Beijing is the capital of the People’s Republic of China. It is a huge city, yet China’s only third largest in terms of population, after Chongqing and Shanghai.
Beijing literally means ‘Northern Capital’. It is situated at the northern tip of the North China Plain. The city is surrounded by mountains to the north, northwest and west. The Great Wall stretches along the northern part of the Beijing Municipality. The heart of the sprawling city is formed by the Tian'anmen (Gate of Heavenly Peace) and Tian'anmen Square. The city is a major transportation hub, political, educational and cultural center, whereas China’s economic centers are Hong Kong and Shanghai.
Beijing continues to grow and develop economically. But progress is accompanied by big environmental issues. Being a huge urban sprawl, it suffers from heavy pollution and poor air quality from industry and traffic. The city is also troubled by seasonal dust storms, coming from the deserts in the northern and northwestern China.
In 2008 the city was a host for the Summer Olympic Games.
Architecturally, Beijing has three faces: the traditional architecture of imperial China, the Soviet-style blocks and the modern skyscrapers. All blend in a striking mixture of old and new.
Beijing climate is influenced by the East Asian monsoon and by the Siberian anticyclone, so it has a rather extreme climate: hot, wet summers and very cold, dry winters. Summers are characterized by high temperatures, reaching over 40°C, and heavy rainstorms. Summers get the most precipitation; the wettest month is August, while the hottest is July. Winters are very cold. Average temperatures range from -7 to -4 °C. The coldest month is generally January. Beijing is also exposed to occasional sandstorms from northern China’s deserts. The city also suffers from high air pollution due to industry and traffic.
January average temperature -3.3 deg Celsius, 2.5 mm rainfall February average temperature -0.5 deg Celsius, 5.1 mm rainfall March average temperature 6 deg Celsius, 10.2 mm rainfall April average temperature 14 deg Celsius, 25.4 mm rainfall May average temperature 20 deg Celsius, 27.9 mm rainfall June average temperature 24 deg Celsius, 71.1 mm rainfall July average temperature 25.5 deg Celsius, 175.3 mm rainfall August average temperature 25 deg Celsius, 182.9 mm rainfall September average temperature 20.5 deg Celsius, 48.3 mm rainfall October average temperature 14 deg Celsius, 17.8 mm rainfall November average temperature 5 deg Celsius, 5.1 mm rainfall December average temperature -1 deg Celsius, 2.5 mm rainfall
The Beijing Capital International Airport is located 26 km to the northeast from the city’s central districts. It handles most domestic and nearly all international air traffic. en.bcia.com.cn/
Taxi: Most people use taxis. Have your destination written out in Chinese letters to avoid any difficulties. The ride to the city costs around ¥70-120. Make sure the meter is on. Airport shuttle bus: this is the cheapest transfer to the city; several lines are serving different locations in Beijing and leave every 10 to 30 minutes. en.bcia.com.cn/traffic-manual/airport-bus.shtml Airport Express Train: This is the most recent acquisition; it was opened in July 2008 and runs a one-way loop, connecting the airport’s three terminals with Sanyuanqiao and Dongzhimen.
Good railway connections exist with Moscow, Pyongyang and Ulaan Baatar. The trains arrive at the Beijing Train Station. The city has many railway stations. Trains for Hong Kong and Vietnam leave from Beijing West Train Station.
The subway is quick, efficient and easy to use. It operates between 5 am to midnight. It can get very crowded during rush hours. Station maps and signs are also in English. There are nine lines in operation now, and additional nine to open by 2015. www.bjsubway.com/
The city is flat and all major streets have bike lanes. Getting around with a bicycle is often quicker than a car, bus or taxi. Bikes can be rented at major hotels and bike rental companies.
The bus network is vast and cheap. It covers the entire city but it is difficult to use by non-Chinese speakers. Bus drivers do not speak English and only a few bus lines have names in English as well, but no bus stops are marked in English. Buses are very crowded so keep an eye on pickpockets. Buses under no. 300 serve the inner city center. Buses 300 and up connect the center with more distant sections of the city. www.bjbus.com/
Taxis are the best way of getting around. They are effective and cheap by Western standards. Traffic in Beijing, on the other hand is a bit of downside: there are often severe traffic jams. Make sure the meter is on.
Renting a car in Beijing is definitely not recommended. Rental is extremely expensive, traffic jams are incessant and driving in the city is a difficult venture – language barrier included.
The Great Wall of China is a phenomenon. It is the longest man-made structure in the world, stretching 6,400 km. The wall was constructed, built, rebuilt and maintained from the 5th century B.C. to the 16th century. It served as a fortification of the north borders of the Chinese Empire. Several sections of the wall have been renovated and can easily be visited from Beijing. The most famous section is the Badaling, which was built during the Ming dynasty, but is now over-restored and heavily overcrowded. Jinshanling, Huangshan and Simatai are further away and require more driving, but the view of the wall is better, the sections are less restored and crowds are smaller.
