Beijing Revitalizes for the Future

The scale and spread of modern Beijing is hugely impressive By: Gary Bowerman
The China World Summit Wing is a new luxury property operated by Shangri-La. // © 2011 Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts
The China World Summit Wing is a new luxury property operated by Shangri-La. // © 2011 Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts

The Details

Beijing-Shanghai Railway Timetable

www.travelchinaguide.com/china-trains

China World Summit Wing

86-106-505-2299

www.shangri-la.com

National Museum of China

www.chnmuseum.cn

Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays (closed Mondays).

The view from the 80th floor Atmosphere lounge at the China World Summit Wing, a new luxury hotel operated by Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, is among the best in Beijing. Close by is the obscure, OMA-designed CCTV headquarters, nicknamed the “Glass Pants” tower, while to the north, the Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium glints in the sunlight. Looking west, the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and the glass dome of the National Center for the Performing Arts ease into view.

The Chinese capital’s urban skyline may lack the waterfront drama and showiness of fellow metropolitan cities Shanghai and Hong Kong but, when viewed from up high, the scale and spread of modern Beijing is hugely impressive.

The 278-room China World Summit Wing opened in the fall of last year. It occupies the upper floors of Beijing’s tallest building, the more than 1,080-foot China World Summit Tower. On a clear day, splendid views abound. The guestrooms are located on floors 64 to 77. Chi, The Spa is perched on the 77th floor, and the Adam Tihany-designed Grill 79 restaurant peers down on the city below from the 79th floor. Tihany also created the 80th-level Atmosphere, which has established itself as a glittery after-dark hot spot for the capital’s movers and shakers.

The China World Summit Wing is located at the China World Trade Center exhibition, hotel and retail complex on Jianguomenwai Dajie. As the cloud-level views suggest, the hotel is accessible from Beijing’s main attractions.
Recently re-added to the Beijing tourism roster is the cavernous National Museum of China, which flanks the east side of Tiananmen Square. Originally situated at Imperial College in 1912, the museum underwent several name changes and physical moves, until relocating — as two separate entities, the National Museum of Chinese History and the National Museum of Chinese Revolution — to its current locale in 1959. The two museums merged in 2003 but closed in 2007 as part of a multimillion-dollar redevelopment to create an enlarged National Museum of China.

The museum reopened in March of this year, claiming to be the world’s largest museum. Having spent two hours wandering the vast halls, it seems to be a plausible assertion. Ostensibly a multi-venue museum tasked with narrating Chinese history through art, installations and photography, the National Museum of China struck a controversial note in June when Louis Vuitton, celebrating its 20th year in China, stationed its three-month “Voyages” exhibition in these hallowed halls. Chinese media questioned the validity of French luxury goods being showcased adjacent to Communist revolutionary memorabilia.

For many visitors, however, the “Road to Redemption” exhibition is of the greatest interest. It charts Chinese history from the foreign domination of China’s coastal regions following the 1840 Opium War to the 21st-century “New China” of super-fast trains, city sky towers and space exploration. Be prepared, however — the rhetoric is strong. The pre-1949 era is annotated with myriad references to foreign, cultural and military
humiliation of China. This section is entirely designed in black, white and gray. The sections from Mao’s 1949 Communist Revolution onward are illuminated in bright red.

Mentions of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests are predictably absent but, otherwise, this is a well-curated, well-produced exposition of modern Chinese history through the eyes of the ruling Communist Party. In particular, the interactive displays and wall-carved murals depicting Chinese achievements over the last two decades are visually impressive.

One of those modern achievements — high-speed rail travel — is witnessing an ongoing revolution. Beijing is now more accessible from within China following the launch of a high-speed railway connecting the city with the East Coast metropolis of Shanghai. The 819-mile bullet train journey takes just under five hours. There are two services: a direct connection stopping only in the city of Nanjing and a slower service with 24 station stops between Shanghai and Beijing.

Clients should note that China recently instituted new rules for train ticket sales. When taking a train, all foreign passengers must present their passport both at the time of ticket purchase and when boarding. The new Beijing-Shanghai train is expected to be popular, so advanced booking is advised.

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