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    2. The Beijing Central Axis – 6 Places You May Not Have Visited

      By Alistair Baker-Brian, February 19, 2021

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      It is the invisible north-south line around which the ancient city of Beijing is formed. The Central Axis is a key part of Beijing’s history. 

      If you’re not clear what the Central Axis is, here is a brief history. 

      The story begins in the mid-13th century during the Yuan Dynasty when Beijing was known as Dadu. The original axis was based around the water system used to transport grain to the city. Those who conceptualized the axis wanted to “realize the ideal city plan in traditional Chinese culture.” 

      Later in the Ming and Qing dynasties from 14th to the early 20th century, the axis came to include many historical sites which nowadays form well-known tourist spots. 

      central-axis-map.jpeg

      Image via Capital Museum (with edits by Alistair Baker-Brian)

      Today, the central axis stretches 7.8 kilometers from Yongding Gate at the most southerly point to the Bell and Drum Towers (鼓鐘樓) at the most northerly point. Notable landmarks include Tian’anmen Square, including Chairman Mao’s Mausoleum; the Forbidden City; the Temple of Heaven; Nanluoguxiang, a hutong with bars, restaurants, cafes and quaint gift shops; Yandai Bystreet Historic Area; Beihai Park and elsewhere.

      An application for the Central Axis to be recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site was submitted in 2013. For a more detailed description, visitors can check out a temporary exhibition on the axis at the Capital Museum which is open until the end of 2021. The exhibition lacks English descriptions but does feature a series of interesting maps and realia. 

      While many of the sites mentioned above form the mainstay of tourism in Beijing, residents in the city may wish to discover some alternative places of interest located along the Central Axis. 

      Below are six places that are far less known to your average tourist:


      Yongdingmen Park 永定門公園

      Yongdingmen-Beijing.jpg

      Image via Tour Beijing

      Modest in size compared to other Beijing parks, Yongdingmen park sits directly in front of the Yongdingmen Gate Tower, the most southerly spot on the Central Axis. The park is a great place to snap photos of the gate tower or just get a flavor for ordinary park life in China. Kite fliers and tai-chi lovers can be found there most days.  

      Temple of Agriculture 先農壇 and Beijing Ancient Architecture Museum 北京古代建筑博物館

      beijing-ancient-architecture-museum.jpeg

      Image via Beijing Ancient Architecture Museum

      Located at 21 Dongjing Lu, just west of Yongdingmen Gate Tower, these two sites give a fascinating insight into ancient China. 

      The Temple of Agriculture is perhaps lesser known than other Beijing temples. However, this in no way diminishes its importance. Inside, visitors can learn about the worshipping of the god of agriculture by those in ancient Chinese society since the Han Dynasty (202BCE – 220CE).

      In the Beijing Ancient Architecture Museum, visitors can learn about the city’s architectural changes over the years. Exhibitions show everything from thatched huts to more sophisticated architecture. 

      Zhushikou Church 珠市口教堂

      zhushikou-church.jpeg

      Image via Alistair Baker-Brian

      A relic of a bygone area, Zhushikou church is no longer in use. Like many others in the surrounding area, the building is not considered safe and therefore access is prohibited. However, visitors can still take photographs from the outside.

      Located by Zhushikou metro station (Exit E), the church dates back to 1904. It was built by American missionaries from the United Methodist Church. The structure stands as something of a reminder of the role foreign missionaries played in modern Chinese history.  

      Beijing Taiwan Assembly Hall 北京臺灣會館

      beijing-taiwan-assembly-hall.jpeg

      Image via Alistair Baker-Brian

      Located at 114 Dajiang Hutong, this modest structure was first constructed in 1890. Towards the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, many Taiwanese moved to Beijing for various purposes. The assembly hall offered a convenient place to congregate. 

      Nowadays, several exhibitions are on display inside the assembly hall. Visitors can learn the ins and outs of the Taiwanese who settled in Beijing over the years. 

      Site of Yien Yieh Commercial Bank 鹽業銀行遺址 and Bank of Communications 交通銀行遺址

      yienh-yeh-bank.jpeg

      Image via Alistair Baker-Brian

      Two interesting sites for architecture enthusiasts, the historic banks lie next to each other on Qianmen Xiheyan Jie nearby the Qianmen subway station.  

      The buildings are examples of European-style architecture in Beijing. Yien Yieh (literally salt industry) Commercial Bank, was constructed in 1931 and was one of the most important financial centers for the northern warlords who controlled much of China at that time. Bank of Communications, a major player in China’s modern banking sector, was constructed a year later. 

      Association of Overseas Students in Europe and the United States 歐美同學會

      association-of-overseas-students-in-europe-and-america.jpegImage via Alistair Baker-Brian

      Located at number 111 Nanheyan Dajie, a stone’s throw from Tian’anmen Square and the Forbidden City, the association was set up in 1913. The building itself has the appearance of a traditional Beijing siheyuan, a type of courtyard. 

      It had the purpose of bringing together Chinese students who had studied at top institutions in Europe and the United States and using their knowledge to contribute to “building the motherland.” 


      If you feel like exploring the more ‘off-the-beaten-track’ parts of the Central Axis, these six places are perhaps a good starting point. Go beyond these places and you may just find some more hidden gems along Beijing’s most important imaginary line.

      [Cover image via ECNS] 

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