China Travel Guide
Beijing (also known as Peking) is a metropolis in northern China and the capital of the People's Republic of China. Governed as a municipality under direct administration of the central government, Beijing borders Hebei Province to the north, west, south, and for a small section in the east, and Tianjin Municipality to the southeast. Beijing is one of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China.
Beijing is China's second largest city after Shanghai, with more than 17 million people in Beijing's area of jurisdiction. The city is divided into 16 urban and suburban districts and two rural counties; the city's urban area has about 13 million residents. Beijing is a major transportation hub, with dozens of railways, roads and motorways passing through the city. It is also the focal point of many international flights to China. Beijing is recognized as the political, educational, and cultural center of the People's Republic of China, while Shanghai and Hong Kong predominate in economic fields. The city hosted the 2008 Olympic Games.
Few cities in the world besides Beijing have served as the political and cultural centre of an area as immense as China for so long. The Encyclopaedia Britannica describes it as "one of the world's great cities," and declares that the city has been an integral part of China’s history for centuries, there is scarcely a major building of any age in Beijing that doesn't have at least some national historical significance. Beijing is renowned for its opulent palaces, temples, and huge stone walls and gates. Its art treasures and universities have long made the city a centre of culture and art in China.
The earliest remnants of human habitation in the Beijing municipality are found in the caves of Dragon Bone Hill near the village of Zhoukoudian in Fangshan District, where the Peking Man lived. Homo erectus fossils from the caves date to 230,000 to 250,000 years ago. Paleolithic homo sapiens also lived there about 27,000 years ago.There were cities in the vicinities of Beijing by the 1st millennium BC, and the capital of the State of Yan, one of the powers of the Warring States Period (473-221 BC), Ji, was established in present-day Beijing.
After the fall of the Yan, the subsequent Qin, Han, and Jin dynasties set up local prefectures in the area. During the fall of the Han, it was the seat of the warlord Gongsun Zan. In Tang Dynasty it became the headquarters for Fanyang jiedushi, the virtual military governor of current northern Hebei area. The An Shi Rebellion was also launched from here in 755 AD.
In 936, the Later Jin Dynasty (936-947) of northern China ceded a large part of its northern frontier, including modern Beijing, to the Khitan Liao Dynasty. In 938, the Liao Dynasty set up a secondary capital in what is now Beijing, and called it Nanjing (the "Southern Capital"). In 1125, the Jurchen Jin Dynasty conquered Liao, and in 1153 moved its capital to Liao's Nanjing, calling it Zhongdu , the "central capital."Zhongdu was situated in what is now the area centered around Tianningsi, slightly to the southwest of central Beijing. Some of the oldest existing relics in Beijing, such as the Tianning Temple, date to the Liao era.
Mongol forces burned Zhongdu to the ground in 1215. Later in 1264, in preparation for the conquest of all of China to establish the Yuan Dynasty, Kublai Khan decided to rebuild it slightly north to the center of the Jin capital, and in 1272, he made this city his capital as Dadu , Chinese for "great capital"),or Daidu to the Mongols, otherwise spelled as Cambaluc or Cambuluc in Marco Polo's accounts. Construction of Dadu finished in 1293. The decision of Kublai Khan greatly enhanced the status of a city that had been situated on the northern fringe of China proper. The center of Dadu was situated slightly north of modern central Beijing. It centered on what is now the northern stretch of the 2nd Ring Road, and stretched northwards to between the 3rd and 4th Ring Roads. There are remnants of the Yuan-era wall still standing, and they are known as the Tucheng (literally, the 'earth wall').
