China National Film Museum
Located just east of Caochangdi, the China National Film Museum isn’t likely to attract a lot of casual visitors. But those who make the trek are rewarded by what purports to be the largest professional film museum in the world; a sprawling hunk of geometrical architecture that boasts 20 permanent exhibition halls. The first ten take you through the history of Chinese film, which is rendered mostly through hokey dioramas and panels of Chinese text (though each hall does open with an English summary). Of greater interest are halls 11-20, which get into the more technical aspects of filmmaking, featuring sets, antique cameras and a special effects area. At the end, treat yourself to a screening at one of the museum’s five cinemas.
China Printing Museum
Don’t miss A 3D screening at the 21-metre-high IMAX hall.
Estimated time Two hours (not including film).
This small, ramshackle museum does little to honour one of China’s great inventions, but scholars and those with a niche interest will get a kick out of the displays demonstrating different forms of printing from 200 BC onwards. Woodcuts and tools from across the dynasties are on display here, the most fascinating being the primitive scribblings on tor toise shell. The second-floor exhibition on printing money also features some interesting-looking machinery but boards here are in Mandarin only.
Estimated time One hour.
Don’t miss The nearby basement (separate from the main building) is packed with more ‘modern’ printing machinery from 1860 to the present day.
The Museum of the War of Chinese People's Resistance Against Japanese Aggression
Located at the site of the 1937 Marco Polo Bridge Incident (the conflict that sparked the Second Sino-Japanese War), the Museum of the War of Chinese People’s Resistance Against Japanese Aggression is a must-visit for those interested in ‘history with Chinese characteristics’. Yes, it’s naked propaganda, but the tone of the museum is as tasteful as it’s possible to get, given the subject matter, and the artefacts and info boards are genuinely engaging and informative.
Estimated time Two-to-three hours.
Don’t miss The original script of Mao Zedong’s essay ‘On a Protracted War’.
The Capital Museum
The Capital Museum (above) tells the story of Beijing from when it was a few rice paddies right up until the founding of the People’s Republic, and tells it well. The chronological order of the artefacts on the first floor – laid out in a huge timeline – helps visitors understand the narrative of this great city we call home, while upstairs the ‘Exhibition on Folk Customs’ adds some colour, with lifelike figures set in traditional scenes adorned with bright, festive clothing. Estimated time
Don’t miss Climb to the top floor and walk down the spiral walkway to see jade, porcelain, traditional watercolours and calligraphy.
Red Star Erguotou Museum
The Red Star Erguotou Museum – way up in Huairou district – is worth the journey. Incredibly clean and well-maintained, the entire complex is a factory that’s still used to distil vats and vats of Erguotou – a brand of the throat-burning clear spirit, baijiu. At the entrance a (Mandarin-speaking) guide greets you and takes you on a journey through Erguotou’s brewing process and extensive history, and even allows you to sample a bit (if you can handle it). There is also, inexplicably, a kids’ funhouse. Estimated time
Guided tours last 30 mins.
Don’t miss An obscure collection of 1950s photographs of Mao Zedong.
The Bee Museum
Tucked away in the north-west corner of the Beijing Botanical Garden is a small museum that tells you everything you need to know – and perhaps a little bit more – about honey bees. The five small rooms are full of floor-to-ceiling info boards (mostly in Mandarin) with everything from their origins, evolution and habitat to a detailed explanation of beeswax and the honey production processes. It closes for winter in the middle of this month [November], however, so head out there soon! Estimated time
30 minutes for the museum itself; up to three hours with the surrounding gardens.
Don’t miss The exhibition of real bee hives and honeycombs.