Wan­der­ing Down Chengx­ian Street

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Qian Chen Edited by David Ball Pho­tos by Qu Bowei

An­cient Chengx­ian Street is one of Bei­jing's most densely packed ar­eas for cul­tural at­trac­tions, fas­ci­nat­ing tourists from both home and abroad.

The Qian­long Em­peror once said: “The best place in the world is the cap­i­tal Bei­jing, of which the best part is the Imperial Col­lege.” The Imperial Col­lege, highly praised by Qing Dy­nasty (1644–1911) em­per­ors, is sit­u­ated on to­day's Chengx­ian Street. With a history of more than 700 years, this an­cient street was orig­i­nally built dur­ing the Yuan Dy­nasty (1271–1368).

Tra­di­tional Cul­tural Street

Chengx­ian Street is lo­cated in the And­ing­men area of Dongcheng Dis­trict, Bei­jing. To its north is Di­tan Park, east is the Yonghe Tem­ple, south are many hu­tong (tra­di­tional al­ley­ways) and to its west are the Drum and Bell tow­ers. As such, the area is one of Bei­jing's most densely packed ar­eas for cul­tural spots, at­tract­ing tourists from both home and abroad.

When ar­riv­ing at the old street, the first thing that catches a vis­i­tor's eyes will be an im­pos­ing arch­way, above which is a sign read­ing “Chengx­ian Street.” The street runs east-to-west, with an arch­way stand­ing at both ends. When en­ter­ing from the east end, pedes­tri­ans are greeted by tall an­cient scholar trees lin­ing the street, as well as small shops in­clud­ing book­shops and gro­cery stores. Cul­ture lovers can visit Song­tangzhai Folk Carv­ing Mu­seum or the Dadu Mu­seum of Art, both sit­u­ated on the street, to en­joy the artis­tic at­mos­phere. To the west is the stone “Dis­mount Stele” en­graved with the words: “Of­fi­cials and oth­ers must dis­mount from their horses here.” It is said that dur­ing an­cient times, of­fi­cials vis­it­ing the Con­fu­cius Tem­ple to wor­ship were re­quired to descend from their horses or car­riages at this stone.

Strolling be­neath the shade of the old scholar trees, vis­i­tors are met by the arch­way of the Imperial Col­lege. This means that the Bei­jing Con­fu­cius Tem­ple and Imperial Col­lege Mu­seum are not far away. The gate to the tem­ple and mu­seum is char­ac­terised by sim­plic­ity and dig­nity, and is of­ten sur­rounded by crowds of peo­ple wait­ing to buy

tick­ets. Dur­ing the sum­mer, the area is full of tourists, all vy­ing for the best spot to take a photo as a me­mento of their trip. Founded dur­ing the Yuan Dy­nasty, the Imperial Col­lege was the high­est in­sti­tu­tion of learn­ing as well as the high­est ed­u­ca­tional of­fice of the imperial court dur­ing the Yuan, Ming (1368–1644) and Qing dy­nas­ties. As the high­est ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tion in the coun­try at the time, it at­tracted many men of tal­ent to come and take the imperial exam.

The Con­fu­cius Tem­ple is ad­ja­cent to the Imperial Col­lege, hence the say­ing: “Tem­ple on the left; col­lege on the right.” The Con­fu­cius Tem­ple is a his­tor­i­cal site filled with trea­sures, the most fa­mous of which are its stone carv­ings, such as the Jin­shi Stone Tablets, the Qian­long Em­peror's stone drum, stone tablets en­graved with the Thir­teen Clas­sics and stone-carved pav­il­ions dat­ing from the Ming and Qing dy­nas­ties. Among them, the 198 Jin­shi Stone Tablets are one of the tem­ple's most pop­u­lar at­trac­tions and dis­play the names of jin­shi (suc­cess­ful can­di­dates in the high­est imperial ex­ams) from the Yuan, Ming and Qing dy­nas­ties.

The Con­fu­cius Tem­ple and Imperial Col­lege Mu­seum are must-visit places when vis­it­ing Chengx­ian Street. Here, Chi­nese and for­eign tourists can be seen ad­mir­ing the cen­turies- old trees, flow­ing wa­ter, green lawns and singing birds.

