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by Paul Bacon
Rotherham, United Kingdom
October 29, 2006
We were standing on a wooded hillside dressed in flowing robes as though we were emperors of the Ming Dynasty. Sat on a wooden bench which had been painted to look as though it were a gold-encrusted throne, was my friend Matt. I stood to his left whilst Felvus, the third member of our group, stood to his right. Whilst the Chinese lady who had rented us the bizarre get-up snapped pictures, several passers by ambled around us smirking at our less than regal appearance.
Despite getting the opportunity to pretend to be an ancient, imperial despot, the appeal of Jingshan lay not in its scope for playing dress-up and looking slightly silly, but in the wonderful views of Beijing it offers. Situated across the street from the Forbidden City it boasts a wonderful base from which to let one’s eyes dance across the famous tiled rooftops, past Tiananmen Square and away into the Hutongs.
The majority of central Beijing is completely flat. The vast expanse of Tiananmen through the Forbidden City is one long plain. This is what makes Jingshan so special. The small around which it is centred is the first change in elevation for miles in each direction. There is an ornate pagoda on then peak from where it is immensely pleasant to simply stand and stare.
I have visited Jinshang four or five times and must admit that it is at its best in late afternoon. As the sun begins to set and takes on a reddish glow the reflection from the rooftops creates something of an ocherish glow and resonates a wonderful sense of warmth.
From journal Living life to Mao
May 25, 2005
Once in the park, we were struck instantaneously by its serenity. Restful music was gently playing and the hassle of the street traders was gone. This park, however, claims a grisly history, as the last of the Ming Emperors hung himself from a tree as rebel troops, led by Li Zicheng, a peasant, invaded the city. It seems that the huge hill was constructed with the excavations from the mighty moat that encircles the Forbidden City, with the expressed intention of protection the palace from the evil spirits emanating from the north. We have no evidence indicating how successful this was!
It is a fair walk to the top, but it is well worth the climb, because the view is breathtaking. We tried to leave the view, until we reached the summit and then gasped to see the whole of the palace laid out in front of us like a tapestry. This vantage point provided us with a 360-degree vista of Beijing and its surrounds. Breathtaking – and that’s the view as well as the clambering to this prime-positioned pagoda. Around the pinnacle were a number of local militia - we weren’t sure if they were guarding the Buddha housed in the pagoda or just enjoying the view like the rest of us.
We slowly meandered our way back to the park’s lower grounds, enjoying the curvaceous trails and varied vegetation. Often, the path virtually doubled back on itself, and we did wonder if the emperor had been hauled up this route in a sedan chair (he certainly wouldn’t have walked!). In the park, we watched many locals practicing the ancient art of Tai Chi; some were fascinating to watch and superbly balanced in every minute movement. It was here that we first observed the "walking backwards" routine, a strange one I got in trouble for trying ("Stop it! They’ll think your taking the mickey," was my wife’s comment).
There were a few ornate buildings, but generally, this was a place to chill out and appreciate the wonders provided by nature. Remembering that this was all man-made, it was not out of place to see bizarrely shaped trees (presumably manipulated in their growth), rocks "carefully positioned" for effect, and the odd statue.
Overall, this park was incredibly serene and a superb wind-down after the Forbidden City.
From journal The Bustle of Central Beijing
November 15, 2004
The park is well-manicured, and dotted here and there are some pretty bonsai. There are three ways to get to the top. If you have time to amble, the western and eastern walkways have gentler hills that follow roughly the circumference of the park. Or you can elect to reach the top by climbing the steep path in the middle. We chose the middle way. After a short but steep climb to the top, we were awarded with an outstanding view of the Forbidden City. First, however, there is the obligatory commercial set-up, where you can be relieved of your well-earned cash in exchange for the privilege of dressing up in Qing Dynasty King and Queen costumes and have your photograph taken.
Although, at ground level, I had appreciated the perfect linearity with which the Forbidden City was built, as we walked on a perfect axis from the south gate through various courts and inner courts to the north gate, I was struck anew at how perfectly aligned the ceremonial halls are. Looking down, you can see all of these halls, with their larger structures and roofs, aligned in a straight line, surrounded by lesser halls and outer courts. Other recognizable sights could also be spotted: the Lama Temple, the Drum Tower, and Beihai Park. Although the temple at the top houses a very large Buddha statue, it was built sometimes in the ‘70s and so is not of any significant historical value.
However, the park itself is an important historical spot. A must-stop for Chinese tourists is a tree to the east of the entrance where Emperor Chongshen, the last Ming emperor (17th century), hung himself when rebel troops invaded the city. These troops, thinking that they had ushered in a new dynasty, had a few weeks of merry eating and raping before they, in turn, fell before the Manchus, who established the Qing dynasty. Anyway, if you are a fan of martial arts lore, much is made of the fate of the king’s youngest princess. Legend has it that the king was going to kill the princess, but either because he could not or because she put up a fight, he only succeeded in cutting off one arm. She was later rescued by a nun and taught the martial arts. Then she went out into the martial arts world and saved people left and right. I think it’s just a great story.
From journal Return to Beijing
September 30, 2001
From journal The Trip to China in 2001
Perth, Western Australia, Australia
October 10, 2000
We walked through the well-manicured gardens, until we reached the site of Chongzhen's death. After taking the obligatory photo there (albeit of a substitute locust tree - the original died many years ago!), we then ascended the hill itself. We spent a bit of time at the second pagoda, where the views into the Forbidden City were excellent. We also amused ourselves by investigating the myriad of souvenirs available from stalls set up around the pagoda. I made my first souvenir purchase here - a set of 4 ‘inner painted’ glass bottles. I bargained a little uncertainly, but managed to get them for 60 yuen instead of 100 yuen.
Yuan, our Chinese friend, assured us that the views from the 3rd and highest pagoda would be the best. Alas when we reached it, it appeared to be out of bounds as was surrounded by corrugated iron and was obviously being restored. But Yuan had promised us views and that is what we would get! She slipped in between a crack in the corrugated iron fence and we dutifully followed her inside (as did a number of other tourists!) The workmen weren't exactly pleased to see us, but a few words from Yuan soon quieted them down. We made the most of this unexpected opportunity as she had been right - the views from the highest pagoda were the best after all!
From journal Bumbling Through Beijing