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Dane Hodges in Beijing, China
Wednesday, November 16, 2011 - 11:03 PM
The city, sites, and people of Beijing with Dane Hodges

Dane Hodges climbs Great Wall Mutianyum,China

After enjoying Tianjin for several days, the little traveller took the 90 mile 24 minute bullet train ride to the south Beijing station.  With trip plans undecided, the sights of ol'Peking stole the show and made the decision for us.  Beijing is amazing, the sights are fantastic, and the public transportation representative of Chinese culture, a perfect mix of the old and new.  The big news was that Dane's oldest brother Josh, would join us to in Beijing!!

Dane Hodges and brother Josh, Great Wall, China

China i/ˈtʃaɪnə/ (Chinese: 中国/中华; pinyin: Zhōngguó/Zhōnghuá; officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is the most populous state in the world, with over 1.3 billion citizens. Located in East Asia, the country covers approximately 9.6 million square kilometres (3.7 million square miles). It is the world's second-largest country by land area, and the third- or fourth-largest in total area, depending on the definition of total area.

 ThePeople's Republic of China is a single-party state governed by the Communist Party of China (CPC). The PRC exercises jurisdiction over 22 provinces, five autonomous regions, four directly-controlled municipalities (Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, and Chongqing), and two mostly self-governing special administrative regions (SARs), Hong Kong and Macau. Its capital city is Beijing. The PRC also claims as a 23rd province the island of Taiwan, which is controlled by the Government of the Republic of China (ROC). This claim of Taiwan is controversial and related to the complex political status of Taiwan and the unresolved Chinese Civil War.

China’s landscape is vast and diverse, with forest steppes and the Gobi and Taklamakan deserts occupying the arid north and northwest near Mongolia and Central Asia, and subtropical forests being prevalent in the wetter Southeast                                                                                                   

The terrain of western China is rugged and elevated, with the towering Himalaya, Karakorum, Pamir and Tian Shan mountain separating China from South and Central Asia. The world’s apex, Mt. Everest (8,848 m), and second-highest point, K2 (8,611 m), lie on China's borders, respectively, with Nepal and Pakistan.

Water caligraphy, Temple of Heaven gardens, Beijing, China

The country’s lowest and the world’s third-lowest point, Lake Ayding (-154 m), is located in the Turpan Depression. The Yangtze and Yellow Rivers, the third- and sixth-longest in the world, flow from the desolate Tibetan Plateau to the densely-populated eastern seaboard. China’s coastline along the Pacific Ocean is 14,500 kilometres (9,000 mi) long (the 11th-longest in the world), and is bounded by the Bohai, Yellow, East and South China Seas.

Hutongs of ol'Peking, China

 The ancient Chinese civilization—one of the world's earliest—flourished in the fertile basin of the Yellow River in the North China Plain. China's political system was based on hereditary monarchies, known as dynasties, beginning with the Xia (approx. 2000 BC) and lasting almost 4,000 years, until the end of the Qing Dynasty in 1912. Since the Qin Dynasty (not to be confused with Qing Dynasty) first united China in 221 BC, the country has been divided and reunited numerous times in history. The Republic of China (ROC), founded in 1912 after the overthrow of the Qing, ruled the Chinese mainland until 1949.

Dane Hodges outside Forbidden City, China

In the 1946-1949 phase of the Chinese Civil War, the Chinese Communists defeated the Chinese Nationalists (Kuomintang) on the mainland and established the People's Republic of China in Beijing on October 1, 1949. The Kuomintang relocated the ROC government to

Taiwan with its capital in Taipei. The ROC's jurisdiction is now limited to Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, Matsu and several outlying islands. Since then, the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China (subsequently became known as "Taiwan") have remained in dispute over the sovereignty of China and the political status of Taiwan, mutually claiming each other's territory and competing for international diplomatic recognition.

In 1971, the PRC gained admission to United Nations and took the Chinese seat as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. The PRC is also a member of numerous formal and informal multilateral organizations, including the WTO, APEC, BRIC, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and the G-20. As of September 2011, all but 23 countries have recognized the PRC as the sole legitimate government of China.

