4 Hours In …

Nav­i­gate China’s sprawl­ing cap­i­tal to dis­cover au­then­tic Chi­nese tea, East­meets-West shop­ping and cul­tural wis­dom in the nar­row hu­tong al­ley­ways

Business Traveler (USA) - - BUSINESS TRAVELER - By Jenny Southan



Bei­jing is a sprawl­ing ur­ban ag­gre­ga­tion of more than 22 mil­lion peo­ple, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for the vis­i­tor who’s squeezed for time to find the right start­ing point. But Tianan­men Square is the city’s his­tor­i­cal and po­lit­i­cal cen­ter and a good place to begin.

The largest public square in the world cov­ers more than 108 acres and the scale of it is sim­ply enor­mous. Stand­ing in the mid­dle of it is enough to give a sense of how small you are as an in­di­vid­ual – un­doubt­edly the in­ten­tion of for­mer Com­mu­nist chair­man Mao Ze­dong, who over­saw its ex­pan­sion in the 1950s. Tianan­men Gate at the north, with armed guards in front, has a huge por­trait of him and marks the en­trance to the For­bid­den City, a mas­sive com­plex of 980 build­ings that takes hours to tour – worth it if you have the time.

In the cen­ter is Mao Me­mo­rial Hall, where the leader’s em­balmed body lies, while to the east is the Na­tional Mu­seum of China, and to the west the Great Hall of the Peo­ple. How­ever, it is the stu­dent-led pro-democ­racy protests of June 3 and 4 in 1989 for which the site is re­mem­bered by most of the world – an event bru­tally and sadly ended by gov­ern­ment troops, not on the square it­self, but on its perime­ters and sur­round­ing streets.



At the south­ern end of the square sits the or­nate, 144-foot-tall Zhengyang­men gatehouse, orig­i­nally con­structed in the 15th-cen­tury Ming Dy­nasty as an en­try point to the im­pe­rial city. Be­tween 1949 and 1980 it was oc­cu­pied by the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army, but it is now a tourist at­trac­tion.

Con­tinue to the long, pedes­tri­an­ized Qian­men Street, marked by a col­or­ful gate­way. There has been a thor­ough­fare here for al­most 600 years but as the city pre­pared for the 2008 Olympics, most build­ings were torn down and re­built in the old style – a project that also saw many sur­round­ing hu­tongs (al­ley­ways) from the 1800s de­stroyed. To­day, Qian­men is al­most clin­i­cal in ap­pear­ance, with signs of glob­al­iza­tion in the form of West­ern brands such as H&M, Nike, McDon­ald’s and KFC



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