Shichahai is a famous scenic area in the northwest part of Beijing, that includes three lakes (Qianhai, meaning Front Sea; Houhai, meaning Back Sea and Xihai, meaning West Sea), surrounding places of historic interest and scenic beauty, and remnants of old-style local residences, Hutong and Courtyard.
Its history can be traced to as far back as the Jin Dynasty (1115 - 1234). During the Yuan Dynasty (1271 - 1368), it was the terminal point of the Great Canal, which was a main reason for its prosperity. In the period of the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644), when the channels ceased to be as smooth as they used to be, it changed from a bustling hub to a place of leisure where people could stroll around to admire the vast scenery or enjoy the cool shade under williow trees.
Shichahai is always a good place for local residents' recreational life, and in the last 200 years, many governmental officers, celebrities, monks and nuns chose to build mansions, temples and nunneries in it. Thus, its attraction lies not only in its natural beauty, but also in the historical value of its architecture. The most famous ones among these historical buildings are Prince Gong's Mansion (Gong Wang Fu), Price Chun's Mansion (Chun Wang Fu), the Former Residence of Song Qing Ling, the Former Residence of Mei Lan Fang (the well-known Peking Opera master) and Guang Hua Temple.
The greatest point of interest in it today is its residences, Hutong and Courtyard. Visiting Hutongs by pedicab has become a popular activity for visitors from China and abroad. The most famous is Jin Si Tao, which actually includes 18 hutongs and keeps the original layout. Another one is Skewed Tobacco Pouch Street (Yandai Xiejie), meaning an oblique street which looks like a long-stemmed pipe. This street used to be a famous street selling long-stemmed pipes. In the east area, South Gong and Drum Lane (Nanluogu Xiang) is an interesting hutong renowned for its long history, culture, specialty stores and distinctive foods.
People can also find two Old Brands here. One is Kao Rou Ji, a restaurant selling roast meat, which has a history of over 150 years. The other is Bao Du Zhang, which has sold cooked tripe of sheep for four generations.
By visiting it, visitors will get an authentic taste of the style and features of Old Beijing.
As it is close to the Bell and Drum Towers and the north gate of Beihai Park, visitors can take buses reaching either of them and then visit Shichahai:
Take Subway Line 6 and get off at Beihai North Station. Get out of the station from Exit B and walk along Di'anmen Xi Dajie to the east till you see the gate of Hehua Market (Lotus Market).
Take Bus 612, 90, 701, 118, 204, 623, 42, 107, 13, 111,609 and get off at Beihai Beimen (north gate of Beihai Park) or 60, 124 at Gu Lou (Drum Tower). Beihai Beimen Station is close to Lianhua Market where there are many pubs and the rickshaw tour starts. Gu Lou Station is close to Yandai Xiejie.
Beijing Bus / Subway Search
Shichahai Biking: starts from the Drum Tower and ends at Dashibei Hutong
Shichahai and Houhai Hutongs: One day trip to savor the traditional lifestyle of Beijing
Beijing Bell and Drum Towers
Lying on the north-south axis line of Beijing City, Bell and Drum Towers are visibly prominent constructions and represent the symbol of this old city. They were built in 1272 and rebuilt twice after two fires. At one period in history they were the time-telling center of the capital city during the Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties (1271-1911).
The bell and the drum were originally used as musical instruments in China. Afterward, however, they were used for telling time. As early as in the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220), there was 'a morning bell and a dusk drum'. Telling the time by them played an important role in helping people live and work regularly when there was no other means to keep track of the time. As a result, the towers holding the bell and the drum became public architectures, and were widely constructed in almost every city throughout the country since the Han Dynasty. In the history of their construction, they are the largest and highest. Their layout is unique, in that they were placed fore-and-aft, not as the traditional sense of standing right-and-left horizontally.
This brick and stone made building has two floors: there is an arched door on all four sides on the first floor, and you can go up to the second floor through stone stairs. The same exists on the first floor. An arched door was also built on the four sides of the second floor. Additionally, there is a stone window on each side of the four doors. Hanging on an eight-square wooden frame of the second floor, the bell in it is the largest and heaviest in China. It is 23 feet (7.02 meters) high including the pendants, with a weight of 63 tons. It was made of copper, and you can hear its round and clear sound from far away. The two 2-yard-long (2 meters) wooden logs hanging sideward are used to ring it.
Located 110 yards (91 meters) south to the Bell Tower, it was placed on a 13-feet-high (4 meters) stone and brick base. It is 153 feet (46.7 meters) high, a little bit lower than the Bell Tower that is 157 feet (47.9 meters) high. It is also a two-storey building; the first floor contains the China Committee for the Promotion of the Minority Art. The second floor contains the exhibition area. Originally, there was one big drum and 24 smaller ones, but only the big remains. The method of beating it is to beat it quickly for 18 times and then slowly for 18 times. Altogether there are three rounds and 108 tollings. People knock the bell and the drum 108 times, because 108 times represent one year in ancient times.
Telling time by them was abolished after Pu Yi, the last emperor of China, left the Forbidden City. Since the New Year's Eve of 1990, the sweet sound of the bell that had disappeared for a long time began to ring out in the city. Being drowsy for nearly a century, the drum was also beaten again on the New Year's Eve of 2001. It has been beaten four times a day, for 15 minutes at a time since January 1st in 2002. From then on, every New Year Eve, they are beaten together 108 times to send a blessing to the people.
Their location has been flourishing since the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), when they were just standing behind the imperial palace. It was the busy downtown district there then, full of storefronts and businesses. Thanks to the further developing of the businesses, the street in front of the Drum Tower became the busiest shopping street in the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties. During the Republican Period of China (1911-1949), many have-nots (impoverished people), along with merchants selling handcrafted items (handicraftsmen) and vendors selling snacks and local food items (snack stands) swarmed the place between them, which attracted people from all walks of life at that time.Today, when visiting, you can climb onto them to have a birds-eye view to admire the entire city, and even take part in the activity of knocking them, appreciating all kinds of folk-customs, such as the dragon and lion dance, and other folk-custom exhibitions.