Located around 50 km north of Beijing, the site was chosen by Yongle, the third emperor of the Ming Dynasty, according to the Feng Shui principles. The tombs lie in an area of 40 square km in a quiet valley encircled my mountains. The tomb site is encircled by a wall. The complex is reached by a 7 km long road named the Spirit Way. Three tombs have so far been excavated, the largest one being Chang Ling. The complex exhibits the finest and best preserved pieces of the 15th century Chinese architecture and art. Recently no archeological work is in progress but further excavations are scheduled. Today the tombs are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Address: facing Tiananmen Square Open: daily (16 October – 16 May): 8:30 am – 4:30 pm/ (16 April – 16 October): 8:30 am – 5:00 pm
The Forbidden City or Gu Gong in Chinese, is the best preserved and biggest cluster of ancient buildings in China. Truly majestic and awe-inspiring, the Forbidden City is the largest palace complex in the world. It was the imperial palace during the reign of the Ming and Qing dynasties. Its name derives from the fact that the complex was off-limits for most people for 500 years. The emperors lived in secluded luxury, surrounded by family, court officials, servants, concubines, eunuchs and other court members. The complex features 800 buildings and 9,000 rooms, all of which suffered damage from sand storms, Manchu attacks and, most recently, lootings by Japanese forces and Kuomintang. The reconstruction is underway at all times, with a team of people constantly working to keep the buildings in top shape.
Tiananmen Square is world’s largest public square, located in the heart of Beijing. It was the setting of many historic events. In imperial days the government offices were all gathered here. During the Cultural Revolution parades of million people were held here. A more recent incident, however, has made it a place of great political importance. In 1989 a demonstration for democracy turned into a massacre as tanks and soldiers were called in to get rid of the protesters. The square is visited by throngs of tourists. At night ant in good weather, it yields fantastic views. Around the square there are numerous monuments, including the Chairman Mao Mausoleum, the Gate of Heavenly Peace, the Museum of Chinese History, the Museum of the Chinese Revolution, the Great Hall of the People, the Front Gate and the Monument to the People's Heroes.
The temple, now a symbol of Beijing, features splendid Ming buildings. Built in 1420, the temple was frequented by the emperor who was coming there to pray every day for generous harvest, good weather and benevolence of gods. The most impressive site at the temple is the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. The structure is 38 meters tall and 30 meters in diameter, and stands without the aid of one single nail. The temple is located south of the Tiananmen Square, and is surrounded by a huge public park, home to hundreds of trees and the greenest part of Beijing. A great time to visit the place is in the morning when the park comes alive with locals practicing tai chi, dancing and other activities.
One of the most popular and most visited sights in Beijing, the Summer Palace was once the summer playground of the imperial court. It was built in 1750 by the Emperor Qianlong and was in use until the Empress Dowager Cixi’s death in 1908. The complex teems with temples, gardens, pavilions, and lakes. It is a romantic place with pagodas and temples on the hillsides, boats in the lake, and many trees. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site a must-see item on any tourist’s agenda. Among the most stunning sights are Empress Cixi's private theatre and, the corridor along the north shore of Kunming Lake, where the marble boat is located, a lavishly carved two-storey stone and stained-glass structure.
Address: South Gate, Weijin Lu
The park is located immediately to the north of Zhongnanhai, the heart of Communist China. North of the South Gate you can see a white Tibetan pagoda on a hill. The Round City, also to the south, is home to white jade Buddha, and not far from there, the Temple of Eternal Peace, houses many different Buddha’s. Here you can also find Beijing’s largest and most beautiful lake. During the summer it comes alive with hundreds of paddle boats.
Beijing offers a wide range of eateries. There are over 1,000 restaurants serving food from around the world. The Chinese cuisine of offer ranges from Shanghainese, Hunanese, Cantonese to Sichuan. The city is famous for Beijing duck and various noodle-based dishes. Some curious delicacies available are fried pig trotters and duck tongue.
Western cuisine is well represented. You can find French, Mexican, German cuisine, available mostly in larger hotels. Lunch is eaten quite early, at around 11:00 am to 2:00 pm. Dinner time is also quite early: from 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm.
Food is easy to come by in Beijing. Fast food shops are everywhere. The best place to venture, if you want to try local dishes, is the Donghuamen Night Market (off Wangfuijing). It is filled with food and market stalls. Generally said, when choosing where to eat the best rule is: eat where the locals eat, and never eat where it is empty.
