Beijing Culture

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The Old Beijing Observatory

People native to urban Beijing speak the Beijing dialect, which belongs to the Mandarin subdivision of spoken Chinese. This speech is the basis for putonghua, the standard spoken language used in mainland China and Taiwan, and one of the four official languages of Singapore. Rural areas of Beijing Municipality have their own dialects akin to those of Hebei province, which surrounds Beijing Municipality.

Beijing or Peking opera (Jīngjù, 京剧) is a traditional form of

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A scene from a Peking opera

Chinese theatre well known throughout the nation. Commonly lauded as one of the highest achievements of  Chinese culture, Beijing opera is performed through a combination of song, spoken dialogue, and codified action sequences involving gestures, movement, fighting and acrobatics. Much of Beijing opera is carried out in an archaic stage dialect quite different from Modern Standard Chinese and from the modern Beijing dialect.

Beijing cuisine is the local style of cooking. Peking Roast Duck is perhaps the best known dish. Fuling Jiabing, a traditional Beijing snack food, is a pancake (bing) resembling a flat disk with a filling made from fu ling, a fungus used in traditional Chinese medicine. Teahouses are common in Beijing.

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A Chinese cloisonné dish from the Qing dynasty

The cloisonné (or Jingtailan, literally “Blue of Jingtai”) metalworking technique and tradition is a Beijing art speciality, and is one of the most revered traditional crafts in China. Cloisonné making requires elaborate and complicated processes which include base-hammering, copper-strip inlay, soldering, enamel-filling, enamel-firing, surface polishing and gilding. Beijing’s lacquerware is also well known for its sophisticated and intrinsic patterns and images carved into its surface, and the various decoration techniques of lacquer include “carved lacquer” and “engraved gold”.

Younger residents of Beijing have become more attracted to the nightlife, which has flourished in recent decades, breaking prior cultural traditions that had practically restricted it to the upper class.

Places of interest

…the city remains an epicenter of tradition with the treasures of nearly 2,000 years as the imperial capital still on view—in the famed Forbidden City and in the city’s lush pavilions and gardens…

— National Geographic
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Shichahai, in the Xicheng District, is traditionally considered one of Beijing’s most beautiful and charming scenic areas.

At the historical heart of Beijing lies the Forbidden City, the enormous palace compound that was the home of the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties;the Forbidden City hosts the Palace Museum, which contains imperial collections of Chinese art. Surrounding the Forbidden City are several former imperial gardens, parks and scenic areas, notably Beihai, Shichahai, Zhongnanhai, Jingshan and Zhongshan. These places, particularly Beihai Park, are described as masterpieces of Chinese gardening art, and are popular tourist destinations with tremendous historical importance; in the modern era, Zhongnanhai has also been the political heart of various Chinese governments and regimes and is now the headquarters of the Communist Party of China and the State Council. From Tiananmen

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Qianmen Avenue, a traditional commercial street in Beijing

Square, right across from the Forbidden City, there are several notable sites, such as the Tiananmen, Qianmen, the Great Hall of the People, the National Museum of China, the Monument to the People’s Heroes, and the Mausoleum of Chairman Mao. The Summer Palace and the Old Summer Palace both lie at the western part of the city; the former, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, contains a comprehensive collection of imperial gardens and palaces that served as the summer retreats for the Qing imperial family.

Among the best known religious sites in the city is the Temple of Heaven (Tiantan), located in southeastern Beijing, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties made visits for annual ceremonies of prayers to

Beijing’s Temple of Heaven as photographed in the early 20th century

Heaven for good harvest. In the north of the city is the Temple of Earth (Ditan), while the Temple of the Sun (Ritan) and the Temple of the Moon (Yuetan) lie in the eastern and western urban areas respectively. Other well-known temple sites include the Dongyue Temple, Tanzhe Temple, Miaoying Temple, White Cloud Temple, Yonghe Temple, Fayuan Temple, Wanshou Temple and Big Bell Temple. The city also has its own Confucius Temple, and a Guozijian or Imperial Academy. The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, built in 1605, is the oldest Catholic church in Beijing. The Niujie Mosque is the oldest mosque in Beijing, with a history stretching back over a thousand years.

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Inside the Forbidden City

Beijing contains several well-preserved pagodas and stone pagodas, such as the towering Pagoda of Tianning Temple, which was built during the Liao Dynasty from 1100 to 1120, and the Pagoda of Cishou Temple, which was built in 1576 during the Ming Dynasty. Historically noteworthy stone bridges include the 12th-century Lugou Bridge, the 17th-century Baliqiao bridge, and the 18th-century Jade Belt Bridge. The Beijing Ancient Observatory displays pre-telescopic spheres dating back to the Ming and Qing dynasties. The Fragrant Hills (Xiangshan) is a popular scenic public park that consists of natural landscaped areas as well as traditional and cultural relics. The Beijing Botanical Garden exhibits over 6,000 species of plants, including a variety of trees, bushes and flowers, and an extensive peony garden. The Taoranting, Laongtan, Chaoyang, Haidian, Milu Yuan and Zizhu Yuan parks are some of the notable recreational parks in the city. The Beijing Zoo is a centre of zoological research that also contains rare animals from various continents, including the Chinese giant panda.

