Beijing – Yesterday and Today

Although this is one big sprawling city of 16 million (all of New York State has but 17 million) it has felt like three distinct cities. The oldest is the huge forbidden city at the center. This is the ancient imperial “city” where the dynastic rulers would rarely venture from.

This is a huge complex of walls, huge ceremonial gates, and at the core, the heart of the imperial court, where the rulers and their minions would reside.

Nothing but the best for China royalty.

As you can imagine, the place is overrun with tourists, the majority of them Chinese. Oh, and did I mention it’s quite dusty here, and windy.

This guy puts John Lennon to shame.

And just outside the ancient fortress, the army folks were doing drills. The police and soldiers were everywhere in and around the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square.

Another aspect of old Beijing is the Great Wall, which snakes over the northern fringes of the municipality one to four hours drive out of town. Unfortunately, all this work apparently went for naught, as the wall was never an effective barrier to the Mongols and such, let alone Coke and McDonalds.

I hiked a four hour stretch between Jinshanling and Simnatai. When you get far enough away from the end points the mass of tourists thin out, as there is quite a bit of climbing up and down involved. But there are always local vendors trying to sell water, trinkets and even beer.

The views from the various watch towers were great.

Back in town, the second part of Beijing I noticed was the Hutong, the old alleyway neighborhoods of courtyard homes and small shops.

Everywhere, the bikes were ubiquitous. And the sense of a grey dustiness was unavoidable.

These neighborhoods seemed frozen in time, but yet were very active with life. Here a group of men watch a Chinese Chess game.

As the city continues to develop and modernize, these old neighborhoods are being bulldozed over, and although some have been deemed historic and will be preserved, many more will succumb to the future that is modern China.

Which of course is the third side of the city one can’t help to notice.

Things are being done here on a scale and at a pace like nowhere else in the world. Here is the innovative CCTV building.

Top name architects from around the world are being brought in to design cutting edge buildings that become instant landmarks. Here the National Theater of Performing Arts, which is surrounded by water, has a glass ceilinged entry way that leads into the structure.

And then I just happened upon this place, called appropriately “The Place”. A block long rooftop video screen, perched three or more stories up on pillars and lined by high end shops, restaurants, and hotels.

Oh yea, the Olympics were here as well. The swimming was done here in the “Water Cube.”

And of course, across the street, the landmark “Birds Nest” National Stadium.

Ok, now it’s time for a break from the city as I head south for the mountains around Huang Shan. But before I go, what do you think?  How would Gretchen look in this?

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6 Responses to “Beijing – Yesterday and Today”


  1. 1 Caroline Musselwhite May 14, 2010 at 12:20 am

    Wow – it’s so great that your a photojournalist, not ‘just’ a photographer. Your photos are spectacular, but really enjoying your narratives as well.

  2. 2 Julie Wuest May 14, 2010 at 12:44 am

    Photos and comments are great and she would look fabulous in that dress!

  3. 3 Julie Stephens May 14, 2010 at 5:43 pm

    As always, your artistic talent is second to none. Looking forward to peering in on the remainder of your journey and finding out how many rounds of Go you were able to win. Safe travels my friend!

  4. 5 Jeff May 14, 2010 at 10:21 pm

    I enjoy your photo journalism so much Pete. Sue and Jon Jiang are also reading along. Gretchen would look great in that dress! Love the photo of the guy with the huge round spectacles. Thank you for sharing.

  5. 6 Sue May 15, 2010 at 10:06 am

    Peter….I love the hutongs of Beijing and am so sorry to see them go, especially for the community aspect. It’s happening everywhere in Chinese cities. The National Theater wasn’t yet complete a few years ago, when we were there, so I really appreciated your shot! Great work and it looks like the sky is blue most of the time! 🙂


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