The Imperial Col­lege and Con­fu­cius Tem­ple add a sense of an­cient history to Chengx­ian Street. Hun­dreds of years ago, Kong Shangren (a drama­tist and poet, 1648–1718) and Ji Xiaolan (an in­flu­en­tial scholar, 1724–1805) were just two of many stu­dents study­ing in the Imperial Col­lege who be­gan their day with the morn­ing bell, work­ing un­til the evening drum sounded. In the early morn­ing on days when the sac­ri­fi­cial cer­e­monies were held, the street— along which count­less stu­dents, of­fi­cials and em­per­ors have walked—would be throng­ing with peo­ple and their horses. Now, the Imperial Col­lege's past im­age can still be traced by the names of nearby al­ley­ways, such as Of­fi­cial Col­lege Hu­tong and Ti­betan Bud­dhist Scrip­tures Hu­tong.

In 2008, Chengx­ian Street was listed in the first group of his­tor­i­cal and cul­tural streets in China.

The Taste of Bei­jing

Walk­ing along Chengx­ian Street, trav­ellers can ex­pe­ri­ence the area's pro­found history and also en­joy the rich hu­tong cul­ture. They can sam­ple bing­tanghulu

(a tra­di­tional Chi­nese snack of can­died haws), watch old crafts­men blow­ing sugar peo­ple (a folk art us­ing hot, liq­uid sugar to cre­ate three-di­men­sional fig­ures) and drink Bei­jing “old yo­ghurt.”

Around Chengx­ian Street are nu­mer­ous well-pre­served hu­tong. To the north is the fash­ion­able Wu­daoy­ing Hu­tong and a short walk to the south is Fangjia Hu­tong. Along the west end of the street are old gates to tra­di­tional dwellings with lanterns hang­ing out­side. Some of these tra­di­tional homes even have a pair of an­cient stone gate piers carved with aus­pi­cious an­i­mals and flow­ers flank­ing the en­trance­way.

Many of the gates along Chengx­ian Street are open, with real hu­tong fam­i­lies still liv­ing be­hind them. Low houses with grey tiles, flow­ers and plants grow­ing out­side houses, gourds and vines hang­ing in­side the si­heyuan (court­yard dwellings) and rows of old bi­cy­cles lean­ing in a cor­ner—these el­e­ments com­bine to show the vi­tal­ity of life here. Just a few years ago, some el­derly peo­ple liv­ing in the hu­tong would of­ten carry their bird­cages to the east end of the street ev­ery morn­ing, hang their cages on an old scholar tree and play chess with friends be­neath its shade. Nowadays, strolling along Chengx­ian Street in the evening, vis­i­tors may bump into groups of el­derly ladies out for a walk, chat­ting, while walk­ing their dogs.

Vi­tal­ity and Tran­quil­ity

To­day's Chengx­ian Street is a fash­ion­able and di­verse place, with the pro­found history of a his­tor­i­cal and cul­tural street as well as a moder­nity that brings a vi­tal­ity to tran­quil­ity. The street is home to the Dadu Mu­seum of Art de­signed by the fa­mous Ja­panese ar­chi­tect Tadao Ando, the 77 Cre­ative Space filled with fash­ion and cre­ativ­ity, the unique White Room de­sign shop and the pop­u­lar in­te­rior dec­o­ra­tion brands Fnji Fur­ni­ture and Lost and Found. Peo­ple can be seen through the win­dows of the Moon­lit For­est Tea House en­joy­ing tea whilst cats out­side watch the pedes­tri­ans go by. Be­hind an unas­sum­ing door is the owner of the Imperial Col­lege Tai­lor Shop who is fo­cus­ing in­tently on his work, while nearby, a shop as­sis­tant in Yun­y­ix­i­ang Cheongsam Shop is on hand to help vis­i­tors se­lect the most suit­able cheongsam for them.

Vis­i­tors who are a lit­tle tired after their stroll can al­ways head into a cafe for a rest or en­joy a warm drink in a tea shop. The street is both a lively place full of things to do and also a quiet place full of cul­ture. Look­ing for some­where to go to re­lax, a trav­eller can sit in a sun-filled cafe here alone or with some friends and watch the world go by on Chengx­ian Street.

Vis­i­tors can buy crafts and en­joy cof­fee along the street.

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