Beijing Language and Culture Learning Resources

Beijing icon with text - 75 x 75This page features Mandarin vocabulary terms and cultural information relevant to places and attractions in Beijing that are featured on our tours. For additional information on learning Chinese, especially while traveling in China, visit our Chinese Language Resources Page. See photos of Beijing attractions and get information such as tours that feature Beijing, Beijing travel tips, and Beijing-related links on our Beijing Photo Gallery and Information Page.

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Click on the pinyin pronunciation key for each word below to hear its pronunciation.

北京 (Běijīng): Beijing, capital city of China, population 19,612,368 (2010)

Tiananmen Square and Its Environs

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天安门广场 (Tiānānmén Guǎngchǎng): Tiananmen Square, large public square in central Beijing in front of the Gate of Heavenly Peace; third-largest city square in the world

Beijing - Tiananmen - Craig Maccubbin - 228 x 120
Tiananmen, the Gate of Heavenly Peace
(photo by Craig Maccubbin)
  • 天安门 (Tiānānmén)
    Gate of Heavenly Peace, southern entrance to the Imperial City, built during the reign of the Yongle Emperor (永乐帝, Yǒng Lè Dì) in 1420 CE; the characters 天 (heaven) and 安 (peace) were meant to suggest that the emperor’s mandate to pacify and rule the nation came from heaven.
  • 皇城 (Huáng Chéng)
    Imperial City, inner city area of Beijing during the Ming Dynasty (明朝, Míng Cháo, 1368-1644 CE) and Qing Dynasty (清朝, Qīng Cháo, 1644-1911 CE), with the Forbidden City at its center; originally enclosed within a wall
  • 毛泽东 (Máo Zédōng)
    Mao Zedong (1893-1976), Communist revolutionary leader and founder of the People’s Republic of China, whose portrait adorns the front of Tiananmen; also known as Chairman Mao (毛主席, Máo Zhǔxí)
  • 人民英雄纪念碑 (Rénmín Yīngxióng Jìniànbēi)
    Monument to the People’s Heroes, 125-foot obelisk on the southern end of the square, just north of the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall
  • 毛主席纪念堂 (Máo Zhǔxí Jìniàntáng)
    Chairman Mao Memorial Hall or Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, building in which Mao’s remains are on display
  • 人民大会堂 (Rénmín Dàhuìtáng)
    Great Hall of the People, government building used for legislative and ceremonial activities on the western side of the square
  • 正阳门 (Zhèngyángmén)
    Zhengyangmen (literally, “Gate of the Zenith Sun”), gate south of Tiananmen Square built in 1419; known colloquially as the Front Gate (前门, Qiánmén)

国家大剧院 (Guójiā Dà Jùyuàn): National Centre for the Performing Arts, also called the National Grand Theatre (a literal translation of the Chinese name) and known colloquially as “the Giant Egg” (大巨蛋, Dà Jù Dàn); designed by French architect Paul Andreu

Beijing - National Centre for the Performing Arts - Hui Lan - 266 x 120
National Centre for the Performing Arts, Beijing
(photo by Hui Lan)
  • 歌剧院 (gējùyuàn): opera house; the Centre contains a 2,416-seat hall for opera performances
  • 音乐厅 (yīnyuètīng): concert hall; the Centre contains a 2,017-seat hall for musical performances
  • 戏剧场 (xìjùchǎng): theatre; the Centre contains a 1,040-seat theatre for dramatic performances

长安街 (Cháng’ān Jiē): Chang’an Avenue, major road in Beijing passing between Tiananmen and Tiananmen Square; 长安 means “eternal peace” and is the former name of Xi’an when it was the capital of Imperial China

  • 王府井 (Wángfǔjǐng)
    Wangfujing (literally, “Well of the Princes’ Mansions”), an internationally famous shopping district located on Chang’an Avenue; Wangfujing features a pedestrian street (步行街, bùxíngjiē) area
  • 北京站 (Běijīng Zhàn)
    Beijing Railway Station, a major transit hub on Chang’an Avenue
The Forbidden City and Its Environs