Ming and Qing period
In 1368, Zhu Yuanzhang, soon after declaring himself the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty, sent an army toward Dadu, still held by the Yuan. The last Yuan emperor fled north to Shangdu, and Zhu razed the Yuan palaces in Dadu to the ground. The city was renamed to Beiping , or "northern peace" in the same year, and Shuntian prefecture was established in the area around the city. In 1403, the new (and third) Ming emperor - the Yongle Emperor - renamed this city to Beijing , or "northern capital", and designated Beijing to be the co-capital alongside the (then) current capital of Nanjing. Beijing was the subject of a major construction project for a new Imperial residence, the Forbidden City that lasted nearly 15 years (1406 to 1420). When the palace was finished, the Yongle Emperor ceremoniously took up residence. From 1421 onwards, Beijing, also known as Jingshi , was the "official" capital of the Ming Dynasty while Nanjing was demoted to the status of "secondary" capital. This system of dual capitals (with Beijing being vastly more important) continued for the duration of the Ming Dynasty. Thirteen of the sixteen Ming Emperors are buried in elaborate tombs near Beijing.
By the 15th century, Beijing had essentially taken its current shape, and the Ming-era city wall served as the Beijing city wall until modern times, when it was pulled down and the 2nd Ring Road was built in its place. It is believed that Beijing was the largest city in the world from 1425 to 1650 and from 1710 to 1825. Other notable buildings constructed during the Ming period include the Temple of Heaven (built by 1420). The Tiananmen Gate, now a state symbol of the People's Republic of China and featured on its emblem, was first built in 1420, and rebuilt several times later. Tiananmen Square was built in 1651 and enlarged in 1958. Jesuits finished building the first Beijing-area Roman Catholic church in 1652 at the Xuanwu Gate, where Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci (1552–1610) had lived; the modern Nantang ( Southern Cathedral) has been built over the original cathedral.
The end of the Ming came in 1644 when, for 40 days, Li Zicheng's peasant army captured Beijing and overthrew the Ming government. When the powerful Manchu army arrived at the outskirts of the city, Li and his followers abandoned the city and as a result the Manchu forces, under Prince Dorgon, captured Beijing without a fight.
Prince Dorgon established the Qing Dynasty as a direct successor to the Ming, and Beijing remained China's capital. The Qing Emperors made some modifications to the Imperial residence, but in large part, the Ming buildings and the general layout remained unchanged. Beijing at this time was also known as Jingshi, which corresponded to the Manchu Gemun Hecen with the same meaning. The classic Chinese novel Dream of the Red Chamber is set in Beijing during the early years of Qing rule (the end of the 1600s). At the end of Qing period, Beijing was the scene of the siege of the foreign legations during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. Some important Imperial structures in the city were destroyed during the fighting, including the Hanlin Academy and the Summer Palace.
Beijing is characterised by its vastness and enormous distances between this and that. Until recently, the city was almost entirely made up of the old hutongs with narrow lanes and one story buildings. Now, many of the hutongs have given way to broad boulevards and modern buildings, contributing to an airy, sprawling feel, in sharp contrast to cities like Hong Kong and Shanghai.
Beijing is the political centre of the country leading to official buildings and embassy areas dominating the city. Beijing is also the historical and cultural centre of China implying lots of historical buildings and cites especially within Ring Road Two. The city has undergone rapid modernisation in recent years, also in terms of institutions, business and work life.
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Beijing's climate is a monsoon influenced continental climate with hot, humid summers and cold, dry winters. The best time to visit is in September and October, the "Golden Autumn" Spring is the season for dust storms. Summer can be oppressively hot and the tourist crowds tend to be the largest as well. Winter is cold and dry with infrequent, but beautiful, snow.
Demographics and geography
Beijing has a population of 17.4 million living on 16.800 km2 distributed on 18 districts. The city borders Hebei Province to the north, west and south and Tianjin Municipality to the east.
Beijing has a total of 16 districts and 2 counties.
