Right after the Mao’s Mausoleum, I was supposed to head straight to the Forbidden City. Change of plans.
When I walked out, I saw that imposing gate right in front of the Mausoleum. I walked closer and then read with interest what this gate meant to the city. So I decided to go in and have a look.
Apparently this gate is considered the Front Gate to Beijing in those olden days. Officially, this is called Zhengyangmen but it is more known as Qianmen which mean the Front Gate.
I got the map above from Wikipedia. When Beijing was established as the capital of China, they build a wall around the city to protect itself. The Inner City (in blue) was totally surrounded by a wall and access into the city is through 9 gates. Remember the number nine because it is a number of significance in China in those days. I’ll tell you more about it but just remember the number 9.
The wall stood for almost 600 years.
The sad thing is that about 50 years ago, they … tore down the city walls! It is such a crazy thing to destroy something of such historic significance. But it was in those secretive days of the Communist rule that was bent on destroying the past so that they can look to the future, something called the Cultural Revolution. In place of the walls are now wide ring roads and subway.
The only thing that is left today is Zhengyangmen and a few of the other gates. Despite that the walls are largely no longer in existence, the places where the gates once stood is still know by the name of the gates.
One other thing is that the Chinese considers that the south is the front and the north is the back. So, the main entrance is always the south. That is why the Zhengyanmen is also known as the Qianmen (the front gate). One can consider that this is the gate to the city.
Most of Beijing’s historical attractions are huge and has several entrances. So when you are unsure which entrance to start from, it is often best to start from the south and work your way north because it is where the front entrance is. 🙂
I went into the Zhengyangmen. Entrance is 20 Yuan ($3 Canadian). Next time we get to China, I would want to bring you here. There is a lot to learn here about the historical walls of Beijing. The exhibits here are both in Chinese and in English and so I could follow along.
When I was there, there was a lot of Elementary School children. They were apparently there as part of their school assignment. Each of them took up position in front of the exhibits and asked people if they want to know more about it. They recite from memory the story behind the exhibit.
The kids asked me too and even though I barely understood them, I pretended I understood and told them, “fei chang how” (extremely good job) and “xie xie” (thank you). They were pleased. The first one who asked me, I told her “I don’t understand Chinese” and she was disappointed. So I played along. 🙂
I had a great time there. I wasn’t planning on visiting this place but I was sure glad I did.
Right in front of Zhengyangmen is the arrow tower. This two towers used to be connected at some point before. This tower protects the front Zhengyangman gate as the first line of defense.
Underneath Zhengyangmen is a marker of some sort. This is the marker as the starting point to mark the journey to the rest of China. In a way, this is Mile 0. These men was standing on the front gates of the ancient capital of China.
Before I head to the Forbidden City proper, I decided to go over to Qianmen Street to buy a couple of bottles of drinks. While there I saw a lot of people lining up at the take out window of Quan Ju De. Quan Ju De is the most famous and historical of Peking Duck restaurants in Beijing. Quan Ju De has a lot of outlets all over the city but this particular one is the main and first flagship restaurant.
There must be about 30 people in line and the window was not opened yet. Anyway, I see a lot of places selling Peking Duck in beautiful sealed bags. I guess that is for take away for home. How do you eat that? Do you microwave it or can you eat it just like that?