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故宫 (Gù Gōng): the Forbidden City, Imperial China’s ceremonial and political center, the main residence of the emperor during the Ming and Qing Dynasties from 1416-1911 CE, and the world’s largest palace complex; this official name more literally means Former Palace or Former Imperial Palace

Beijing - Forbidden City - Hall of Supreme Harmony - Richard Fisher - 160 x 120
The Forbidden City’s
Hall of Supreme Harmony

(photo by Richard Fisher)
  • 紫禁城 (Zǐ Jìn Chéng)
    literally, Purple Forbidden City, the older Chinese name from which the common English name is derived
  • 永乐帝 (Yǒng Lè Dì)
    Yongle Emperor, Ming Dynasty emperor who commissioned the construction of both the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven
  • 礼记 (Lǐ Jì)
    Book of Rites, ancient text upon which the layout of the Forbidden City was based; also called the Classic of Rites or Record of Rites
Important Buildings and Gates in the Forbidden City
  • 午门 (Wǔ Mén): Meridian Gate, the southern entrance to the Forbidden City, opening onto the Outer Court (外朝, Wài Cháo)
  • 东华门 (Dōng Huá Mén), 西华门 (Xī Huá Mén): East Glorious Gate and West Glorious Gate, the gates on either side of the southern end of the complex
  • 太和门 (Tàihé Mén): Gate of Supreme Harmony, gate that opens onto the Hall of Supreme Harmony
  • 三大殿 (Sān Dàdiàn): Three Great Halls, the centrally located halls: Supreme Harmony, Central Harmony, and Preserving Harmony
  • 太和殿 (Tàihé Diàn): Hall of Supreme Harmony, the Forbidden City’s largest hall; used for imperial coronations and wedding ceremonies
  • 中和殿 (Zhōnghé Diàn): Hall of Central Harmony, used by the emperor for resting and preparation on ceremonial occasions
  • 保和殿 (Bǎohé Diàn): Hall of Preserving Harmony, used for rehearsals of ceremonies, banquets, and the final stage of the Imperial Examination (科举, Kējǔ)
  • 乾清宫 (Qiánqīng Gōng), also written 干清宫: Palace of Heavenly Purity, the largest hall in the Inner Court (内廷, Nèi Tíng), the northern end of the complex
  • 神武门 (Shénwǔ Mén): Gate of Divine Might, the northern entrance to the Forbidden City
  • 御花园 (Yù Huāyuán): Imperial Garden, garden in the Inner Court, originally a private retreat for the family of the emperor
  • 故宫博物院 (Gù Gōng Bówùyuàn): Palace Museum, museum located within the Forbidden City with a collection of more than 1.8 million artifacts
  • 中山公园 (Zhōngshān Gōngyuán)
    Zhongshan Park, located inside Tiananmen and immediately to the south of the Forbidden City; named in honor of Sun Yat-sen (孙中山, Sūn Zhōngshān)
Imperial View Pavilion in the Forbidden City's Imperial Garden, Beijing, China - photo by Josephine Lim
Imperial View Pavilion in the Forbidden City
(photo by Josephine Lim)
  • 劳动人民文化宫 (Láodòng Rénmín Wénhuà Gōng)
    Working People’s Cultural Palace, located to the east of Zhongshan Park; formerly the Imperial Ancestral Temple or Imperial Shrine of Family (太庙, Tài Miào)
  • 景山公园 (Jǐngshān Gōngyuán)
    Prospect Hill Park, located immediately to the north of the Forbidden City; the park’s artificial hill, which was built to protect the Forbidden City in accordance with principles of feng shui, is also known as Feng Shui Hill (风水山, Fēng Shuǐ Shān) or Coal Hill (煤山, Méishān)
  • 北海公园 (Běihǎi Gōngyuán)
    Beihai Park, located to the northwest of the Forbidden City; “Beihai,” which literally means “Northern Sea,” is part of a chain of lakes that also includes Shichahai, Zhonghai (“Central Sea”), and Nanhai (“Southern Sea”)
  • 中南海 (Zhōngnánhǎi)
    Zhongnanhai (“Central and Southern Seas”), headquarters of the Communist Party of China immediately to the west of the Forbidden City
Shichahai and Its Environs