The four central districts are located within or just beyond Ring Road Two. This is the location of the old walled city of Beijing and is where you will find most of the sights and also a good deal of sleeping, eating and drinking and entertainment options. The districts are:
covering the north western part of the central city area until just beyond ring two to the west and until ring three to the north. Including Beihai Park, the Houhai area, Beijing Zoo and National Concert Hall
covering the north eastern part of the central city area until approximately ring three to the north and ring two to the east. Includding the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and Beijing Central Station
Xuanwu District covering the south western part of the central city area until just beyond ring two to the west and until ring two to the south
covering the south eastern part of the central city area until just beyond ring two to the south and until ring two to the east. Includes the Temple of Heaven
The next four districts are still close to the centre. They are often referred to as the inner suburbs. This is were you will find parts of the Western Hills, universities, olympic venues, business and embassy areas, entertainment and bars as well as art. The districts are:
covering the area just west of the central city area. Includes parts of the Western Hills
covering the northwest of the main urban area. About half of Haidian district is made up of the Zhongguancun high technology industry and business cluster and Beijing's major concentration of universities. Includes the Summer Palace
covering a large area just east (and stretching both north and south) of the central city area stretching from ring two until beyond ring five to the east. Including CBD, the embassy area, Sanlitun, National Stadium (and other olympic venues), Workers Stadium, Chaoyang Park and Ritan Park
The remaining ten districts and counties are quite far from the centre and are in this guide covered in four articles: Tongzhou District, Northern Suburbs (Changping and Shunyi), Western and Southern Suburbs (Mentougou, Fangshan and Daxing) and Rural Beijing (Yanqing, Huairou, Miyun and Pinggu).
Though some residents of Beijing know conversational English, especially in the areas frequented by tourists or Haidian District's university cluster, one should not count on finding a taxi driver or passer-by who knows English well. Neither should a foreigner with minimal experience with the Chinese language put undue faith in his or her ability to pronounce Chinese place names so that a local can understand clearly. Before embarking on a trip around the city, it is best to print out the names of places you want to visit in Chinese characters, or get your hotel front desk staff to write them out for you. When going to specific addresses writing nearby intersections or basic directions can be helpful as well. Show the text to the taxi driver, or just ask for help on the street. In general, you will have a better chance of getting help in English if you address younger people, as many schools in China have expanded their English education in the last few years.
Crossing the road in China is an art and may be difficult for pedestrians unused to Beijing's particular driving styles. Before crossing, assume that none of the road users will give way to you, even if a policeman is present. Zebra crossings are redundant. Chinese drivers lean on the horn heavily and frequently play games of chicken with pedestrians and other vehicles. Should you hear a loud horn when crossing the road, always look around as there is probably a car right behind you or heading straight for you. Should you find several cars and bicycles veering towards you from different directions, do not try to run to safety; instead, stand still. For drivers and cyclists a stationary obstacle is easier to avoid. Also note that traffic light crossings have zebra stripes painted on the road, but you should only cross when the walk light is green. As with pedestrian crossings in many countries, there is strength in numbers. When a mass of people crosses together cars are more likely to stop or slow down.
The Beijing Subway is a good way to quickly get around the city and is clearly marked in English for travelers. Long very limited, the network has expanded at a furious pace in recent years, with 9 lines now operational and another 9 to open by 2015. However, be warned that during rush hour trains can be extremely crowded. The subway system shuts down around midnight, and opens again around 5AM.
Subway station entrances are identified by a large blue stylized letter G wrapped around a smaller letter B. Single tickets cost ¥2 and are only valid on the same day from the station they were purchased, so there's no point in stocking up. Single-journey ticket machines are very simple to use; just press the numbers along the left side of the screen to choose how many tickets you want to buy, insert cash into the machine and press the green button then collect the ticket and change. The machine does not accept ¥1 bills but if you pay with a ¥10 or ¥20 bill you will be given a handful of coins which you can use for future journeys.
If you plan on traveling a lot, pick up a Yīkātōng pre-paid card, which has a ¥20 refundable deposit. Swipe the card at the entrance turnstile and again upon exiting. The use of the pre-paid card does not reduce the subway fare although it does dramatically reduce bus fares. If you are carrying luggage you must pass through the X-ray checks at the stations.
