Beijing in the main consists of two formerly walled districts, the Outer or Chinese City and the Inner or Tatar City. The 25 mi (40 km) of ramparts and monumental gates that once surrounded the cities have been razed and replaced by wide avenues to aid the traffic flow. Within the Tatar City is the Forbidden City (formerly the emperor's residence), the Imperial City (where his retinue was housed), and the Legation Quarter. The Imperial City is now the seat of the government.
On the southern edge of the Tatar City is Tiananmen Square, which contains the monument to the heroes of the revolution, the Great Hall of the People, and the vast National Museum of China. In June, 1989, the Square was the site of massive protests for democratic reform, which were violently suppressed by the military, resulting in thousands of deaths and many injuries. Near the Square is the National Center for the Performing Arts.
Beijing is known for its artificial lakes and for its parks and temples. It contains many of the greatest examples of architecture of the Ming and Ch'ing dynasties as well as remains from earlier times. The Temple of Heaven (15th cent.) is set in a large park and has a massive altar of white marble before which the emperors prayed at the summer solstice. In the temple of Confucius, built by Kublai Khan, are guarded incised boulders that date from the Chou dynasty. An ancient astronomical observatory, once used by Catholic missionaries, still functions. The Forbidden City, now a vast museum, contains the imperial palaces (two groups of three each) and smaller palaces, all replete with art treasures. To the northwest of the city's historic center is the imperial summer palace with its lovely parks, and to the north are the grounds of the 2008 Olympic Games, with the National Stadium (nicknamed Bird's Nest), National Aquatics Center (Water Cube), and other facilities.
In addition to the many tourist attractions in the city, the Great Wall and the gigantic Ming tombs are easily accessible. At nearby Zhoukoudian were discovered several fossil bones of so-called Peking man, now classified as Homo erectus remains.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.