On the east side of Tiananmen Square sits this massive museum, its dozens of halls filled with rare artifacts and antiquities. The exhibitions span Chinese history, beginning nearly two million years ago, with two teeth belonging to Yuanmou Man, up through 1912, the final year of China’s last imperial dynasty, the Qing. The permanent collection has more than a million pieces, including bronzes, coins, porcelain and ceramic objects, tools, and even clothing. Especially impressive are the cases of jade pieces, many several hundred years old, which shine bright as ever. The museum can feel a bit overwhelming but, as it’s free, you can return as many times as you like, taking it in in more manageable bites.

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This sprawling museum has a collection that will take nearly the whole day to fully experience. We advise buying a guidebook (with maps!) and plotting your own route, as English signage is, at times, inconsistent. The ancient Chinese exhibits are beautifully presented, with plenty of historic objects on display. The sequential flow of the exhibits allow foreign visitors to make some sense out of the chaotic nature of Chinese history. Watch out for the propaganda-laden modern section, which is certainly not to everyone’s taste. Tickets are free, with passport.

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