Travel Reference
In-Depth Information
Since the days of dynasty, Beijing has always been image-conscious - anxious to portray a
particular face, both to its citizenry and to the world at large. It was during the Ming dyn-
asty that the city took on much of its present shape, including the grid pattern still followed
by many of the major streets. Some splendid buildings and complexes from this time re-
main, including the Forbidden City, Yonghe Gong, the Temple of Heaven and the Drum
Tower. One of the world's most vaunted pieces of engineering also took shape at this time -
the glorious Great Wall. Rather more humble, though forming an essential part of the city's
fabric, were the traditional hutong houses that most Beijingers lived in. Though declining
in number with each passing year, many of those you'll see today went up in Qing times.
Beijing took on an entirely different form during early Communistrule . When Mao took
over, he wanted the feudal city of the emperors transformed into a “forest of chimneys”;
he got his wish, and the capital became an ugly industrial powerhouse of socialism. The
best (or worst, depending upon your point of view) buildings from the Mao years are the
Military Museum, the National Exhibition Hall, or any of the buildings on or around Ti-
an'anmen Square. In the 1980s, when the Party embraced capitalism “with Chinese charac-
teristics”, bland international-style office blocks were erected with a pagoda-shaped “silly
hat” on the roof as a concession to local taste.
ModernBeijing , eager to express China's new global dominance, has undergone the kind
of urban transformation usually only seen after a war. Esteemed architects from across the
globe have been roped in for a series of carte blanche projects; the results have been hit and
miss, but some have been astounding. The best include the fantastic venues built for the
2008 Olympics (the “Bird's Nest” and “Water Cube”), Paul Andreu's National Center for
the Performing Arts (the “Egg”); and Zaha Hadid's curvy, sci-fi-like Galaxy Soho, com-
pleted in 2013. Perhaps most striking of all, however, is the new CCTV state television
headquarters (the “Twisted Doughnut”) by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, which appears
to defy gravity with its intersecting Z-shaped towers.
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