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什刹海 (Shíchà Hǎi): Shichahai, a park area to the northwest of the Forbidden City featuring three artificial lakes constructed during the Jin Dynasty (金朝, Jīn Cháo, 1115-1234 CE); once the northernmost part of the Grand Canal (大运河, Dà Yùnhé)

Street calligraphy in the Shichahai area of Beijing, China
“Street calligraphy” at Shichahai
(photo by Shizhao)
  • 前海 (Qiánhǎi), 西海 (Xīhǎi), 后海 (Hòuhǎi)
    the three lakes that make up the Shichahai area: Qianhai (“Front Sea”), Xihai (“Western Sea”), Houhai (“Rear Sea,” though 后 can also mean “queen”)
  • 恭王府 (Gōng Wáng Fǔ)
    Prince Gong’s Mansion, an extravagant residential compound near Shichaihai built in 1777, during the Qing Dynasty (清朝, Qīng Cháo, 1644-1911 CE)
  • 醇亲王府 (Chún Qīn Wáng Fǔ)
    Prince Chun’s Mansion, a residential compound on the shore of Houhai
  • 宋庆龄故居 (Sòng Qìnglíng Gùjū)
    Former Residence of Soong Ching-ling, a museum on the shore of Houhai that was formerly a residential compound used by Soong Ching-ling, wife of Sun Yat-sen (孙中山, Sūn Zhōngshān)
  • 银锭桥 (Yíndìng Qiáo)
    Yinding Bridge, bridge between Qianhai and Houhai; yinding means “silver ingot”
Beijing’s Hutong

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胡同 (hútòng): narrow streets or alleys that pass between traditional courtyard residences called siheyuan; the term hutong originated during the Yuan Dynasty (元朝, Yuán Cháo, 1271-1368 CE)

Note: The character “同” is usually pronounced tóng, but in this context it is pronounced tòng.

Beijing - hutong - Ellen - 187 x 140
Hutong, Beijing
(photo by Ellen)
  • 四合院 (sìhéyuàn)
    “Chinese quadrangle,” a compound composed of a courtyard surrounded by four buildings; this architectural pattern was historically used not only for residences, but also for temples, businesses, and government offices; although they were often opulent homes for wealthy families, many remaining siheyuan residences lack modern amenities
  • 正房 (zhèngfáng)
    main house, the building facing the south and opposite the gate in a siheyuan compound; it receives the most sunlight and has the best position according to fengshui principles
  • 厢房 (xiāngfáng)
    side-houses or side-rooms; the two buildings on the east and west sides in a siheyuan compound
  • 影壁 (yǐngbì)
    “spirit screen,” a screen wall that is usually placed inside the gate for privacy and as a defense against evil spirits
  • 门环 (ménhuán)
    door knocker (literally, “door ring”); copper door knockers are a common feature of siheyuan gates
  • 石狮子 (shíshīzi)
    stone lion; pairs of such “guardian lions” are commonly placed outside siheyuan gates and are a common feature of Chinese architecture in general
  • 抱鼓石 (bàogǔshí)
    “drum stone,” a common decorative feature of siheyuan
  • 三轮车 (sānlúnchē)
    pedicab (literally, “three-wheeled vehicle”); used for tours of hutong areas in Beijing
  • 郭沫若故居 (Guō Mòruò Gùjū)
    Guo Moruo’s Former Residence (also called the Guo Moruo Memorial), a preserved sìhéyuàn residence near Shichahai and Qiangan Hutong (千竿胡同, Qiāngān Hútòng); Guo Moruo was an important 20th-century writer, historian, archaeologist, and government official
The Great Wall of China

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万里长城 (Wàn Lǐ Cháng Chéng): Great Wall of China (literally, “long wall of ten thousand li”), actually not one wall but a series of fortifications extending across northern China built during various dynasties as a defense against invaders, among other purposes; usually referred to simply as 长城 (Cháng Chéng)