Date: First day of the first moon (usually late January – mid February)
This is the festival when Beijing is at its liveliest. The city puts on vivid colors: every shop and home is adorned with good fortune messages and gods to ward off evil spirits. The two-week festival is marked by colorful costumes, drums are played, and firecrackers go off everywhere. Fairs are held at various temples from the first to the seventh day of the first Lunar month. These fairs feature an interesting mix of acrobatics, spiritualism and good-fortune games and are a great place to visit. The biggest are held at the Ditan Park and the White Cloud Temple.
THE LANTERN FESTIVAL / YUANXIAO FESTIVAL
Date: 15th day of the first Chinese lunar month (2 weeks after the Chinese New Year)
The festival celebrates the first time full moon is visible in the New Year. Traditionally, this is a time for family reunion. It is a colorful event. People walk the streets in processions, carrying paper lanterns. Traditional food such as dumplings with sweet filling, are eaten.
TOMB SWEEPING DAY
Date: April 4 (leap years April 5)
The festival commemorates the relatives who have passed away. The relatives visit the graves of their loved ones. The gravesites are cleaned and adorned with flowers. Fake money is burnt as a token of their mourning.
DRAGON BOAT FESTIVAL / DUANWU JIE
Date: the fifth day of the fifth lunar month
The festival commemorates the death of Qu Yuan, a great patriotic and literary figure. He committed suicide by jumping in the Milou River and the people tried to save him by throwing rice dumplings wrapped in babmoo leaves so that fish would eat this instead of his body. Today the festival is celebrated by eating zongzi, a pyramid-shaped dumpling made of glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves. Boat races are held to the beat of the drums. To make things more dramatic, and colorful, flags are furled everywhere.
THE MID-AUTUMN FESTIVAL / THE MOON FESTIVAL
Date: mid-September or mid-October
Traditionally, this is a harvest festival and a family occasion. Families gather to eat the round moon cakes to commemorate the moon which is at its largest and brightest at this time.
BEIJING MUSIC FESTIVAL
Date: late autumn Web: www.bmf.org.cn/ Location: various, throughout the city
The festival has become an important musical event on Beijing’s cultural calendar. Over 30 performances are held throughout the city, ranging from solo vocal performances to symphonic concerts. The event attracts over 1,000 local and foreign artists.
Only twenty years ago nightlife in Beijing was non-existent. Even today, the city is not exactly a party hub, but things certainly have turned for the better. The majority of night entertainment can be found in the city center.
As far as traditional Chinese culture is concerned, you can choose from a wide variety of options. You can see the Beijing Opera and acrobatic performances, teahouse theater, puppet shows and traditional concerts.
You can also catch an occasional live jazz performance or see a film subtitled in English.
Recently, the city has acquired many foreign themed pubs, clubs and exotic bars which mostly attract foreigners and young Chinese. The western-style clubs offer a wide variety of music for all tastes. Techno and house are hugely popular and foreign DJ’s are becoming more and more frequent. In the area of Sanlitun which lies to the northeast of the city, you can find most popular bars offering draught beer, but expect Western prices. Other popular bar areas are Chaoynag District and the Houhai.
In comparison with Shanghai, Beijing’s dance scene is much more sedate but it is also cheaper. There are many new discos and dance clubs in the city, mainly catering to the well-to-do citizens. The popular karaoke bars can be found everywhere. In addition, most of the four and five star hotels have entertainment facilities.
The area of today’s Beijing was already inhabited some 500,000 years ago by the early hominid known as ‘Peking Man’. The earliest records show a settlement existed here around 1,000 B.C. During the Warring States Period (453-221 B.C.) Beijing (named Ji at the time) served as a trading post for the local ethnic groups, as well as Koreans and Mongols. The settlement grew and became the capital of the Yan Kingdom. During the Liao Dynasty the town became known as Yanjing. In 1215 A.D. Yanjing fell into Mongolian hands, Genghis Khan and his warriors, who besieged the city for seven years and in the end burnt it to the ground. A new capital, Dadu, emerged. It was passed on to Kublai Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan. Kublai Khan proceeded to invade and conquer all of China, and a big section of Arabia. In 1368 Zhu Yanhang led an uprising against the Mongol empire and took over the city. This also marks the beginning of the Ming Dynasty. The capital was moved to Nanjing (Southern Capital) and the city was renamed to Beiping (Nortern Peace). In 1400s Young Le moved the capital once again and the city was renamed to Beijing (Northern Capital). During this period the foundations of the modern Beijing emerged. He built the Forbidden City which formed the heart of the city. During the reign of Young Le other famous structures were erected, such as the Temple of Heaven and the bell Tower. In 1644 the Manchus invaded and put Ming Dynasty to an end. The Quing Dynasty was established, which lasted until 1911. Under the Quing reign Beijing was modernized and expanded. The Old Summer palace and the new Summer Palace were constructed. Peace ended in late 18th century when Beijing was invaded by the French and the British, leaving the country in disorder and rebellion.