Josh Hodges and friends, Beijing, China

Since the introduction of market-based economic reforms in 1978, China has become the world's fastest-growing major economy, and the world's largest exporter and second-largest importer of goods. it is the world's second-largest economy, after the United States, by both nominal GDP and purchasing power parity (PPP). On per capita terms, however, China ranked only 90th by nominal GDP and 91st by GDP (PPP) in 2011, according to the IMF.                                          

Side building inside Summer Palace, China

                                              China is a recognized nuclear weapons state and has the world's largest standing army, with the second-largest defense budget. In 2003, China became the third nation in the world, after the Soviet Union and the United States, to independently launch a successful manned space mission. China has been characterized as a potential superpower by a number of academics, military analysts, and public policy and economics analysts.


Wangfujing side street, China

China is the 3rd or 4th largest country in the world by total area and the second largest by land area. It stretches about 5,000 km (3,107 mi) from east to west, and about 5,500 km (3,418 mi) from north to south. Its land borders 14 countries. There are some 4,345 km (2,700 mi) of coastline along the China Seas.[disambiguation needed] China is divided into twenty-three provinces, five autonomous regions, four municipalities and two special administrative regions. The autonomous regions have traditionally been referred to as "Outer China" because they are located beyond the Great Wall of China. (See Administrative divisions of the People's Republic of China.)

Tabacco Row, Hutongs, Peking, China

China is bordered in the north, west and south by deserts, and high mountains form natural barriers. The North China Plain in eastern China is the largest area of lowland in the world. Tibet, which is in the west, is a plateau, or tableland, more than 4,000 meters (13,123 ft) high and surrounded by the highest mountains in the world. It is known as the "rooftop of the world". To the south are the Himalayas, while to the northwest are the Kunlun, Tian Shan and Altai mountains. Eastern China alo has mountains and hills, but much more level land than western China.

Hutongs bar street, China

Eastern China is divided north-south into two very different geographical areas. The boundary between the two is formed by the Qinling Mountains which stretch from east to west and separate the basins of the Yellow and Yangtze rivers. These mountains also form a major climatic divide. Four rivers and their tributaries provide China with its main plains. In the northeast the north-flowing Songhua and south flowing Liao rivers form a lowland, which is surrounded by mountains. The Yellow River and the Yangtze River (the 3rd longest in the world), both flowing out of Tibet, have built up a wide plain stretching from Tianjin south to Shanghai.

Hodges brothers on Wangfujing Street, Beijing, China

 Northern China has wet summers and dry winters. On the northern plain it is colder in winter than anywhere else in the world at the same latitude, and for at least a month the temperature is constantly below freezing. Further south it is warmer and in the valley of the Yangtze River the winter is milder with a little rain. In the far south conditions are hot all year round. June to September are the wettest months when the summer monsoon blowing in from the south and southeast brings much rain.

 Dane's favorite stops in Beijing

Josh (L) and Dane Hodges (R) ride cable car, Great Wall,China

1. Great Wall at Mutianyu...especially Cable Car ride w/ Josh

Great Wall at Mutianyu,  Dane Hodges, China

Only slightly farther from downtown Beijing than Badaling, the Great Wall at Mutianyu is more spectacular and, despite the occasional annoyances of souvenir stands, significantly less crowded. This long section of wall, first built during the Northern Qi Dynasty (6th century) and restored and rebuilt throughout history, can offer a solitary Great Wall experience, with unforgettable views of towers winding across mountains and woodlands. On a clear day, you'll swear you can see the deserts of Mongolia in the distance.

Josh and Dane Hodges at Great Wall, China

The lowest point on the wall is a strenuous one-hour climb above the parking lot. As an alternative, you can take a cable car on a breathtaking ride to the highest restored section, from which several hiking trails descend. It is difficult for visitors to imagine how such a wall could have been erected in such a mountain ridge location, it is breath taking and awesome.


