Look at any pre-1949 map of Beijing and you’ll see a city surrounded by, and divided up between vast stretches of ancient city wall. They were immense in size, stretched for around 40km in total, and were punctuated with fabulously imposing gateways which allowed access from one part of the city to another. That they were torn down so recently (1950s) in order to modernise the city’s road system is, for some people, an inexcusable act of heritage destruction. If they still remained, there is little doubt they would now be one of China’s most cherished sights.
Thankfully, there is one small section that survives as part of a recently renovated and nicely landscaped park. The wall stretches for about one kilometre here and you can stroll alongside it or sit on the grass and imagine how this once divided the Inner City from the Outer City. To give you a sense of perspective, see this map of old Beijing. The Ming City Wall Ruins Park is the stretch of wall that you can see between Chongwenmen and Dongbianmen.
Beijing Main Railway Station is directly north of this stretch of wall, and the train line north of the wall is still in operation. There was, for a short time, a track on the south side too which ran the old Beijing loop line, and which passed through the wall under a specially made archway, which you now walk through in order to access the Southeast Corner Watchtower. Halfway along this narrow park is one of the loop line’s original signal stations, built in 1901. It now houses a small (pretty expensive) teahouse.
To see some fabulous old photos of the city wall and city gates, don’t miss visiting the Red Gate Gallery inside the Southeast Corner Watchtower at the far eastern end of the wall. You can also walk along a small renovated stretch of the wall here.
There aren’t a lot of food options near here, but a short walk south brings you to a tiny place that does delicious Guilin noodles. Otherwise, hop on the subway at Chongwenmen and go one stop to Qianmen from where you can walk to the Dazhalan area, which is packed with cheap restaurants.