There are so many historical sites in China that it's hard to choose which to visit first when you get the chance to go to the Middle Kingdom. China used to be the “Forbidden Nation,” in which the world had to look at through the glass darkly. Well, not anymore, with airlines crisscrossing the nation. The amazing history of 2,500 years (and counting!) is open for all to see and experience. Here are seven suggested historical sites in China that are simply “must see.”
1 The Forbidden City
There was a reason it was forbidden as for centuries every Chinese citizen could only wonder what fabulous treasures the emperors of China experienced behind those massive closed doors. But today, the doors of the Forbidden City are open and all you need to do is to pay the entrance fee to get inside one of the historical sites in China. Well, that and getting an English-speaking tour guide.
2 The Temple of Heaven
A short subway (or car) ride from the Forbidden City in Beijing is The Temple of Heaven. Legend says if you stand within its walls and in a certain exact spot, your prayers will immediately rise to the highest level of the celestial Heavens. Who needs broadband or Wi-Fi when you have your own special direct line to the big boss in the sky?
3 The Tomb of the Nanyue King
Here’s one destination that most adventurers have never heard of but is a “must do” in the southern city of Guangzhou. A local hotel was excavating for a parking garage and discovered the tomb of an ancient emperor of South China who sealed himself, his treasures and concubines in three rooms that are smaller than your bathroom. Today an entire museum has been erected over the tomb, with relics that would have any Egyptian Pharaoh simply green with envy. It's a small museum that can be visited in one hour.
4 The Terracotta Warriors
In Xian, another incredible archaeological find was discovered years ago that is now considered a World Heritage Site. As legend has it, a Chinese emperor had the lifelike clay statues made for each of the men in his private army and then sealed them away for all eternity. Years later during a peasant uprising, the statues were for the most part destroyed … but today have been painstakingly reproduced down to the horse drawn carriages.
5 The Great Wall of China
We all know about it and it has been mentioned repeatedly in articles and I will mention it again here because the Great Wall is just massive, magnificent and marvelous! The Great Wall was constructed to keep the rampaging horde of Mongols out of Central China but the Wall became so much more, as it extended not only as a physical structure. It has projected the language, art, history and cuisine of China far into the vast lands and deserts of the nation’s west and into Europe. Today, it stands as a monument to an incredible engineering feat that will never be duplicated.
6 The Drum and Bell Tower
In central Beijing rests a small courtyard with two massive structures, the Drum and Bell Tower. In ancient days, the bells of Beijing would ring to awaken the capital residents to start their day. Each evening, the drums would then, through its gentle serenade, coax residents to put down their daily concerns. Then if the invading armies of the north would amass to invade Beijing, the drums and bells would call all Chinese residents to arms to defend hearth and home.
7 The Summer Palace
Connected by a private river from the Forbidden City is the Summer Palace in Beijing, where the Emperors would take their private entourage away from prying eyes of their subjects. More than one single structure, the Summer Palace is a vast assemblage of lakes, private gardens and palaces, dominated by Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake, which is entirely man-made. According to UNESCO, the Summer Palace is “a masterpiece of Chinese landscape garden design" and its palaces, bridges and temples "form a harmonious ensemble of outstanding aesthetic value."