The Capital Museum
The Capital Museum is a spectacular piece of architecture that integrates both classical and modern beauty. The museum houses a large collection of ancient porcelain, bronze, calligraphy, painting, jade, sculpture, and Buddhist statues from imperial China as well as other Asian cultures. Its regular exhibitions include collections on the ancient history and culture of Beijing, urban construction, ancient chinaware, Buddha statues and old folk customs.
Off the beaten path is the Caochangdi Art District, one of China’s least commercial and most individualistic art districts. Whereas the 798 Art District has been increasingly gentrified, Chaochangdi remains off the radar, exciting because it is still relatively unfamiliar to most Beijingers. One of the pleasures of browsing its galleries is that it is far from touristy – most of them, minimalist in style, are scattered in an unassuming area outside Fifth Ring Road, in a quiet suburb.
Originally one of more than 300 urban villages in the city of Beijing, it grew organically in the past decade becoming a haven for artists who could no longer afford the rents in the 798 Art District. It also began to attract prominent galleries, such as Pekin Fine Arts, Galerie Urs Meile and the Three Shadows Photography Centre.
Like any hidden gem, Caochangdi is not immediately accessible or navigable – it is located on two sides of a railway track, and many visitors are not sure, upon alighting from the bus stop, if they have arrived at the right destination. But for those who love contemporary Chinese art, this artistic Holy Grail is definitely worth the trek.
No.319, Cao Chang Di Art District, Cuigezhuang Village, Chaoyang District, Beijing Tel.: +86 10 6432 5598
798 Art District
Flying the flag for “new” China’s booming art scene, the 798 Art District has now grown into a full-fledged cultural concept, as well as being the byword for a trendy, urban lifestyle embraced by both artists and hipsters. Transformed by contemporary artists from a 1950s Bauhaus building into a pioneering space for artistic freedom, it combines avant-garde galleries, artists’ studios, design companies, independent music and trendy eateries all under one roof. It also serves as the locus of a growing art and culture community in the city.
Taking its name from the original 798 Factory location, the area leapt to life when original factory spaces were redesigned and rented out by artists and cultural organizations, gradually developing the spot into an artistic powerhouse. Nowadays, it features international galleries such as the UCCA and Pace - which presents the best Chinese artists, amidst a myriad of local galleries, boutiques and cafés. A day here presents visitors with the perfect opportunity to dip into China’s contemporary arts scene – here, one can watch artists at work, sample their best offerings, and still retire for a quiet coffee in the afternoon.
Of particular architectural and social interest is the 798 district itself. Historically, it is a former Mao-era munitions factory designed by East Germans. It is the largest collection of preserved Bauhaus buildings in the world. A place where socialist heritage meets creative liberation, the District is a must-visit for any art-lover, as well as anyone interested in the “real” Beijing underneath the landmarks.
798 Art District, No.4 Jiuxian Bridge Road (Jiuxian Qiao Lu, in Dashan Zi), Chaoyang District, Beijing. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nan Luo Gu Xiang
Old Beijing is full of traditional delights, and nothing is more fascinating than hutongs, which manage to combine the historical with the everyday. With labyrinthine alleyways that crisscross between grey brick courtyard homes in old neighborhoods, these architectural relics still bind the laobaixing (ordinary people) together in a rich tapestry of life. One such neighborhood is Nan Luo Gu Xiang, located in Doncheng District, a popular tourist destination.
Approximately 800 meters long and eight meters wide, Nan Luo Gu Xiang runs from Guluo East St. to Dianmen East, dates from the Yuan Dynasty and received its current name around 1750, during the Qing Dynasty. Authentic, vibrant and full of life, the area comprises a maze of old lanes beyond the grey stone Bell Tower, providing the perfect opportunity to people-watch. With its rise in popularity, the area has also slowly grown into a haven for independent shops and retailers, selling everything from vintage wear to kitsch souvenirs.
YuEr Alley, Nanluogu Xiang, DongCheng, District, Beijing
On any given day, if one heads to any park near the center of Beijing between five and eight in the morning, one can see rows and rows of retirement-age Beijingers practicing the ancient art of tai chi as their morning exercise. One of the most graceful and powerful forms of martial arts ever performed, tai chi has informed the Chinese way of life for centuries - balancing people’s qi, boosting their energy and enhancing their health and longevity.
Known as “Chinese shadow-boxing” in the West, “tai chi chuan” translates to “supreme ultimate fist.” There is very little that is combative about the technique, however. Essentially, tai chi is about balancing the yin with the yang, the soft with the hard, and speed with slowness. As a form of martial arts, it is one of the gentlest, and is the polar opposite of the fast and forceful movements of Shaolin Kung Fu. Nowadays, it has remained true to the spirit of its invention – as an art form for young people to keep fit, as a way for old people to avoid illness, and as an exercise in spirituality.
If visitors wish to partake of this ancient art, they should head for Temple of Heaven in the early morning, where they can engage in an invigorating lesson with a practicing master. It will do wonders for every practitioner’s well being.
No.7 Tian Tan Nei Dong Li, Chongwen District, Beijing. Tel.: +86 10 6701 2402 / +86 10 6701 3036 / +86 10 6702 8866. Hours: 7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. (winter), 5 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. (summer)
Befitting its status as China’s cultural capital, Lama Temple area encompasses not only the atmospheric temple itself, but also home the Beijing Imperial Academy and the historical Confucian Temple. Eminently walkable, it also offers a more glamorous side to the city, in the form of some of Beijing’s best independent boutiques.
Lama Temple is heavily steeped in local culture and color – visitors will be drawn towards the tranquil scenes of heady incense, the Buddhist monks, as well as its pockets of quiet contemplation. Conveniently situated across the street is the Guozijian Road - marked by a ceremonial blue archway, it is home to the Confucian Temple and the Beijing Imperial Academy (Guozijian in Chinese.) The latter, first established in 1306, served as the supreme administrative headquarters for the organization of education and the highest seat of learning during the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties, from 1271 to 1911. Covering 37,000 square meters, it is the last surviving imperial academy in China, having undergone two large-scale repairs during the Ming Dynasty, and the construction of the Biyong Hall in the Qing Dynasty. Now listed as an important cultural relic site under state-level protection, it is a grand throwback to China’s dynastic past.
Nestled next to the imperial and the monastic is the trendy and emerging if visitors want a taste of what young Beijingers are into these days, they should stop by such boutiques as Lost & Found for some charming furniture, or the famed Feiyue for some hipster sneakers.
Hours: Summer: April 1 to October 31: 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Winter: November 1 to March 31: 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tel.: + 86 10 6404 4499. Email: email@example.com