If you didn't know better, you might have visions of Beijing, China as a city crowded with people all dressed the same in drab little suits with matching hats, where skies are gray and buildings are uniformly bland and uninteresting. While Beijing is crowded with some 16 million people, the colors that vibrantly streak through every corner of the city are both incredibly beautiful and culturally significant. We'll take you on a brief survey of some of these delights and explore just a few of this treasure trove of elements to be enjoyed in this city bursting with color.
Beijing has some of the most picturesque structures, distinctly Chinese in style and with colors that yell out to be noticed. One place this is highly visible is the Dongcheng District, home of the Yonghegonge Lama Temple. The Lama temple is the largest Buddhist temple in China. Its colorful gates, five courtyards and many halls are cared for by more than 100 monks (the lamas). These monks are from the Yellow Hat sect of Lamaism, and many of them come from Mongolia and Tibet. The beautiful carvings, decorations and courtyards contain an array of examples of Buddhist art. The temple, established in 1694 during the Qing Dynasty, contains five main halls: Hall of the Heavenly Kings, Hall of Harmony and Peace, Hall of Everlasting Protection, Hall of the Wheel of Law and Pavilion of Ten Thousand Happiness. Each hall has its own personality and decor. The Hall of Harmony and Peace is the main building of the temple. It exhibits three bronze Buddha statues of the Three Ages, Buddha of the Present in the Center, Buddha of the Past on the right and Buddha of the Future on the left. The Pavilion of Ten Thousand Happiness has an incredibly tall buddha statue carved from a single piece of white sandalwood, and is one of three works of art that were included in the 1993 Guinness Book of World Records.
Not far from the Lama Temple is the Temple of Confucius, another colorful place of beauty and contemplation. This temple began in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) and carried through the Ming Dynasty and the Qing Dynasty. The temple resides next to what was once the Imperial College, but which now houses the city library. It is the second largest temple constructed for Confucius, the great thinker, philosopher and educator of ancient china. It has four courtyards and several structures. Most interesting are the 198 stone tablets positioned in the front courtyard on both sides that contain over 51, 000 names of the advanced scholars of the three dynasties. A place that exudes respite and contemplation, the Temple of Confucius contains many subtle colors that touch the spirit as well as the mind of those who visit within its gates. An interesting note for history buffs is that the Imperial College was founded in 1287 by Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan and founder of the Yuan Dynasty in China.
The streets around the temples also maintain beautiful colored gates that exemplify the best in Chinese artistry and decoration. Colors emphasized include red, blue-green blue, green and yellow. Colors have great significance in the Chinese culture. Without going into the greatest detail, Red corresponds with fire and symbolizes good fortune and joy. Blue-green representing wood expresses nature and renewal, vigor and vitality. Green stands for health, prosperity and harmony. Blue symbolizes immortality. Yellow corresponds with earth and is considered the most beautiful color, the center of everything. These colors can be found in abundance among the halls and gates of many of these buildings, halls and gateways.
When visiting some of the cultural events, you will also find an abundance of bright, bold beautiful colors and varied textures. A wonderful example can be seen through the stunning Chinese Acrobats or Peking (Beijing) Opera. These cultural institutions are some of the most visually impressive arrays of colorful Chinese artistry. A visit to watch them will leave you spellbound. The acrobats, for instance, wear ornate costumes that vary from feathers and leather to silks and tights. In addition to the artistry, grace and sheer beauty of their movements, the acrobats are accentuated by dramatic lighting and brilliant color displayed during a typical exhibition. Their movements are arresting as integrated with the environment onstage and evoke elements of nature as well as the man made world. It is certainly something not to miss when you visit Beijing and tickets can often be found right up to the time of the show.
Of course, our tour of colorful Beijing would not be complete without a brief look at the colorful displays of food and drink that abound. In a city where beer is cheaper than water, many colorful beer bottles of local brews are easily found. The bright colors of fresh fruits and vegetables can be seen at the tiny street shops and the prepared foods at the restaurants glisten in settings which themselves are often quite bold. A playful plate of duck and other delicacies on a brightly colored table create a brilliant vision for the eyes while tantalizing the taste buds. And the tea ceremony, a different kind of tea ceremony than that associated with Japan, provides a colorful experience for those who visit one of the many tea houses in Beijing offering an opportunity to taste first hand. For more on the Chinese tea ceremony, see our video demonstration in Beijing.
The colors of Beijing reflect the warm, lively, varied and enchanting culture that endures in the hearts and lives of the people there. It is well worth your while to enjoy them in all their variety and explore colorful Beijing to your heart's content.