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 Essential Architecture-  Peking





in the northwest part of Beijing


c. 1200


Jin Dynasty




Shichahai is a famous scenic area that includes three lakes (Qian Hai, meaning Front Sea; Hou Hai, meaning Back Sea and Xi Hai, meaning Western Sea), surrounding places of historic interest and scenic beauty, and remnants of old-style Beijing residences, Hutong and Courtyard. It is located in the northwest part of Beijing, and covers a large area of 146.7 hectares (about 363 acres).

The history of Shichahai can be traced to as far back as the Jin Dynasty (1115 - 1234). During the Yuan Dynasty (1271 - 1368), it was the terminal point of the Great Canal, which was a main reason for its prosperity. In the period of the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644), when the channels ceased to be as smooth as they used to be, Shichahai changed from a bustling hub to a place of leisure where people could stroll around to admire the vast scenery or enjoy the cool shade under williow trees.

Shichahai is always a good place for local Beijingers' recreational life, and in the last 200 years, many governmental officers, celebrities, monks and nuns chose to build mansions, temples and nunneries in Shichahai. Thus, Shichahai's attraction lies not only in its natural beauty, but also in the historical value of its architecture. The most famous ones among these historical buildings are Gong Wang Fu (Prince Gong's Mansion, Chun Wang Fu (Price Chun's Mansion), the Former Residence of Song Qing Ling, the Former Residence of Mei Lan Fang (the well-known Peking Opera master) and Guang Hua Temple.

The greatest point of interest in Shichahai today is its residences, Hutong and Courtyard. In and around Beijing City, Shichahai is one of the best places to view well-preserved Hutongs and courtyards. Visiting Hutongs by pedicab has become a popular activity for visitors from China and abroad. The most famous Hutong is Jin Si Tao, which actually includes 18 hutongs and keeps the original layout of Hutong Area. Another one is Yan Dai Xie Jie, meaning an oblique street which looks like a long-stemmed pipe. This street used to be a famous street selling long-stemmed pipes.

People can also find two Old Brands in Shichahai. One is Kao Rou Ji, a restaurant selling roast meat, which has a history of over 150 years. The other is Bao Du Zhang, which has sold cooked tripe of sheep for four generations.

By visiting Shichahai, visitors will get an authentic taste of the style and features of Old Beijing.

Shichahai in the dusk

For many foreigners who have never been to Beijing, Beijing is represented by the Great Wall and the Forbidden City; but few of them know Shichahai. In the past 200 years, officials and celebrities came here to establish mansions or temples, which added much cultural color to this place. In today's Rediscovering China,I will bring you to this unique place. I am your new host Diliana.

Shichahai consists of three continuous lakes, Qianhai, Houhai and Jishuitan. Lying in the central area of old Beijing, and possessing natural beauty, Shichahai was a good place for living and entertainment. It is said that there used to be nine nunneries and one monastery here, thus it got the name 'Shichahai'. In Chinese, 'shi' has the same sound as 'ten', and 'Cha' means temple. Today, as one of the protected areas of old Beijing traditions, Shichahai is still a perfect place for relaxation and attracts people both home and abroad.

This bridge is a perfect place to appreciate the beauty of the Shichahai area----the 'Silver ingot bridge'. Standing here, I can see the water and the skies merge in one color. On a sunny day, you can even see clearly the west mountain far away.

The Silver ingot bridge is in the connection point of Qianhai and Houhai. In the history, it was very much like a silver ingot upside down. Later, although experiencing some changes in its shape, it still keeps elegant. Li Dongyang, a Ming Dynasty person, once called this ' the first natural beauty in the Beijing City'. Seeing the west mountain here is known as one of the eight old Beijing wonders.

The Gold Ingod Bridge

Besides the silver ingot bridge, here you can also see the Gold Ingot Bridge and the old Wanning Bridge. Wanning Bridge was built during the Yuan Dynasty, more than 700 years ago. In the history, it was rebuilt several times. The two stone animals are protecting the lake from flooding

Due to the fine natural environment here plus the antique historical and cultural attraction, some museums and former residences for famous people were founded here. The former home of Mr. Sun Yat-sen's wife Soong Ching-ling is one of them.

This place used to be the mansion of an important government official called Mingzhu during reign of Emperor Kangxi in the Qing Dynasty. Later, it became the garden of Zaifeng -- father of the China's last emperor. Walking around here, you can find that the constructions maintains strong Chinese characters.

