Political tourism in Beijing
July 16, 2011 11:07 AM   Subscribe

What would be some "political tourism" things I could do with a few free days in Beijing?

I'm a USian, and mostly a flag-waving Democrat republic-lover. I'll be in Beijing this Wednesday through next Wednesday for a conference and will have a few free days to do whatever.

Now, with the understanding that: [1] I'm drastically unprepared for China and have no idea how to get around, how to read signs or bus schedules or whatever, and am generally going to be stone-cold clueless unless I'm in my hotel or the conference hotel, [2] I'll be getting involved in some anti-labor camp activism after this trip, and [3] I'm interested in but undereducated about Communism ... what'd be a good thing or two to check out to get the flavor of the Soviet Union of the 21st century? Of course I'm going to buy some corny Mao trinkets to horrify people with back in the US. Thanks.
posted by TheManChild2000 to Travel & Transportation around Beijing, China (3 answers total)
"... the flavor of the Soviet Union of the 21st century? Of course I'm going to buy some corny Mao trinkets to horrify people with back in the US."

Holy bajoley, with lines like that in your question, I'm tempted to tell you to simply stay in your hotel room, and read some books and magazines describing modern China. Phrases like "Soviet Union of the 21st century" aren't going to get you any farther in today's Beijing than "carrying pictures of Chairman Mao" are going to get you back home.

Why not shelve your personal, local politcs (because as my ex-Congressman, and consumate politician Tip O'Neill was fond of observing "All politics is local.") and just be a tourist, interested in getting as much of a look at modern China as you can? Don't miss the Beijing Museum of Tap Water, or the China Red Sandalwood Museum, whatever you do. If time permits, the China Sports Museum could use your custom, and the Olympic area is pretty much deserted these days, as far as tourist traffic is concerned, so you'll wait in no lines. The Beijing China Science & Technology Museum is heavy on state propaganda, if you want to point-and-laugh, but it is also a pretty nice place. And it's a good reminder that China has plans and activities for manned space flight, and the good ol' USA, as of July 21-23 or so, will be out of that business for the foreseeable future.

But if you can't bring yourself to drop the attitude, don't go to the China Museum of the Chinese People's Revolution or see any Beijing Opera companies, or risk walking around on your own and eating street food that is not approved by the NYT. Don't buy any art work, don't get a street massage, and don't rent an electrically assisted bicycle to tool around around, in the world's busiest traffic.
posted by paulsc at 5:19 PM on July 16, 2011 [4 favorites]

I feel that you are confusing China with North Korea.
posted by dontjumplarry at 8:36 PM on July 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

politics is all around you - not just the monuments. rent a bike, get lost in some hutongs with a business card for your hotel in a pocket. stay away from the touristy stuff - i'd even say forget the forbidden city. for the political stuff go see the embalmed Mao (get there crazy early) and visit some museums, especially the military museum.
posted by trinarian at 8:17 AM on July 19, 2011

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