2. Forbidden City...and the long walk home

Photographer Josh Hodges at Forbidden City, China

To many, many people, Beijing is the ancient capital city of the east and Forbidden City is the right place for you to start your Beijing tour by unveiling its mysterious face. Consisting of over 9,000 rooms and spread over 250 acres, this large palace complex was built between 1406 and 1420, but was burnt down, rebuilt, sacked and renovated countless times, so most of the architecture you can see today dates from the 18th century and on wards during the Qing Dynasty.

Dane Hodges and Josh walk around Forbidden City, China

Wear comfortable shoes as you have to walk a lot! It may be helpful to have a guide explain the stories behind the site and tell you about the important historical parts in the forbidden city. Or if you are non-group tourists, I suggest you rent multi lingual guide recorder either at Meridian Gate ( southern gate of Forbidden city ) or the Gate of Divine Prowess (Northern gate of Forbidden City) and return it when you finish your tour of Forbidden City.

Dane Hodges at Forbidden City moat, China

 After you visit the Imperial Palace and go out of the Gate of Divine Prowess, you can enter into Jingshan Park, climb a bit and overlook the panorama of the Imperial Palace. In the evening, especially in summer, Forbidden City is brilliant. Colored lights from all directions lighten Meridian Gate, the Gate of Divine Prowess, turret, palace wall and other main

Dane Hodges loves ride, Great Wall at Mutianyu, China

3.  Bullet Train...including PEK mass transit rails

The way China moves people is remarkable.  One must witness the way residents of Beijing move quickly and cost effectively to believe it.  One can enter a high speed monorail or train from anywhere in the city and ride stylishly, swiftly, and confortably.  Even the taxis are about 10 RMB (1.66 US) to any station.  The bullet train was so smooth and fast that it was the most remarkable piece of transportation we have ever rode.  Imagine 90 miles in 24 minutes while sipping tea!

4.  Hutongs...the people, walks, food, and watering holes of old Peking

Fun in the hutongs

Do you have the experience of taking a pedicab? In the old Beijing hutong areas, you can find the ancient transportation tools now still preserved for tourists as the main traffic tool of visiting hutongs - Beijing unique old city lanes. The neighborhoods of narrow, twisting streets represent the “real life” of Beijing, where passageways connect to courtyards of traditional compact homes.

Dane Hodges at the Bell Tower, Beijing, China

Pedicab tours of the hutongs cover the attractions that normally include the Drum Tower, courtyard neighborhoods and Prince Gong's mansion. There are lots of many small resturants, bars, and inns. From the top of the Bell Tower you can overlook the surrounding hutongs.


The most interesting part of the hutong tour is walking through "Pipe Tobacco Alley" near the Bell Tower. On this tour you will enjoy the real people's Beijing. On the other end of Pipe Tobacco Alley has some of Beijing's fashionable cafes.  And the Hutongs are disappearing.  On my first trip there (meaning Dane' Dad) in 2000, there were over 30k and now progress and unimaginable development has reduced that number to under 3,000.  Old Peking is vanishing rapidly.

5.  Summer beautiful

As the largest royal garden in China, Beijing's Summer Palace is actually a parklike imperial retreat spread out over 10 square miles. The Summer Palace in northwest suburban Beijing is the largest and most complete imperial garden existing in China.

Josh Hodges on Summer Palace trail, China

Once a summer retreat for emperors, this 290-acre park is still a retreat for the tourists, who can relax here or walk around ancient pavilions, mansions, temples, bridges and huge lake. Summer Palace mainly consists of Longevity Hill (Washoushan) and Kunming Lake. Much of it is covered by Kunming Lake. With masterly design and artistic architecture and integrationg the essence of Chinese garden arts, the Summer Palace has a title of "Imperial Garden Museum". It is an imperial garden most completely reseved with richest landscapes and concentrated buildings. The Summer Palace was added to the world cultural heritage list.

Josh Hodges at the Temple of Heaven, China

6.  Temple of Heaven...endless gardens

I recommend Temple of Heaven as a real highlight of Beijing. It is located in the southern part of Beijing, and has been one of the most holy places for the whole country for more than five centuries. It used as a complex of sacrificial buildings for the Ming and Qing emperors, and is the largest one in Beijing among several royal altars to Heaven, Earth, the Sun, the Moon and other deities or symbolic forces of Nature.

