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Sunday, June 10, 2018

Forgotten History and Dodgy Convenience in the Heart of Beijing

There’s a part of Beijing’s history that appears to be half buried, to the point where few people seem to know much about it. I, myself, stumbled upon it quite by accident when I was walking in the area to the east of the Forbidden City. At first I came across a map posted up on a lamppost near the so-called Dong ’An Men Night Market.

I was intrigued to see mention of “Emperor City Park” – but try as I might, I could find no mention of this on the internet.

And then, almost by accident I came across two pits on either side of the road about two metres below the current road level, showing what looked like the remains of an old city wall. Both were totally deserted, and ignored by the passers-by. I went to investigate…

It turns out that they are the sole surviving remnants of the former Dong 'An Men, the only one of Beijing’s historic gates for which no known photos exist. The ruins are historically significant because they are the last remains of the Eastern Outer Gates of the former Imperial City of Beijing.

Basically, Dong 'An Men formed the border between what was known as the Tartar City and the Imperial City. The Tartar City was exclusively inhabited by Manchus within Beijing. The Imperial City, of course, was home to the ruling elite, Manchu nobility and the Imperial House. Within the Imperial City lay the Forbidden City itself.

Due to the symmetrical design of the Imperial City, Dong 'An Men – which was built in the first half of the 15th century – was placed exactly on the line extending from the eastern gate of the Forbidden City, known as Dong Hua Men (or East Flowery Gate), but one block further to the east.

Through archaeological excavations and old documents, the original Donghuang wall and the exact location of Dong ‘An Men were found in 2001. Dong 'An Men was a building 7-rooms wide with a single eave and a Chinese gable-and-hip roof.

An engraved map of the area has been placed on one of the walls.

And that’s practically all there is to see of it. There’s a pleasant little park to walk through, though nothing worth making a special journey for…

Across the road, a little more history…

Here used to be the HQ of the 1946 Military Mediation Department Section of the Communist Party. It’s called Cui Ming Manor and was built in the 1930s and restored in 1998. From January 1946 to February 1947 it was responsible for negotiating the cease-fire between the KMT and the CPC.

‘Wrapped’ around its perimeter wall are brass plaques – such as this one, which gives an “Introduction to the East Glorious Gate” – except where they have run out of space at the bottom of each column, it simply leaves you in mid-air as to what it is they are trying to tell you!

But there is also a rather attractive brass frieze that is certainly worthy of inspection.

If you have taken the trouble to come all the way here, then it would be invidious of me not to point you in the direction of a nice Chinglish sign, situated across the road from the frieze:

But wait… it gets better. Could this, perhaps, be the most dangerous toilet in Beijing?

Take a closer look…

Danger / Warning Daop Down / Warning Ovntilating / Must wear defence mask / Must fasten safety belt

I hate to think what some of that means, but I make a mental note to avoid this public loo should I ever get caught short in this locality. The consequences don’t bear thinking about.

Take Subway Line 1 to Wangfujing leaving from Exit C1. Walk west for 200 metres past the Beijing Hotel, and then turn right, walking for about a km.