Beijing - Great Wall - Badaling - Rafael Gomez - 187 x 140
The Great Wall at Badaling
(photo by Rafael Gomez)
  • 居庸关 (Jūyōng Guān)
    Juyongguan or Juyong Pass, a mountain pass northwest of Beijing through which the Wall passes
  • 云台 (Yún Tái)
    Cloud Platform, a gate at Juyongguan constructed of white marble and decorated with Buddhist carvings of figures, symbols, and texts
  • 八达岭 (Bādálǐng)
    Badaling, the most-visited section of the Wall; further northwest of Beijing from Juyongguan
  • 山海关 (Shānhǎi Guān)
    Shanhaiguan or Shanhai Pass, the eastern endpoint of the Wall in Hebei Province (河北省, Héběi Shěng); shanhai means “Mountain and Sea”
  • 嘉峪关 (Jiāyù Guān)
    Jiayuguan or Jiayu Pass, location of the westernmost extant section of the Wall in Gansu Province (甘肃省, Gānsù Shěng); jiayu means “excellent valley”
  • 春秋时代 (Chūn-Qiū Shídài)
    Spring and Autumn Period (776-471 BCE or 776-403 BCE), the historical period during which the earliest sections of the Wall were built
  • 明朝 (Míng Cháo)
    Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 CE), the period during which most of the extant wall was built; a total of 5,500 miles of wall were built during the Ming
  • 丝绸之路 (Sīchóu Zhī Lù)
    Silk Road, ancient trade route protected by some stretches of the Wall in western China
  • 匈奴 (Xiōngnú)
    Xiongnu, nomadic people traditionally identified with the Huns whose military conflicts with China during the Qin Dynasty (秦朝, Qín Cháo, 221-207 BCE) led to the building of long stretches of the Wall
The Temple of Heaven

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天坛 (Tiān Tán): Temple of Heaven (literally, “Altar of Heaven”), temple complex completed in 1420 and used by emperors of the Ming Dynasty (明朝, Míng Cháo, 1368-1644 CE) and the Qing Dynasty (清朝, Qīng Cháo, 1644-1911 CE)

Beijing - Temple of Heaven - Saad Akhtar - 160 x 120
The Temple of Heaven, Beijing
(photo by Saad Akhtar)
  • 天子 (Tiān Zǐ)
    Son of Heaven; the traditional term for the Emperor of China reflecting his possession of the Mandate of Heaven (天命, Tiān Mìng), divine approval of his right to rule
  • 永乐帝 (Yǒng Lè Dì)
    Yongle Emperor, Ming Dynasty emperor who commissioned the construction of both the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven
  • 乾隆帝 (Qián Lóng Dì)
    Qianlong Emperor, Qing Dynasty emperor who renovated and expanded the Temple of Heaven complex
  • 昭亨门 (Zhāohēng Mén)
    Zhaoheng Gate, original name of the main entrance gate on the southern side of the complex
  • 祈年殿 (Qínián Diàn)
    Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, iconic triple-eaved circular building on a built on a three-tiered marble foundation; the building most people think of as the Temple of Heaven
  • 皇穹宇 (Huáng Qióng Yǔ)
    Imperial Vault of Heaven, circular building similar in appearance to the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests but with only one level of eaves
  • 回音壁 (Huíyīn Bì)
    Echo Wall, smooth stone wall surrounding the Imperial Vault of Heaven used to amplify sound
  • 丹陛桥 (Dānbì Qiáo)
    Vermilion Steps Bridge, raised walkway that connects the Imperial Vault of Heaven to the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests
  • 三音石 (Sān Yīn Shí)
    Triple-Sound Stone or Three-Tone Stone, specially located paving stone from which three distinct echoes can be heard
  • 圜丘坛 (Yuánqiū Tán)
    Circular Mound Altar, round, three-tiered marble platform where the emperor conducted prayers for good weather
  • 九 (jiǔ)
    nine, the number associated with the emperor and incorporated into many architectural features of the Temple of Heaven and other imperial sites
Olympic Green

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夏季奥林匹克运动会 (Xiàjì Àolínpǐkè Yùndònghuì): Summer Olympics, Summer Olympic Games; often abbreviated 奥运会 (Àoyùnhuì) or just 奥运 (Àoyùn)

