欢迎 （Huānyíng) ! I’m delighted you are following along with us as we tour China, city by city. We recently returned from a three-week family holiday in China. This is the third of ten posts whereby I introduce you to the culture of China through our eyes. Today, I bring you to Tian’anmen Square and The Forbidden City – where the modern era collides with the ancient past.
Tiananmen Square is a vast area, truly in the heart of Beijing. Here the modern era of China literally collides with the ancient past – the square was constructed in between the Imperial Palace to the north and Temple of Heaven to the south. This is the location where Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China from the balcony of the Rostrum on October 1, 1949.
Qianmen Gate & Jianlou (Archery Tower) – At the southern end of the square stand two large tower buildings, the Qianmen Gate and Jianlou. Both the gate and archery tower are part of the old city wall that once guarded Beijing, and part of the original entrance to the Imperial Palace. Qianmen Gate (Zhengyang Gate), built in 1420 and beautifully preserved, was one of the tallest buildings at the time.
Tian’anmen Gate – Tian’anmen Gate, also called the “Gate of Heavenly Peace” is the southern entrance to the Forbidden City (Imperial Palace). The gate has five rounded arch doorways, and seven Golden Water Bridges – the central bridge was used by the Ming and Qing emperors only, the other bridges were for royalty and court officials. From the wide tower, emperors read out proclamations, and this is spot where Mao stood in 1949 and declared a new China. Step through the Tiananmen Gate (just like the emperors), and you’ll enter the Forbidden City.
The Forbidden City
For centuries, the Forbidden City was the palace for the Ming and Qing emperors. The Imperial Palace, begun during the reign of the third Ming emperor in 1406, was a complex of palaces and halls, nearly 10,000 rooms, including workshops where exquisite artworks were produced. For nearly 500 years this mysterious and secret city was a world unto itself for the emperors and their families. Today, as you walk through the gates of the Imperial Palace, just remember that a century ago, for outsiders to get close to even the Imperial Walls was forbidden.
Home to 24 emperors; the entire complex consists of 8,706 rooms in which an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 people lived—including 3,000 eunuchs, as well as maids and concubines—all within 170 acres surrounded by a moat. Inside, the Imperial Palace (also called the Palace Museum) is a huge walled complex, surrounded by a moat. There’s two major areas – the outer courtyards with three great halls of state, and inner courtyards with imperial residences for the emperor and his entourage, plus the gardens. The halls have been restored to show what life what like under the emperors and their living quarters. Galleries display exquisite artwork of bronze, ceramic, jade, clocks, armor and weaponry, and precious treasures and paintings.
Beijing Night Market
One of the most memorable experiences we had in China were the night markets – Beijing being the first and largest. Here you can find a row of unusual food stalls. An array of delicacies are on display with people bustling around to experience some new tastes. Items such as sheep’s particular parts, offal soup, deep fried crickets, centipedes, silk worms, scorpions, and lizards are available to eat on a stick. [ Want a closer look? See Bugging Out: 5 Weird Eats at Beijing’s Night Market ] There are also the more widely recognized spring rolls, jiaozi (dumplings), and candy fruit. The food is displayed raw – the scorpions in fact are still moving – and can be deep fried in a large Wok upon request. We braved what we were told was squirrel and we all agreed it was foul tasting.
We did enjoy the candied fruit, however. Bingtanghulu, is a traditional Chinese snack commonly available in many Chinese cities. It consists of candied fruits on bamboo skewers and typically has a hardened sugar coating that comes from dipping the skewer in sugar syrup and occasionally rolled in sesame seeds. Traditionally, the fruit used has been Chinese Hawthorn (山楂 shānzhā) which resemble small apples, but in recent times vendors have also used various other fruits. I am delighted to have found a recipe so that you may try this at home.
- Prepare some fresh fruit – grapes, apple slices, strawberries, pineapple slices, etc. Arrange the fruit on bamboo skewer sticks making sure the fruit pieces are snug next to each other.
- Prepare a few cups of brown sugar and caramelize the sugar by boiling it in water in a large pot over medium-high heat; make sure to stir the pot thoroughly to create a consistent texture without overcooking the brown sugar. Insert a candy thermometer, and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Continue to cook until the temperature reaches 300 degrees on a candy thermometer. During this process, which can take from 10-20 minutes, wash down the sides of the saucepan occasionally with a wet pastry brush to prevent crystallization.
- Once the candy has reached 250-300 degrees, remove the pan from the heat immediately, and immerse the bottom in a prepared ice bath to stop it from cooking any further.
- Once the candy has stopped cooking (look for the bubbles to stop rising from the bottom of the pan), you can begin to dip your fruits. When the fruit is coated in a thin layer of candy, place it on a prepared, oiled baking sheet to cool and harden.
We’re off to Xi’an tomorrow where we will explore the archaeological site of the Terracotta Warriors and ride bicycles on the ancient wall around the city.
This post is part of the iHomeschool Network’s Autumn Hopscotch, a 10 day series of posts by over 40 different homeschool bloggers. You can visit the hopscotch home page at iHN for ideas and inspiration in topics like Geek Projects: Narnia, Middle Earth, Doctor Who, Star Trek, and Beyond.
All 10 days of Discovering China will be linked to one landing page. Bookmark it for reference!