Great Hall of the People

Forbidden City & Dongcheng Central

Monolithic and intimidating, the Stalinist Great Hall of the People (1959) houses the highest organ of state power, the National People’s Congress (NPC). While few travellers go inside, it's worth the diversion to marvel at the 10,000-seat auditorium with a red star embedded in a galaxy of ceiling lights. The ticket office is on the south side of the building and bags must be checked.

The Great Hall of the People was built on a site previously occupied by Taichang Temple, the Jinyiwei (Ming dynasty secret service) and the Ministry of Justice. One of Mao's '10 Great Buildings' (十大建筑, Shí Dà Jiànzhú) built in 1959 to commemorate 10 years of the People's Republic of China, the Great Hall of the People stares out across Tian'anmen Sq at another of its kin, the National Museum of China – originally the China Revolutionary History Museum.

The 1959 Soviet-style architecture (which features on the ¥100 note) is a fitting symbol of China’s huge bureaucracy. The NPC meet in full for around two weeks of the year to rubber stamp new legislation (only a handful of bills have ever been rejected). Note that the building can be closed to tourists without notice when the political circus is in town.

Inside you can peek into several of its lifeless rooms named after the provinces of the Chinese universe. Also on show is the banquet room where US President Richard Nixon dined in 1972, and the 10,000-seat auditorium and its ceiling-embedded red star – though you'll have to pay an extra ¥60 to get your photo taken in order to see the full span of the ceiling. Although you have to check bags, cameras are admitted.

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