Once known as a nation of bicycles, China today has an ever growing number of private car owners. It is estimated 1,200 more cars hit the streets in Beijing every day. As a result, nowadays you are guaranteed to see more bikes in the Netherlands than in Beijing. However, the infrastructure from its days as capital of the "Bicycle Kingdom" means exploring Beijing on a bike is excellent. The city is flat as a pancake and all major streets have bike lanes. Bicycling is often faster than traveling by car, taxi or bus because of the traffic congestion in the motorized traffic lanes.
Four-wheeled motorized traffic in Beijing usually observes traffic signals with the exception of making turns at red lights which is often done without slowing or deferring to pedestrians or bicyclists. Pedestrians, bicycles and all other vehicles (for example, motorized bicycles, mopeds and tricycles) generally do not observe traffic signals. Also, cars, trucks and buses do not defer to cyclists on the road so it is common for a vehicle to make a right turn from an inside lane across a bike lane with no concern for cyclists traveling in the bike lane. Sometimes a right-turning vehicle crossing a bike lane will sound its horn as a warning, but not always. Cyclists also need to be on the lookout for wrong-way traffic in the bike lanes, usually bicycles and tricycles but sometimes motor vehicles, too. Wrong-way traffic usually stays close to the curb so you move to the left to get by them, but not always. Bicycling Beijingers tend not to wear helmets, nor do they use lights at night. Few bikes even have rear reflectors. The moderate pace and sheer numbers of bicyclists in Beijing appears to make bike travel safer than it would be otherwise.
While you will see cyclists use many creative paths across wide, busy intersections in Beijing, the safest way for cyclists is to observe the traffic signals (there are often special signals for cyclists) and to make left turns in two steps as a pedestrian would. But if you spend any significant amount of time cycling in Beijing, you will probably start adopting more creative approaches. These can be learned by finding a local cyclist going your way and following him or her across the intersection.
Several professional bike rental companies, as well as major hotels and some hostels, rent bikes on an hourly basis. For those who need the security of a guide, a bike touring company like Bicycle Kingdom Rentals & Tours would be a great way to go.
If you are staying more than a few days a reasonable bike can be bought for ¥300. Ensure that you have a good lock included in the price. The cheapest bikes are not worth the additional savings as you will get what you pay for. The cheapest bikes will start to deteriorate as soon as you begin to ride, so spend a little more and get a bike in the ¥300-400 range. Bike rentals may have good bikes, but you pay a high price and run the risk of the bike being stolen.
Beijing's bus system is cheap, convenient and covers the entire city—perfect for locals but, alas, difficult to use if you do not understand Chinese. The bus staffs speak little English, and only a few bus lines in the city center broadcast stop names in English. Bus stop signs are also entirely in Chinese. But should you speak Chinese, have a healthy sense of adventure, and a fair bit of patience, a bus can get you almost anywhere, and often somewhere that you never intended to go. It is a great way to see parts of the city that tourists normally do not visit.
Most bus fares are relatively cheap, and if you get a public transportation card from a metro station (a card that acts as a debit card for the metro and buses) you can get a 60% discount on all fares.
Many shiny new buses arrived on the streets in preparation for the Olympics. Many buses now feature air-conditioning (heating in winter), TVs, a scrolling screen that displays stops in Chinese, and a broadcast system that announces stops. If you are having problems navigating the bus system, call the English-speaking operators at the Beijing Public Transportation Customer Helpline (96166).
Warning: Beijing buses can get very crowded so be prepared and keep an eye on your valuables. Indeed, the overhead speakers on more modern buses will announce a warning to this effect on the more crowded lines. Many pickpockets frequent buses and subways, so carry backpacks in the front, and try to put your valuables somewhere hard to access. Be aware of a scam offering bus rides to the Great Wall masquerading as the real bus service. Instead of directly driving to the Great Wall, you will instead be led to a series of tours to dilapidated theme parks, shops, museums, and other tourist traps before finally reaching the Great Wall near the end of the day.
