post: "Peter, I know the markets sell fake things, but I don't care, I like them, give me more!

As far as the Hong Qiao Pearl Market in Beijing, it's been said many times before on this board: However fake and low quality the pearls that are sold there may be, I and many, many others love it, it's a great place to pick up lots of souvenirs for pearl lovers both fake and real-have you ever seen how much the costume jewelry pearls sold in shops and dept. stores cost? Let me tell you, a WHOLE lot more than the "inferior, low quality" real/fake pearls sold at Hong Qiao!

I have a very expensive pearl necklace and I hardly ever wear it-but my low-quality pearls from Hong Qiao? All the time, AND I get compliments for those HQ pearls as well! You discount the cachet value, Peter, associated with telling people "oh, yes, picked them up for practically nothing in the Pearl Market in Beijing!"

Bholson-as you point out, Hong Qiao is in the part of the city near the Temple of Heaven-I think you would find the market a most enjoyable place to visit and a worthwhile place to pick up inexpensive souvenirs for friends and family.
Spygirl is offline  
Aug 21st, 2004, 01:40 PM
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Didn't have the patience to read all the arguments, but remember that the Qing emperors aren't even Han Chinese. They are Manchurians from NE of China.
rkkwan is offline  
Aug 23rd, 2004, 11:51 AM
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I would be interested to hear Peter's view on "the greatest Emperors of China". I presume Yongzheng is one of them? Also, can Peter recommend some good sources for accurate ducomentation of China's history? Thanks.
xgao is offline  
Aug 24th, 2004, 05:48 AM
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This is the third posting this person has made, and all three are about Jane Yeo.

They also make comments which could only be justified by having made a direct comparison between using a guide and shopping oneself--comparisons which clearly have not been made.

A guide cannot get you better airfares than you can get for yourself. You will pay more because he or she will want a commission.

A guide cannot get you better hotel rates than you can get for yourself by just walking in and asking for a discount. You will have to pay a commission.

Worse, most guides happily insert themselves between you and the best price just as websites do. They get the same 50% off hotel rooms you could get for yourself. You hear about 20% of this discount and think you are doing well. Airfares are also open to bargaining, but guides will commonly cut a deal with an agency for a kick-back, and you will not get the best price ticket available anyway.

There's no mystery here. It's no different from letting a taxi driver choose your hotel in many different countries--it's going to the one run by his brother, or which pays him kick-backs.

If you must have a guide in China who you are already paying well, the last thing you should be doing, unless money really is no object, is letting him or her handle such arrangements. A single trip into a travel agent is going to save you a lot of money. Your guiding fee is going to be doubled by all the kick-backs you don't know you are paying.

Peter N-H
PeterN_H is offline  
Aug 24th, 2004, 06:24 AM
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I want everyone to know that the local authorities in Wilmington North Carolina, allowed the tearing down of the old histroric "Ice House" here in Wilmington. I believe they are building condos in it's place. Is there some way we can blame the Chinese for this?
okminty is offline  
Aug 24th, 2004, 06:36 AM
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okminty - Yes we can. The Chinese use forced prison labor to make cheap textile, and then dump them at below-prison-cost in the US. That basically run the whole Southeastern US economy to the ruins. Wilmington, NC, has no choice, but to tear down everything they have in order to create a couple of low-paying construction jobs to keep Carolinians from dying from hunger.

[I hope people take the smiley seriously.]
rkkwan is offline  
Aug 24th, 2004, 06:51 AM
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Could we then stop all this by not wearing clothes?
okminty is offline  

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