Beijing – "Northern Capital"
The name of the Chinese capital in 2008 was on the tip of everybody’s tongue because, as all people know, that year the summer Olympics were held in Beijing. Happily enough, in 2004 I myself witnessed, on the 30th of September, the start of the countdown of the beginning of the Olympics. It was started on the greatest square in the world, that is, in the heart of the city in front of its famous Gugun or “The Forbidden City”.
In my book Mysteries of Genetics, which speaks of the origin of man, I wrote that Beijing is a very tourist-friendly city not because of its English doubling of street and place names. The Chinese from ancient times believed in the cosmos as heavenly-given order and put this idea in the design and building of their cities, and especially their northern imperial city. In the Chinese mind, the space under the sky is a quadrangle with four sides of the world.
Bird Nest Olympic Stadium
The first and the most important is of course the East, or “dong” [don, dun] in Chinese. The eastern “end” of Shanghai – its eastend – and airport in that part of the city are called Pu-dong (the Pu River flows through the city). The eastern part of the Chinese capital has the same name. The opposite, “west”, is transliterated as “si” or “xi”. The famous north-western part of the country, or Chinese Turkestan, is called Sin-Kiang. Its capital, Urumchi, lies at the eastern ranges of the Tian-Shan, that is “The Sky Mountains”. It might be that those mountains gave the name to the country lying “under the sky [peaks]”.
The first “tian” – sky – we see in the name of Tian Tan, or the Temple of Heaven, situated to the south of the Gugun/Gogun and the huge place before it. “Tan” means a temple and its three-level pagoda is situated in the real heaven and even paradise of the spacious green park with many firs and pines that give the air an incomparable quality. Being in the park around the temple you don’t want to leave it because outside the walls you’ll breathe the awful smog of the modern Chinese city with its many cars, buses and trucks.
The second word in Tian-Shan is translated as a “mount”. We see it in the name of Shanghai which literally means “mounts [near] sea”. In old times Shanghai was a small fishermen’s hamlet, but now it lies rather far from the sea. I’d like to add that the Chinese “hai” means any water basin, pool, pond, and even sea! The famous resort island in the south, which in recent times became very popular with our tourists and vacationers, bears the name Hainan that can be translated as “[an island] in The South Sea” because it really lies in the South-Chinese Sea.
The Temple of Heaven “closes” the south end of the north-south axis which cuts the Forbidden City. The westerly part of the park leads to the straight-as-an-arrow Qianmen Dajie, or the Road of the South Gate. “Dajie” means road, path, and has in its Chinese name the character picturing a walking man. Anyone who has heard something of China can remember the word “dao” that is translated as true path, knowledge of veritable truth, and so on. If you go to the north along this Qianmen Road your feet lead you in half an hour to the very heart of the capital. At first you approach the mighty medieval tower Zhenyang – People’s – that in the times of the Ming Dynasty was a very strong bastion.
On your right hand there will be the main Beijing railway station “Beijingzhan”. While walking around, a tourist can see an imperial “novodel” – recently restored medieval walls of Ming Dynasty that are as high as the Kremlin’s. Quite near the walls there is the ancient observatory with bronze instruments and the famous frogs with balls in their mouths. This is the first “detector” of earthquakes. But we should return to the above mentioned tower.
Behind it a visitor comes to the huge Mao Mausoleum that “opens” the entrance to limitless Tiananmen Square of almost 40 hectares (The Main, Great South gate)! In the center of it the stone column of the People’s Heroes Memorial Monument was erected. Standing with your face to Gugun, you have on your left hand the Great Hall of the People representatives, where the Party congresses are held, and to the right – the China National Museum.
This is of course “official” Beijing. But on coming to those towers, gates and monuments and memorials, a man goes through some parallel streets and lanes that cross the main avenue. Those are market streets with restored trade houses of the 19th century, where every person can buy famous Chinese silks, pearls, porcelain and many other consumer goods, as in any Chinese or Oriental “bazaar”.
To the north of Tiananmen square a tourist approaches the sacred center of Beijing – the medieval imperial Forbidden City that is encircled by a channel. To the left of it there is the Northern Park or Beihai. We discussed “dong” and “xi” – east and west in Chinese. South and north are called “an/nan” and “bei”. Beijing is “northern” city, capital, and Nankin – the “southern”. The northern capital of Taiwan bears the name Taipei and the city on the southern tip of the island – Tainan.
The park Beihai near Gugun has three ponds or lakes – “hais”. The northernmost is Beihai itself, the southernmost naturally – Nanhai. And between them there lies Zhonghai, or “Stately” one. To the left of the main gate of Gugun you can walk through the Zhong Shan Park or the park of the State Mount. It is quite natural that “zhong” in Chinese is written using the character “sun”. To the north of Gugun, tourists climb the rather high hill Jing Shan, whose name translates as “Charcoal Mountain”. In old times people fired logs of pine to get charcoal for the imperial kitchens and furnaces and heaters. It’s rather hard to imagine, but in Beijing there are many snowy days in winter when you need a lot of heat.
Gugun is a huge city within its enclosure, which has almost one and a half thousand varied palaces, temples, concubine dwellings, baths and kitchens. The Chinese government gave more than two billion dollars to restore them and I think that the Chinese themselves as well as the Olympic guests were able to get pleasure in visiting the Forbidden City.
Temple of Heaven
To my regret, I haven’t got time and place enough to tell my reader of the many places of interest in modern Beijing – its twenty universities; a TV tower that is seen from a long distance; many skyscrapers, densely “carred” wide circular roads; or the magnificent Iheyuan Park with its white marble two-level imperial boat. Going by car to the north you come to the nearest part of the Great Wall. If you go in a little different direction you will come to another “pearl” of the Chinese capital – the cave of Peking man.
Some words on the Beijing metro. When I visited the capital there were only two lines – a circular one and east-west line. Last year I heard that they will have three more for the convenience of the Olympic guests. They constructed the third terminal of their international airport and it became the biggest in the world; its construction cost almost three billion dollars and the whole length of its three terminals is 3.2 km! The roof windows, when open, remind one of the scales of a fabulous dragon. The airport has a transportation centre that links it to the city’s metro system; it is very useful for our tourists and “chelnoki” because they can reach the Russian district of Beijing without any delay.
There are many other things to say of Beijing – the “Northern capital” of the great country, our eastern neighbour. Last year was a “Year of China” in our country and 2006 – a “Year of Russia” in China. And in the “special” Russian district many times I saw not only the characters “The Great Wall” but “Friendship” as well.