In case we hadn’t harped on about it enough, National Day is upon us. From the pigeon lockdown to the closure of your favourite venues, the siren drills to the military parade, Beijing loves to celebrate its leftist heritage. If you were wondering what exactly that means and where you can really come face to face with China’s communist past, look no further, we’ve gathered the best of the best on the capital’s red trail.
Chairman Mao Memorial Hall
A stop at the founder’s mausoleum might seem obvious, but the Chairman’s memorial hall is easily looked over by those who don’t like crowds, queues or brief encounters. Speaking of brief encounters, don’t count on having a lot of facetime with Chairman Mao, as you’ll only have enough time to pay your respects before being ushered along by the crowd you’ve been squished in for the past hour. To make sure you catch a glimpse of the father of the PRC get in line before 11am because the hall is only open in the morning.
The Writer’s Bar, Raffles Hotel
The Writer’s Bar at Raffles Beijing (formerly the Beijing Hotel) may hark back to the era of colonialism, but it was the venue of choice for the Great Helmsman and the PLA until the Great Hall of the People was built in 1959. Unfortunately, it’s frowned upon to sip on an Old Fashioned in the Great Hall, but who wants to drink there when you could make like Mao and drink in this classy establishment instead?
Sun Yat Sen Memorial, Fragrant Hills
The Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall sits in Biyunsi temple, Fragrant Hills, housing a statue of the PRC’s first president. The temple’s innermost hall also holds some of his books, notebooks and a lead coffin which was provided by the Soviets to help preserve his body. (Un)fortunately the small coffin remains empty, so there’s no need to worry about ghosts of revolutionaries’ past. Make sure you get out there before the leaves turn, or you’ll be drowning in waves of autumn-crazed tourists.
Military Museum of the Chinese People’s Revolution
From China’s first atomic bomb to Chariman Mao’s limo, some huge missiles to a whole garage of tanks, the Military Museum is as insightful as it is intimidating. And if you’re not a military history buff, learn more about what really sparked the deep dislike and distrust between China and Japan, the Sino-Japanese war. And if you’ve been to the Memorial Hall of the Victims in the Nanjing Massacre or the Unit 731 museum in Harbin, you’ll know it’s not for the faint of heart.
798 Art District
While modern Beijingers know it as the bright, colourful playground where you can fill your grid with aesthetically pleasing pictures, 798 is also boasts a whole host of relics from the heyday of communism. The decommissioned 1950s factory still houses a variety of Party slogans and showcases the best of industrial architecture, making it one of the most exciting places to come face to face with China’s Red past.
Ming Dynasty City Wall Ruins Park
Torn down in a revolutionary frenzy, the Yongle Emperor’s legacy is less impressive than it would have been. Thankfully, what is left of the Ming dynasty walls is still worth a look. While it’s not easy to find the well-manicured gardens are home to the last 1.5km of wall, giving a slight indication of the feat of ancient engineering they once were, and if nothing else show the grit and determination of the people who saw to the end of imperial rule. If you’re disappointed by this site, you can always check out the Ancient Observatory, or head to the Red Gate Gallery for some candid shots from the start of the 20th century.
Gate of Heavenly Peace
Perhaps dethroned by The Pants as the most iconic building in Beijing, but a longstanding symbol of communism, how could we leave the gate to the Forbidden City and the Chairman’s portrait off this list?