One of the many 4-character phrases in Chinese is 名胜古迹 (míngshènggǔjì), which means “places of historic interest and scenic beauty.” Basically, famous places you might want to visit because they are really old, really beautiful, or both. I was recently helping to host a group of North Americans who had never visited China before. One of the things we did together was visit some ancient and beautiful places. Although they can be quite touristy, they also give you a glimpse into the beauty and history of Chinese civilization. Chinese people are really proud of these sites and very happy to hear that you have visited them.
Site # 1: The Great Wall at Mutianyu
This particular part of the Great Wall is also well known for having a toboggan slide to get down from the wall. The first time I tried it, I was unimpressed. I think that I had a faulty sled, because it was either going faster than I was comfortable with or barely moving at all. It was a stressful ride down. I gave it a second chance this time around, and they did give me a long sled instead of a normal one this time. It didn’t get stuck on the track, and I had a lot more fun!
Site # 2: The Temple of Heaven. This really is one of the nicest places to visit in Beijing! I enjoy it every time.
Site # 3: Tiananmen Square is one of the largest city squares in the world. In China it is an important patriotic location, perhaps something like the Mall in Washington D.C. is for Americans. It is the place where Mao Zedong declared the beginning of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949. Mao’s Mausoleum is in the square, the Great Hall of the People is on one side, and the National Museum is on the other. The National Museum has many interesting artifacts, but I also discovered it is the least visitor-friendly museum I have ever visited. But that might be a whole separate blog post.
This is the quintessential tourist in Beijing pose. I’m actually never sure if I’ve taken this photo before, although I have been to the square on a couple of other occasions (I think the last time was in 2005, though).
The other “tourist attraction” in the square turned out to be us—foreigners. While we were trying to take our own photos of the square we were surrounded by 10-15 Chinese people who wanted their pictures taken with the foreigners in Tiananmen Square. I managed to extricate myself from the photos and catch this photo of the chaos. I always wonder what happens to these photos, but people are so happy if you agree to be in the photo with them. In Beijing, this really only happens at tourist attractions. Most Beijingers see enough foreigners that they only want to take a photo with you if they actually have a relationship with you. But “places of historic interest and scenic beauty” are usually full of tourists from outside of Beijing who don’t see as many foreigners, so they often want photos.