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The Niujie Mosque is an important historical attraction

There are 144 museums and galleries (as of June 2008) in the city. In addition to the Palace Museum in the Forbidden City and the National Museum of China, other major museums include the National Art Museum of China, the Capital Museum, the Beijing Art Museum, the Military Museum of the Chinese People’s Revolution, the Geological Museum of China, the Beijing Museum of Natural History and the Paleozoological Museum of China.

Located at the outskirts of urban Beijing, but within its municipality are the Thirteen Tombs of the Ming Dynasty, the lavish and elaborate burial sites of thirteen Ming emperors, which have been designated as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Imperial Tombs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. The archaeological Peking Man site at Zhoukoudian is another World Heritage Site within the municipality, containing a wealth of discoveries, among them one of the first specimens of Homo erectus and an assemblage of bones of the gigantic hyena Pachycrocuta brevirostris. There are several sections of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Great Wall of China, most notably Badaling, Jinshanling, Simatai and Mutianyu.

Architecture

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City skyline

Three styles of architecture are predominant in urban Beijing. First, there is the traditional architecture of imperial China, perhaps best exemplified by the massive Tian’anmen (Gate of Heavenly Peace), which remains the People’s Republic of China’s trademark edifice, the Forbidden City, the Imperial Ancestral Temple and the Temple of Heaven. Next, there is what is sometimes referred to as the “Sino-Sov” style, with structures tending to be boxy and sometimes poorly constructed, which were built between the 1950s and the 1970s. Finally, there are much more modern architectural forms, most noticeably in the area of the Beijing CBD in east Beijing such as the new CCTV Headquarters, in addition to buildings in other locations around the city such as the Beijing National Stadium and National Center for the Performing Arts (China).

Since 2007, buildings in Beijing have received the CTBUH Skyscraper Award for best overall tall building twice, for the Linked Hybrid building in 2009 and the CCTV Headerquarters in 2013. The CTBUH Skyscraper award for best tall overall building is given to only one building around the world every year.

In the early 21st century, Beijing has witnessed tremendous growth of new building constructions, exhibiting various modern styles from international designers, most pronounced in the CBD region. A mixture of both 1950s design and neofuturistic style of architecture can be seen at the 798 Art Zone, which mixes the old with the new. Beijing’s current completed tallest building is the 330-meter China World Trade Center Tower III, but will be surpassed by the 528-meter China Zun in 2018 when it is completed. Both buildings are in the Beijing CBD.

Beijing is famous for its siheyuans, a type of residence where a common courtyard is shared by the surrounding buildings. Among the more grand examples are the Prince Gong Mansion and Residence of Soong Ching-ling. These courtyards are usually connected by alleys called hutongs. The hutongsare generally straight and run east to west so that doorways face north and south for good Feng Shui. They vary in width; some are so narrow only a few pedestrians can pass through at a time. Once ubiquitous in Beijing, siheyuans and hutongs are rapidly disappearing, as entire city blocks ofhutongs are replaced by high-rise buildings. Residents of the hutongs are entitled to live in the new buildings in apartments of at least the same size as their former residences. Many complain, however, that the traditional sense of community and street life of the hutongs cannot be replaced, and these properties are often government owned.

Religion

The religious heritage of Beijing is rich and diverse as Chinese folk religion, Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism,Islam and Christianity all have significant historical presence in the city. As the national capital, the city also hosts the State Administration for Religious Affairs and various state-sponsored institutions of the leading religions. In recent decades, foreign residents have brought other religious faiths to the city. According to Wang Zhiyun of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in 2010 there were 2.2 million Buddhists in the city, equal to 11.2% of the total population. According to the Chinese General Social Survey of 2009, Christians constitute 0.78% of the city’s population. According to a 2010 survey, Muslims constitute 1.76% of the population of Beijing.

Chinese folk religion and Taoism

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One of the temples of the City God of Beijing

Beijing had many temples dedicated to folk religious deities, many of which have been reconstructed or are being reconstructed in the 2000s and 2010s. Yearly sacrifices to the God of Heaven (祭天 jìtiān) at the Temple of Heaven have been resumed by Confucian groups in the 2010s.

There are temples dedicated to the worship of the Goddess (娘娘 Niángniáng) in the city, one of them near the Olympic Village, and they revolve around a major cult centre at Mount Miaofeng. There are also temples of the Dragon God (龙神Lóngshén) and temples of the City God (城隍神 Chénghuángshén). Many of these temples are governed by the Beijing Taoist Association, such as the Fire God Temple.

The national Chinese Taoist Association and Chinese Taoist College have their headquarters at the White Cloud Temple of Quanzhen Taoism, which was founded in 741 and rebuilt numerous times. The Beijing Dongyue Temple outside Chaoyangmen is the largest temple of Zhengyi Taoism in the city. The Beijing Taoist Association has its headquarters at the Lüzu Temple near Fuxingmen.