If you go to the Temple of Heaven in the early morning, you can see groups of people practicing all types of kung fu and taiji. Many people contentedly entertain each other with music,songs or quietly playing cards. You can also practice with them if you are so inclined. Another good activity for the jetlagged is drawing caligraphy with water.

Josh Hodges Temple of Heaven, China

 What makes the temple unique is the century-old trees - line upon line of Chinese cypress, Chinese juniper and scholar trees. Some of the cypresses are more than 600 years old. Visitors from Dr. Henry Kissinger to Dane Hodges have been impressed with the endless gardens...oh wait, Dane skipped this site to take a little rest with Mom, so Josh took the pictures here!

7.  Tianiamin Square...can't miss in Beijing

Dane Hodges and Mao, Tianamen Square, Beijing, China

What is the symbol of Beijing? There are various answers. But Tiananmen Square is definitely on the top list. Located in the heart of Beijing City, it is the site for massive parades and rallies, which is the largest square of this kind in the world. This was the site when in 1949, from a rostrum on Tiananmen (the Gate of Heavenly Peace), Chairman Mao proclaimed the establishment of the People's Republic of China.

Tiananmen Square is surrounded by Tiananmen ( Gate of Heaven Peace ) on its north ; the Great Hall of the People on its west, the meeting place of national people's congress of the People's Republic of China; on the east of Tiananmen Square is the National Museum of China, and visiting the exhibition is like reading concise China General History; there are Monument to the People's Heroes and Chairman Mao's Mausoleum on the south.

At sunrise and sunset the raising and lowering ceremony of the Chinese National Flag is well worth the watching. The precision of the young troops is very well performed. Go there about 30 minutes early to have a good seat. Spend the time to see the people (soldiers, tourists and locals) makes the square a true highlight for the first time visitors.


8.  Wangfujing Market...spiders or snakes sir?


Wangfujing Street is one of the largest and most popular pedestrian streets in China with two large shopping malls - one each at the two ends of a pedestrian street where often hosts exhibitions and shows. There are many outdoor cafes in the summer - a nice place to take an ice-cream or frozen beer under a shady umbrella.

Dane Hodges at night market, Beijing, China

Wangfujing is now considered as the central heart of the city and it is really a long street.  It is also home to a number of large department stores, souvenir stores, food stalls, and Chinese painting stores. If you spend 3 minutes in every chain store, it will take several days to visit them all.

Josh Hodges, Beijing, China

In the evening, while Wangfujing street turns on all of neon advertising signs, it shows another different atmosphere. Most shops stay open till around 12pm and become an impromptu night market

Dane Hodges rides rickshaws, Hutongs, Beijing, China

9.  Bell Tower & Drum Tower...including the rickshaws

The Drum Tower was built in1272 during the reign of Kublai Khan, at which time it stood at eh very heart of the Yuan capital Dadu. At that time it was known as the Tower of Orderly Administration (Qizhenglou).

Dane Hodges, Beijing, China

In 1420, under the Ming Emperor Yongle, the building was reconstructed to the east of the original site and in 1800 under the Qing Emperor Jiaqing, large-scale renovations were carried out. In 1924, the name of the building was changed to the Tower of Realizing Shamefulness (Mingchilou) and objects related to the Eight-Power Allied Forces' invasion of Beijing and later the May 30th Massacre of 1925 were put on display. Nowadays, the upper story of the building serves as the People's Cultural Hall of the East City District.

Josh Hodges last night in Beijing, China

The Bell Tower originally housed a huge iron bell. But because its tolling was not loud enough, this was replaced by a massive cast bronze bell over 10 inches thick that is in perfect condition today. The iron bell was moved to the back of the DrumTower where it has remained for over 500 years. As recently as 1924, the bronze bell could be heard ringing out the 7:00 p.m. chime from a distance of over 20 kilometers.

