Wandering Down Chengxian Street
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.