The corruption of the Quing leaders, especially Empress Cixi, led to wide-spread dissatisfaction which culminated in the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. In the fighting many foreigners were killed, which caused invasions of foreign armies in Beijing. In addition, many imperial buildings were destroyed, including the Summer Palace.
MODERN (20TH CENTURY)
In 1911 the Quing dynasty collapsed, and the Kuomintang, the Nationalist Party seized control. The Republic of China was established, with Sun Yat-sen as president but the true power remained in the hands of the warlords. The battle for power between the warlords and foreigners left the country in poverty and corruption. The grime situation was a fertile ground for rebellion. Marxism was gaining popularity and in 1921 the Communist Party in Shanghai was formed. The Kuomintang joined forces with the Communists to capture power from the battling warlords and foreigners. During WW II Japanese invaded China and soon captured the eastern part of the country. After WW II the struggle for power emerged between the Kuomintang nationalists and the Communists. Civil War broke out. The Nationalists were defeated and fled the country, seeking refuge in Taiwan. On October 1, 1949 the People’s Republic of China was formally proclaimed by Mao Zedong in Tiananmen Square. Under Mao, Beijing was ridded of feudal and colonial effects. The city walls were demolished, as were numerous temples and monuments. Buildings were massively demolished to make room for wide boulevards and Tiananmen Square. Numerous Soviet architects poured in and the city was given a Stalinist make-over. Traditional Chinese culture was reduced to zero, especially after the Cultural Revolution in 1966. In an attempt to rid the country of all things capitalist, the Red Guard persecuted intellectuals and writers, monuments were demolished and temples destroyed. Power struggles within the party continued all through to Mao’s death in 1976. In 1979 Deng Xiaoping, a former Mao’s protégé, launched a modernization of China. He emphasized open markets, economic growth, and tighter contacts with the West. However, Deng still embraced the Communist ideology. In 1989 massive pro-democracy demonstrations were held in Tiananmen Square by students, intellectuals and labor activists. Large-scale protests also occurred in other cities throughout China. The protest, now known as the Tiananmen Square Massacre, was violently crushed by the military, leaving many civilians dead or injured. The estimations mention around 2,000 victims. After the massacre, government launched widespread arrests to crack protesters and their supporters. Foreign press was banned from the country. The violence at the protest caused worldwide condemnation of the Chinese government. In 1995 China held UN Conference on Women but denied the entry visa to several hundred people deemed politically inappropriate. In 1996, in an effort to influence Taiwan’s presidential elections, missiles were fired into the water just off Taiwan’s coast. The same scenario repeated in 2000 Taiwan’s presidential elections but to no success. In 1997 Hong Kong was handed over to China, and in 1999 also Macau.
Beijing has seen great economic change, growth of private businesses, a rise in personal income and a construction renaissance. The 2008 Olympic Games were a good reason for a thorough makeover of the city. Beijing is still facing environmental problems. The pollution is high, air quality is bad and traffic is extremely dense.
Campaigns were set up to cut public spitting and promote queuing in the attempt to polish up the city for the Olympics.
On more general note, the Chinese have a positive attitude towards foreigners.
The Chinese have three names and in official situations they should be addressed by their surname and titles coming first.
Handshakes in China are usually longer and gentler. It is also customary to stand close together when talking. Chinese love to talk loud and what may look like a fight is probably just an everyday conversation.
When it comes to dining it is considered bad luck if you drop your chopsticks. Also, it is inappropriate to stick your chopsticks vertically in a bowl of rice or point at someone with them.
China is generally a safe destination. Violent crime against foreigners is rare as the punishment is very severe. Visitors are mainly faced with pick-pocketing and scams. Be careful in any crowded place. The best solution is to carry any valuables you may have in a belt pocket, as pick-pockets are known to slash bags with razors. Be extra cautious of pickpockets in the street markets, at tourist sites and in popular tourist and expatriate bars. Scams include ‘students’ inviting you to an exhibition, tea-tasting, etc. People are usually forced to buy things at incredibly inflated prices or end up paying hefty sums for the supposed ‘free-of-charge’ tea tasting.
There have been many reports of tourists being ripped off by rickshaw-drivers. Make sure you know exactly where you are going. There have been instances of people being dropped off in an alley, the driver demanding a large amount of cash. If you find yourself in such s situation it is best to leave ¥5 or ¥10 on the seat and quickly walk away.
There is a lot of counterfeit money in circulation, especially the ¥100 and ¥50 bills. Inspect larger bills carefully.
Emergency Phone Numbers: Police: 110 Fire alarm: 119 Medical care: 120
The best periods to visit Beijing are spring and early autumn. These periods secure the most pleasant weather and the slightly lesser crowds.
Expect biggest crowds during the Chinese New Year (usually between mid-January and mid-February), Labor Day Holiday (first week of May), and National Day Holiday (first week of October). If visiting during these periods, book well in advance.