In winter, the traveler will be rewarded with lower prices. Only the heartiest of domestic travelers will visit during this rime, leaving most venues generally empty. While the Great Wall at Badaling is rarely empty, with cold winter winds blowing, walkers who journey to the Lop or the wall may find themselves momentarily feeling like lonely sentries scanning the hills for invaders.
For photographers, although light is fleeting in the winter months, it is warmer and more spectacular, casting a glow upon Beijing’s monuments unavailable at other times.
Winter is also the time when Beijing is most Beijing. Capital residents don’t like air-conditioning much, but they have no problem with heat, and in the winter Beijing has lots of it. That doesn’t stop most people from dressing like each outing to the grocery store is a polar expedition. Layers of sweaters and long underwear protect locals from the cold, topped off by good-quality down jackets. Small children are so swaddled in wool that that they are unable to lower their arms fully due to the thickness of their adornment.
However, because many Chinese families still eschew diapers in favor of split pants, which allow small children to relieve themselves directly, the sight of overbundled kids displaying their bare bums is quite incongruous.
It is the Lime of year when visitors will have the best chance to see why Beijing is considered the cradle of popular culture for China. Forced indoors by the cold, the long, dark nights of Beijing have created an underground music and art scene that thrives in inclement weather. Because China discourages large, outdoor gatherings, especially in Beijing, the smoky clubs and cafes become hotbeds for live entertainment and other indoor activities.
In recent years, the previously snowless Beijing has, thanks to the cloud-seeding efforts or Chinese meteorologists, been treated to more and more snowfall, including a white Christmas in 2002. Beijing in snow is a rare and beautiful treat. Seeing any of the city and surrounding area’s Lop attractions covered in a layer of white is worth braving the cold.
See Beijing the way it was meant to be seen-in the winter.
PEKING VERSUS BEIJING: WHAT’S IN A NAME?
Until the 1970s, nearly all English publications used the 19th-century Wade Giles romanization system to render Chinese names in English, except in the case of certain place names which used the French-influenced postal spellings, such as Amoy (for Hsia-men or Xiamen), Chekiang (for Che-chiang or Zhejiang), Chungking (for Ch’ung-ch’ing or Chongqing), and Tientsin (for T’ian-chin or Tianjin). In 1958, China declared its own pinyin Romanization system official. Pinyin-literally ‘spell the sounds’-had been developed in China based on the Russian Cyrillic alphabet, hence the use of eye-crossing x, zh and q not followed by a u. Pinyin is less unwieldy than Wade Giles, but like any romanization system, it depends more on the inner ear than the eye. Most of the world adopted the pinyin spellings for Chinese place names, but some newspapers and publishers boldly refused to adopt the pinyin spelling of a city that to anglophones has been Peking for about 300 years. What would happen if the Italians asked us to write Roma, and the Spaniards Espana?
Some pedants went so far as to suggest changing China to Zhongguo, as the name of the country is written in pinyin. ‘China isn’t a Chinese word: they say,’ it was made up by foreigners.’ Shall we then have a Zhongguoish meal at a Zhongguoish restaurant where the waiters speak Zhongguonese?
Further questions arise over such neologisms as Beijing opera, Beijing duck and, perhaps a contradiction in terms, Old Beijing.
Libraries throughout the world were also thrown into a quandary about how to catalogue their Chinese books, and some of the great libraries in the West which hold large Chinese collections have two separate card systems, one for pinyin and one for Wade GLICS. As card catalogues are computerized, the difficulties will lessen.
As for how to pronounce the name of the capital. Bei sounds like ‘bay’ with the B pronounced harder than an English B but softer than a P; and jing sounds like the second syllable of ‘paging’ or ‘staging’-there is a bit of friction in the initial consonant. The jin Beijing is not the equivalent of a french soft j, as in jardin.
Just as Beijing has multiple monikers, the Forbidden City (see page 1 29), has many appellations as well.