Dane Hodges near Bell Tower, China

According to legend, an official named Deng tried unsuccessfully for over a year to cast the bell. On the eve of the final casting, his daughter, fearing that further delays and loss of working time would bring blame on her father, decided to sacrifice her life in order to move the gods to bring about a perfect casting, and threw herself into the molten bronze. Her panic-stricken father could only recover a single embroidered slipper from the flames. The casting was a success and the emperor, moved by the young girl's spirit of sacrifice, named her the "Goddess of the Golden Furnace" and built a temple in her honor near the foundry. By the ordinary people she was remembered as the "Goddess Who Cast the Bell."

Dane Hodges plays at Forbidden City, China

 After the bell was installed, the chimes could be heard clearly and resonantly all across the city. But on stormy evenings, the bell would emit a desolate moaning sound similar to the word xie, which means "shoe" in Chinese. Recalling the old legend, mothers would comfort their children with: "Go to sleep! The Bell Tower is tolling. The Goddess Who Cast the Bell wants her embroidered slipper back."

10. Panda House ...the boy likes zoos more than Dad

The Panda House is located in Beijing Zoo. Now the Beijing Zoo covers an area of about 50 hectares. The animal houses and enclosures, with a total floor space of 40,000 square metres, include those for pandas, elephants, brown and polar bears, tigers, hippopotami, rhinoceros, antelopes, giraffes and reptiles.

And honorable mention is the lake near Forbidden City, airport, Lama Palace, West Train Station, Silk Market, Bar Street, needle and Olympic Stadium, which we just drove by several times. 

Since the late period of the 12th century, an ethnic minority group called Mongolian had grown up in the northern areas of China. In 1204, one of the leaders of the Mongolian tribes, Tiemuzhen, unified all the internal tribes. Two years later, Tiemuzhen was honored as Genghis Khan (meaning - the ruler of the world) and soon established the Mongolian Empire. Successively, it captured Xixia and the Jin Dynasty (1115 - 1234), after which the combative

Mongolian army sent its military forces into Central Asia and Europe.

Josh and Dane Hodges stroll Great Wall, China

In 1260, the grandson of Tiemuzhen, Kublai Khan, ascended the throne. In 1271, he formally established the Yuan Dynasty by changing the state title into Yuan, with Yuandadu (currently Beijing) as the capital. (The new dynasty was not territorially the former Mongolian Empire as three parts had broken away before the new dynasty was founded.)

In 1276, not long after the founding of the Yuan Dynasty, Kublai Khan led his army, capturing the capital of the Southern Song Dynasty (1127 - 1279) and thus he unified the entire China. At that time, the territory of the Yuan Dynasty stretched to Mongolia and Siberia in the north, the South Sea in the south, Yunnan Province and Tibet in the southwest, eastern part of Xinjiang Province in the northwest and the Stanovoi Range in the northeast. The total area of the country was over 4.6 million square miles.

Peace, Beijing, China

As a mighty state, the Yuan Dynasty enjoyed economic development and prospered in the fields of science and literature. The economy of the Yuan Dynasty was mainly based on agriculture. The agricultural techniques used were superior to those of previous dynasties and food output increased. Additionally, the use of paper currency stimulated the development of commerce. Meanwhile, trade with foreign countries was greatly  encouraged following an open policy adopted by the Yuan rulers. In the area of science, astronomy, mathematics and medicine reached a very high level. In literature, the Yuan

drama, along with the Tang poem and 'ci' poem of the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279), was considered another heritage of Chinese literature. During the glorious period of the Yuan Dynasty, diplomatic activities with foreign countries were quite frequent with many foreign envoys, merchants and travelers traversing the sea to come to China. Among them, the famous Italian merchant Marco Polo was a successful cultural transmitter who wrote the historic travel notes, The Travels of Marco Polo, informing the West about China.

Where's the ice cream, Dane Hodges, China

In the late Yuan Dynasty, the internal contradictions of the ruling class, serious natural disasters, and unreasonable grading system together aroused the indignation of the people. In 1367, the rebel army led by Zhu Yuanzhang captured the Yuan capital, ending the ever mighty Yuan Dynasty.

Dane Hodges outside Forbidden City, China

Josh Hodges, Summer Palace, China

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