Buddhism

The Buddhist Association of China, the state’s supervisory organ overseeing all Buddhist institutions in

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Yonghe Temple of Tibetan Buddhism was built in 1694

mainland China, is headquartered in the Guangji Temple, a temple founded over 800 years ago during the Jin dynasty (1115–1234) in what is now Fuchengmennei. The Beijing Buddhist Association along with the Buddhist Choir and Orchestra are based in the Guanghua Temple, which dates to the Yuan Dynasty over 700 years ago. The Buddhist Academy of China and its library are housed in the Fayuan Temple near Caishikou. The Fayuan Temple, which dates to the Tang Dynasty 1300 years ago, is the oldest temple in urban Beijing. The Tongjiao Temple inside Dongzhimen is the city’s only Buddhist nunnery.The West Yellow Temple originally dates to the Liao Dynasty. In 1651, the temple was commissioned by the Qing Emperor Shunzhi to host the visit of the Fifth Dalai Lama to Beijing. Since then, this temple has hosted the13th Dalai Lama as well as the Sixth, Ninth and Tenth Panchen Lamas. The largest Tibetan Buddhist Temple in Beijing is the Yonghe Temple, which was decreed by the Qing Emperor Qianlong in 1744 to serve as the residence and research facility for his Buddhist preceptor of Rölpé Dorjé the third Changkya (or living Buddha of Inner Mongolia). The Yonghe Temple is so-named because it was the childhood residence of the Yongzheng Emperor, and retains the glazed tiles reserved for imperial palaces.

The Lingguang Temple of Badachu in the Western Hills also dates to the Tang Dynasty. The temple’s Zhaoxian Pagoda was first built in 1071 during the Liao Dynasty to hold a tooth relic of the Buddha. The pagoda was destroyed during the Boxer Rebellion and the tooth was discovered from its foundation. A new pagoda was built in 1964. The six aforementioned temples: Guangji, Guanghua, Tongjiao, West Yellow, Yonghe and Lingguang have been designated National Key Buddhist Temples in Han Chinese Area.

In addition, other notable temples in Beijing include the Tanzhe Temple (founded in the Jin dynasty (265–420) is the oldest in the municipality),Tianning Temple (oldest pagoda in the city), Miaoying Temple (famed for Yuan-era white dagoba), the Wanshou Temple (home to the Beijing Art Museum) and Big Bell Temple.

Islam

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The headquarters of the Islamic Association of China near Niujie in Xicheng District.

Beijing has about 70 mosques recognised by the Islamic Association of China, whose headquarters are located next to the Niujie Mosque, the oldest and most famous mosque in the city. The Niujie Mosque was founded in 996 during the Liao Dynasty and is frequently visited by Muslim dignitaries. Other notable mosques in the old city include the Dongsi Mosque, founded in 1346; the Huashi Mosque, founded in 1415; Nan Douya Mosque, near Chaoyangmen; Jinshifang Street Mosque, in Xicheng District; and the Dongzhimen Mosque. There are large mosques in outlying Muslim communities in Haidian, Madian, Tongzhou, Changping, Changying, Shijingshan and Miyun. The China Islamic Institute is located in the Niujie neighbourhood in Xicheng District.

Christianity

Catholicism

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Church of the Saviour, also known as the Xishiku Church, founded in 1703.

In 1289, John of Montecorvino came to Beijing as a Franciscan missionary with the order from the Pope. After meeting and receiving the support of Kublai Khan in 1293, he built the first Catholic church in Beijing in 1305. The Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA), based in Houhai is the government oversight body for Catholics in mainland China. Notable Catholic churches in Beijing include:

  • the Nantang or Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception also known as the Xuanwumen Church, which was founded in 1605 and whose current Archbishop Joseph Li Shan is one of the few bishops in China to have the support of both the Vatican and the CPCA.
  • the Dongtang or St. Joseph’s Church, better known as the Wangfujing Church, founded in 1653.
  • the Beitang or Church of the Saviour, also known as the Xishiku Church, founded in 1703.
  • the Xitang or Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel also known as the Xizhimen Church, founded in 1723.

The National Seminary of Catholic Church in China is located in Daxing District.

Protestantism

The earliest Protestant churches in Beijing were founded by British and American missionaries in the second half of the 19th century. Protestant missionaries also opened schools, universities and hospitals which have become important civic institutions. Most of Beijing’s Protestant churches were destroyed during the Boxer Rebellionand rebuilt. In 1958, the 64 Protestant churches in the city were reorganised into four and overseen by the state through the Three-Self Patriotic Movement.

Eastern Orthodox

There were a significant amount of Orthodox Christian in Beijing. Orthodox has come to Beijing along with Russian prisoners from Albazino conflictsin the 17th century. In 1956, Viktor, the bishop of Beijing returned to the Soviet Union, and the Soviet embassy took over the old cathedral and demolished it. In 2007, Russian embassy has rebuilt a new church in its garden to serve the Russian Orthodox Christian in Beijing.

Posted in Beijing.

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