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The modern day capital of China is Beijing (literally "Northern
Capital"), which first served as China's capital city in 1261, when the Mongol
ruler Kublai Khan established his seat of power in the area centered around
what is today Beihai Park. The framework of the city as it currently exists,
and in particular the maze of interlocking gates and buildings that comprise
the Forbidden City, began to take shape in 1402 when Emperor Yongle relocated
the Ming court in an effort to secure China's northern frontier. Remnants of
old Beijing are still visible in the narrow alleys and traditional courtyards,
or "hutongs", scattered throughout the area to the east of the Forbidden City.
President Clinton will be welcomed at the Great Hall of the People,
which was built in 1959 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the founding of
the People's Republic of China. It is the seat of government, and home to the
Chinese parliament, the National People's Congress. Adjacent to the Great Hall
is Tiananmen Square, an enormous (500 meters by 880 meters) area that has been
the center of large-scale demonstrations against the government in 1976, when
the death or Premier Zhou Enlou was mourned, in 1986, when students gathered to
protest against the slow pace of reform, and in 1989, when students mourned the
death of Party Secretary Hu Yaobang, protested against government corruption
and called for greater political freedom.
The President will also tour
the Forbidden City, which is located in the center of Beijing. The Forbidden
City was originally constructed in the 15th Century by the Ming Emperor Yongle.
China's emperors governed from the Forbidden City and rarely ventured outside
the palace grounds. Twenty-four emperors lived in the Forbidden City over the
course of over 500 years. The City is divided into three parts, the outer
court, where the emperor received senior officials and conducted affairs of
state, the inner court, where the emperor lived with his family, and the
Imperial Garden, where the family spent most of their leisure time.
The Forbidden City is fronted by Tiananmen Gate, a symbol of ruling power in
China. Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People's Republic of China
from the tower of the gate. On national days, the tower is used as a rostrum
for reviewing parades. Today, a large portrait of Mao Zedong hangs on the front
of Tiananmen Gate. To the left of the portrait is the slogan "Long Live the
People's Republic of China" and to the right "Long Live the Unity of the
Peoples of the World."
Just outside of Beijing, the President will
tour a section of the Great Wall of China, which stretches over 3,000 miles
from China's border with North Korea on the Yalu River, to the foot of the
Qilian and Tainshan mountains in China's westernmost region. The Great Wall
began as a series of unconnected protective walls constructed by rival kingdoms
in ancient China. When Qin Shihuang unified China in 221 B.C., he ordered the
walls of his defeated rivals be connected. In the centuries that followed, the
Great Wall has expanded, ultimately reaching the length we know today.
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