Soong Ching-ling, the late honorary president of the People's Republic of China lived here during the last 18 years of her life from 1963. Now it is open to the public for visiting.

Soong Ching-ling was born in Shanghai in 1893. In 1913, she received her bachelor's degree from Wesleyan College for Women, USA.

In1915, she married Dr. Sun Yat-sen. In the following years, she accompanied Dr.Sun in his traveling between Shanghai and guang zhou (Canton), rendering service to the revolution.

Soong Ching Ling was always concerned with the physical and mental growth of children. Even under very difficult conditions, she continued to promoting and initiating cultural and educational programs for children, many of these have become exemplary projects in China.

When talking about the traditional Chinese opera, people cannot avoid mentioning the Beijing Opera and Mr. Mei Lanfang. This is where Mr. Mei lived during the last ten years of his life. Today, the master of the house is gone. However, when walking in this quiet Siheyuan, people still seem to be able to hear the fantastic voice of this great master, spreading from the trees around you and lingering in the air.

The former residence of Mr. Mei Lanfang's friend Mr. Guo Moruo is also located in the Shichahai area. This outstanding writer and scholar lived here from 1963 to 1978.

This is where the Furen Catholic University in Beijing used to be. The university was founded by American Benedictine monks from Latrobe, Pennsylvania in 1925. In 1952 it merged with Beijing Teachers' University.

Walking along the sinuous Hutong, I seem to be wandering in the long history of the old Beijing. As the ebb of time washes through the Beijing Hutongs, they slowly wipe away the traces of the people and stories preceding them.

Gate of a siheyuan

One of the unique features of Beijing is its numerous Hutongs which means small lanes. The life of ordinary people in these lanes contributes greatly to the charm of this ancient capital.

Hutongs are where life has been going on for the last 700 years since they first appeared in the Yuan Dynasty. In these small lanes, you'll find many siheyuan, or quadrangles which are the living quarters of ordinary Beijingers. Nowadays, new modern high-rise buildings and apartments are fast replacing these traditional dwellings, but some hutongs in this area still remain well preserved, and many people still prefer to live here. Mr. Wu is one of them. He has been living in a Hutong for more than 50 years.

Mr. Wu's turned his courtyard into a garden, the peace and beauty of his old house is always his pride. With the three generations living in the same courtyard house and taking care of each other, Mr and Mrs Wu's life is full of happiness.

This is today's Tobacco Pipe Lean Street. The old architecture is still here, but this hutong is now full of bars and cafˇ§¦s instead of goods shops, especially for tobacco pipes.

The hutongs around Shichahai are also attraction to some foreigners such as Mr. Cho Chong Gee from Malaysia, who opened a restaurant in a courtyard house here.

What I am climbing at is called the Bell and Drum Towers. Built in 1272, this ancient architecture situated on the northern end of the central north-south axis of Beijing city. Being the timing center of the capital city of three dynasties, Yuan, Ming and Qing, the towers enjoy quite a long history.

The Bell tower was initially built in 1272 in the Yuan Dynasty, and later rebuilt in the Ming and Qing Dynasties. This bell is 500 years old. With the 5.5 meters in height and 63 tons in weight, it is the biggest bell in China.

The small square between the two towers is a good place for entertainment and relaxation.

When the dusk is coming, the river is lively with boats and people's laugh. With oil lanterns lighting our road and the music of traditional Chinese instruments, I feel like traveling in the south east of China.

Shichahai's bar night

Shichahai is beautiful all the time, and it has a special attraction in the evening. Sitting on a wooden boat and having a chat with your friends is a really good way for relaxation.

People can place the paper boats with lit candles into the water. It's a pleasure to watch them floating far away and see the buildings disappearing in the glowing.

A lot of bars have been founded along the lake bank recently,. Many of them are designed in a traditional Chinese style, and this is what makes them different from the western bars in the downtown area.

Taking a seat by the lake, you can have a drink you like, talk to your friends, and at the same time, appreciate the natural beauty. No wonder that in the past 2 years, more than 40 bars have been established here. Because of that, Shichahai is often crowded, especially in the evening and on weekends, despite that, more bars are still opening up. In light of this, some people began to worry about the issues of natural environment, as well as the preservation of the old Beijing characteristics in this area.

In history, Shichahai attracted people all over China. Today, it has become a place for people to appreciate the natural beauty, trace the history of old Beijing and understanding the Chinese culture. Come here when you have time, and I think that you can learn a lot from this living history book.


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