Old building complexes on Beijing's central axis open to public

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Jingshan Park has become a must-go destination for many Beijingers, as the Shouhuang Palace, the last imperial building complex on the central axis of Beijing standing secluded in the north end of the park, opened to the public last month. 

Since its opening on Nov. 22, this magnificent building complex has attracted nearly 40,000 visitors. The opening of the ancient building complex marks a milestone that all the buildings on the central axis of Beijing are now accessible to the public.  

The central axis of Beijing is the longest and best-preserved ancient city axis in the world, sitting as the soul and backbone of Beijing's old city. It starts from Yongdingmen in the south, passing through Zhengyangmen, Tiananmen, Duanmen, Wumen, and Taihemen, as well as the Hall of Supreme Harmony, Hall of Central Harmony, Hall of Preserving Harmony, Qianqing Palace, Kunning Palace and Shenwumen, linking the Wanchun Pavilion, Shouhuang Palace, Drum Tower, and Bell Tower, thus bringing together the quintessential old architecture of Beijing. 

In the recently revised "World Heritage Application Report ― Beijing Central Axis," the "Protection Plan of Beijing Central Axis," and the newly compiled "Outline of Comprehensive Rehabilitation for World Heritage Application ― Beijing Central Axis," the heritage composition and the heritage area of the central axis are explicitly specified as follows: The core components of Beijing's central axis heritage include the Bell Tower, Drum Tower, Jingshan Mountain, Yongdingmen Gate Tower, etc., as well as historical streets connecting these components. The heritage area is 7.8 kilometers long from north to south and 100 meters to 2.6 kilometers wide from east to west, with a total area of 468.86 hectares; the buffer zone is 2 to 3 kilometers on either side of the central axis, covering 4,674.58 hectares.

The Shouhuang Palace is one of the "core components." It covers about 21,256 square meters, with the construction area totaling 3,797.68 square meters. Composed of an inner courtyard and an outer courtyard, the whole building is modeled after the Imperial Ancestral Temple, representing the highest level of architecture in ancient China and the second largest building complex on the central axis (only second to the Forbidden City).

As the last ancient building complex open to the public, the Shouhuang Palace becomes an epitome of cultural relic protection efforts on the central axis, which include steps to clear out nonessential structures and vacate the historic buildings of occupants. Since 2013, more than 1,000 square meters of non-cultural relic buildings have been demolished, and more than 400 square meters of ancient buildings have been vacated. For instance, the Beijing Children's Palace, which had made home in the courtyard for more than half a century, was relocated elsewhere. This shows that the Beijing municipal government has attached great importance to the integrity of cultural relics in history, architecture, environment, and cultural quality.  

With successful cases to follow, other buildings on the central axis were also restored to the original form and opened to tourists. 

In August, Jingshan Park vacated all the rooms inside the architectural complex of Guande Palace within one week in a bid to facilitate the application of the central axis for inscription on the world heritage list and ensure the integrity of all its ancient buildings. At present, the renovation work of the first two courtyards of Guande Palace has concluded, encompassing the restoration of the Second Palace Gate into its original form, the facelift of the interior fences as well as movable walls, and the installation of inside furnishings. The project to reconstruct the third and the fourth courtyards is planned for next year, aiming to bring back its historical appearance and prepare for its reopening.

Shu Xiaofeng, head of the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Cultural Heritage, said, "By carrying out the clear-out and revamp projects, we hope to open as much space as possible for the public to visit afterwards. It is pointless to invite another unit to settle in after clearing out the previous one."

In September, Jingshan Park completed the transfer of the west zone (previously known as the second phase of the Children's Palace) of Shouhuang Palace from Beijing Children's Palace. History shows that Xingqing Pavilion, where a great number of rooms were built for education and artistic exercise, was once located here, and possibly some underground sites could still be found. Next year, the archeological work will commence and likely add more vivid historical details to the research and restoration of the central axis. 

Since Beijing's central axis was put on China's Tentative List of World Cultural Heritage in December 2012, the application has been subsequently included in the "13th Five-Year Plan for Economic and Social Development of Beijing" and the "Beijing Urban Master Plan (2016-2035)." Currently, this undertaking is jointly led by the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Cultural Heritage and the Beijing Municipal Commission for City Planning and Land Resources Management. With fresh progress ahead, the central axis will showcase its beauty to more people from home and abroad.

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