Beijing - Bird's Nest 2 - Martin Dougiamas - 160 x 120
Bird’s Nest, Beijing
(photo by Martin Dougiamas)
  • 鸟巢 (Niǎo Cháo)
    Bird’s Nest, nickname for the National Stadium (国家体育馆, Guójiā Tǐyùguǎn) in Beijing that was the site of many events during the 2008 Summer Olympics; the nickname comes from the outer appearance of the stadium
  • 陶艺 (táoyì)
    the art of ceramics, the study of which inspired the design of the Bird’s Nest; the term 陶瓷 (táocí), literally “pottery and porcelain,” is a general term for ceramics
  • 水立方 (Shuǐ Lìfāng)
    Water Cube, nickname for the National Aquatics Center (国家游泳中心, Guójiā Yóuyǒng Zhōngxīn); the nickname comes from the building’s cuboid structure and bubble-covered exterior, as well as the fact that it is a facility where swimming events are held
  • 奧林匹克公園 (Àolínpǐkè Gōngyuán)
    Olympic Green, park where the Bird’s Nest, Water Cube, and other 2008 Olympics facilities are located
The Place

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世贸天阶 (Shìmào Tiānjiē): The Place, a popular new shopping and entertainment complex in Beijing whose fantastical “skyscreen” ceiling is the 3rd-largest LCD screen in the world

Giant LCD skyscreen at The Place, a shopping center in Beijing, China - photo by Herry Lawford
Giant LCD “skyscreen” at The Place
(photo by Herry Lawford)
  • 梦幻天幕 (Mènghuàn Tiānmù)
    literally, “Canopy of Dreams” or “Canopy of Illusions,” the name of The Place’s LCD skyscreen, which is 250 meters long and 30 meters wide and features breathtaking scenes and video sequences
Tongrentang and Traditional Chinese Medicine

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同仁堂 (Tóng Rén Táng): Tongrentang, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) pharmaceutical company established in 1669 during the Qing Dynasty (清朝, Qīng Cháo) and appointed sole supplier of herbal medicines to the royal court by Emperor Yongzheng (雍正帝, Yōngzhèng Dì) in 1723

Storefront of the TCM pharmacy Tongrentang in Beijing, China - photo by FHKE
Tongrentang storefront in Beijing
(photo by FHKE)
  • 神农本草经 (Shénnóng Běncǎo Jīng)
    Shennong’s Materia Medica or The Divine Farmer’s Materia Medica, ancient herbal medicine text
  • 黄帝内经 (Huáng Dì Nèi Jīng)
    The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine or The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon, ancient text that formed the basis of Chinese medical theory
  • 本草纲目 (Běncǎo Gāngmù)
    Compendium of Materia Medica, comprehensive text on the medicinal qualities of plants, animals, minerals, and other substances compiled by Li Shizhen (李时珍, Lǐ Shízhēn) in the Ming Dynasty (明朝, Míng Cháo, 1368-1644 CE)

Traditional Chinese Medicine-Related Terms

  • 气 (): qi or ch’i; internal energy, the primary basis of Chinese medical theory and martial arts (commonly seen in its traditional form, 氣)
  • 经络 (jīngluò): meridian; energy channel in the body through which qi flows
  • 针灸 (zhēnjiǔ): acupuncture; therapy using needles to control the flow of qi
  • 拔罐 (báguàn): fire cupping, a form of therapy in which a vacuum is created in a cup held against the skin to promote the flow of blood and qi
  • 推拿 (tuīná): acupressure; Chinese massage therapy (literally, “push and grasp”)
  • 气功 (qìgōng): qigong or ch’i kung; system of physical practices involving breathing and movement used for cultivating and controlling qi
  • 太极拳 (tàijíquán): taijiquan or t’ai chi ch’uan, a form of qigong-based martial arts performed for the maintenance of good health in addition to self-defense
  • 降火 (jiànghuǒ): to decrease internal heat, a health-promoting characteristic of certain herbs and medicines
  • 驱寒 (qūhán): to expel internal cold, a health-promoting characteristic of certain herbs and medicines
  • 排毒 (páidú): to expel poison (from one’s body), a goal of certain TCM treatments
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