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Arrive in Beijing and spend a few days soaking up the Imperial sights the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, Summer Palaces and the Great Wall. Spend your evenings enjoying Beijing duck, opera and maybe a trip to the acrobats. If you have time, take a train up to Chengde and spend a couple of days enjoying the imperial retreat before returning to the capital and flying on to Xi'an. Allow a full day at the Terracotta Warriors and another day to explore the fascinating walled city. Make sure you enjoy a Dumpling Banquet, as well as dinner in the Muslim markets. Reflect on your trip in the overnight train back to Beijing. Beijing, literally translated, means Northern Capital, a title it has held since the Ming Dynasty (see History) and a name that still holds true today. Whether imagining the past or marveling at the future, this city is most definitely still the cultural, political and, to the Pekinese, geographical, heart of the Middle Kingdom. While Beijing's modern appearance owes much to the Communist era and the recent influx of capitalist cash, its most impressive and inspiring monuments are recognition of its long imperial tradition. The scale of the city, with its population of 15 million, can initially be overwhelming, but even a short meander into one of Beijing's remaining hutong districts brings you close to the realities of daily life and all of a sudden the city seems human again. While the vast number of construction sites, flyovers and mirrored skyscrapers can come as a shock to those hoping for a view of the years when Beijing was the emperor's seat, a visit to any one of the principal imperial sights (the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven or the Summer Palaces) easily remedies this. However, the greatest of Beijing's, if not the world's, sights lies north of the city. The Great Wall never ceases to amaze and it's worth spending a couple of days out of the city to fully appreciate its majesty. If you have enough time and want more imperial splendor, the rugged countryside around the capital holds Ming and Qing tombs, while, farther afield, the Mountain Resort at Chengde was long a popular emperor's haunt and has some wild scenery along with its subdued palaces and grand temples. This a highly detailed guide to everything you need to know about Beijing and its surroundings - the places to stay, the restaurants, and what to see and do - along with an extensive introductory section on China as a whole. The author lives in China and has been a tour guide there full-time for close to 10 years. This guide is an excerpt from his much larger guide to all of China, also published by Hunter, which is 650 pages in the print edition.

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