Tian-An-Men Square and the Temple of Heaven

Author: Emily Lake

We started our day walking along the 12-lane Chang’an Avenue and stopped in front of the Gate of Heavenly Peace. It was a Chinese holiday weekend, so we shuffled through masses of sightseers and policemen. It was clear that this landmark was of great significance for both Chinese nationalists and foreigners. The iconic gate is emblazoned with an enormous portrait of Chairman Mao and considered the front door to the Forbidden City. We crossed the street and stood in the middle of Tian-An-Men Square. The vast size of the historic square impressed upon us as we walked towards Chairman Mao’s mausoleum. Mao was considered the father of modern China, and today his mausoleum sits at the center of Tiananmen Square and at the center of Beijing’s central axis.

We made our way to Dahilar Street, one of Beijing’s oldest and busiest shopping districts. Here, a mixture of ancient and modern shops lines this well-preserved street. We stopped for a memorable lunch at Qianmen Quanjude, which has been serving Beijing’s famous Peking roast duck since 1864. Known as the best dish in China, the duck was delicately carved in front of us with exactly 108 cuts to each bird. The skin was crispy and the meat was very tender.

After lunch we saw an awe-inspiring example of Chinese religious architecture at the Temple of Heaven. A procession of beautiful trees led to an impressive blue-roofed wooden tower. We followed Beijing’s central axis to the Imperial Vault of Heaven. Dr. He whispered into the echo wall and across the vault students listened for the word “Polaris”, but his words were lost in the noise of hundreds of other visitors. We enjoyed Chinese ice cream (my new favorite snack) under the trees then walked through miles of the temple gardens. The grounds are so serene that they were once thought to be the meeting place of heaven and earth. Before leaving, we stopped to hear the alluring sounds of an eight-piece traditional Chinese band.

“The grounds are so serene that they were once thought to be the meeting place of heaven and earth.”

Later we stopped for dinner just beyond the temple gates. Students were excited to try traditional dishes, and some were taken out of their comfort zone with specialties including ox stomach, kidney, and pork skin gelatin. By the end of the day, we had walked over 11 miles through historic Beijing.