Nestled in an unassuming building near the southeast corner of Tiananmen Square and behind the elaborate, old Beijing train station, the Beijing Planning Exhibition Hall gives visitors a glimpse into the growth of this ancient city from Genghis Khan’s palace to a modern metropolis. My brother being a developer, I took his visit as an opportunity to visit this free museum.
Beijing in Miniature
In my experience, every city in China has one of these museums. Previously I’ve visited Hefei’s and Shanghai’s. The star of the museum in each circumstance is the large model of the city. Beijing’s is no different. Half of the third floor is occupied by this miniature city.
Having lived here for a couple of years, it was fascinating to see the city as a whole. To see from a bird’s-eye view on the fourth floor, my typical routes, my favorite destinations, and how they all connect and become one. After all, like in many large cities, most of my travel occurs underground in a subway or on the street level with limited views beyond the buildings lining the streets. This would also be useful for someone who has just arrived for a long visit or to live and work. It will give them a good sense of direction. There is also a model of the Central Business District or Guomao. It has current buildings and models of planned or under-construction buildings.
The exhibition hall also offers a glimpse into the past showing how Beijing came to be what it is over the centuries. There are multimedia displays and exhibits to showcase the beloved hutongs, how Beijing’s water supply evolved over the years (a video presentation with terrible Chinglish), and more. I personally enjoyed the model of the Forbidden City on the third floor.
On the second floor is a small gallery that introduces the center axis of Beijing or the Dragon Line. This axis has been the center line of Beijing for nearly 1,000 years. The Forbidden City, Bell and Drum Towers, and Olympic Park were all built on this axis.
Other galleries highlight Beijing’s future, which is the purpose of the Beijing Planning Exhibition Hall. There are spaces discussing new construction techniques, green energy and living, and transportation. Near the model of the CBD, a relief map shows the plans for the megacity of 100,000,000 people under development by connecting Beijing with Tianjin and part of Hebei Province. This is already happening with the construction of Beijing’s massive new airport right in the center of this new triangle of population.
An exhibit on the second floor follows the Chinese museum standard of having at least one politically promotional exhibit by showing Beijing’s master planning since the end of the Qing Dynasty. It highlights how the city has grown under the direction of a planning committee. The maps in this gallery are fascinating showing periods of growth. However, after the first gallery of the exhibit, English translation is almost nonexistent. This makes it very difficult to understand how things have changed over the last several decades.
A visit to the Beijing Planning Exhibition Hall is free after showing your passport at the ticket booth. Depending on how interested you are in Beijing’s growth and development, you could spend 30 minutes to 3 hours in this museum.