Bus lines are numbered from 1-999. Buses under 300 serve the city center. Buses 300 and up run between the city center and more distant areas (such as beyond the Third Ring Road). Buses in the 900s connect Beijing with its "rural" districts (i.e., Changping, Yanqing, Shunyi, etc).
Full maps of the system are available only in Chinese. The Beijing Public Transport Co. website has limited information in English, but the Chinese version has a very helpful routing service with an interactive map. You can input your starting point and your ending point and see all the bus routes that will get you from A to B, look up a bus route by number, or input a place name and see all the routes that go stop there.
Fares and Operating Hours
Most buses with a line number under 200 run daily 5AM-11PM. Buses with a line number greater than 300 run 6AM-10PM. All buses with a line number in the 200s are night buses. Many routes get very crowded during rush hours (6:30AM-9AM and 5PM-9PM). On major holidays, there will be more frequent service on most city routes.
For passengers paying by cash: Lines 1-199 operate on a flat rate of ¥1 per journey. Lines 300-899 charge ¥1 for the first 12 km of each journey and ¥0.5 for each additional 5 km. Buses with air-condition (800-899) start at ¥2. The night buses (200-299) charge ¥2 per journey. Lines 900-999 charge according to the distance.
For passengers paying by the new pre-paid Smart Card: Lines 1-499 operate on a flat rate of ¥0.40 per journey. Lines 500-899 get 60% off the cash price. There are also 3-day, 7-day and 15-day passes available for travellers. There is no return ticket or day ticket.
Minibuses are very common in the countryside outside the urban areas. Privately operated, most trips cost less than ¥10 per short journey and only a little more for longer journeys.
Taxis are the preferred choice for getting around, as they are convenient and are fairly inexpensive for travellers from Western countries. The only downsides are that Beijing's congested traffic often results in long jams, and taxi drivers are often recent arrivals from the countryside who do not know the city well. Vehicles used as taxis include the Hyundai Sonata and Elantra, Volkswagen Santana and Jetta (the old model, designed in the 1980s), and Citroëns manufactured in China. These taxis are dark red, or yellow top with dark blue bottom, or painted with new colours (see picture). Luxurious black executive cars (usually Audis) can also be found, usually waiting outside hotels.
In the more remote places of Beijing, you might not be able to find any official taxis. However, in these places there will most likely be plenty of unofficial taxis. These might be difficult to recognise for travellers, but the drivers will address you if you look like you are searching for a taxi. Remember to negotiate the fare before you go. Local people usually pay a bit less for the unofficial taxis than for the official ones, but the asking price for travellers will often be much higher.
Fares and Meters
Taxis charge a starting fee of ¥10, and an additional ¥2 per kilometer after the first 3 km. Taxi meters keep running when the speed is slower than 12 km/hr or when waiting for green lights; five minutes of waiting time equals 1 km running. Outside of rush hour, an average trip through the city costs around ¥20-25, and a cross-town journey about ¥50 (for example, from the city center to the northern side of the Fourth Ring Road).
If the taxi driver "forgets" to switch the taxi meter on, remind him by politely asking them to run the meter and gesturing at the meter box. At the end, it is a good idea to ask for a receipt also while gesturing to the meter and making a writing motion. Having a receipt is handy in case you want to make a complaint later or for business reimbursement purposes, and since the receipt has the cab number, you stand a greater chance of getting your possessions back should you forget anything in the taxi.
If you want a tour around Beijing and its vicinities, you can ask your hotel to hire a cab for one day or several days. It usually costs ¥400-600 per day, depending on where you go. You can also ask just about any driver to perform this service as most are more than willing. If you have Chinese-speaking assistance, then bargain down the cost. No matter the cost, the taxi is yours for the day and will wait for you at various destinations.
Communicating with the drivers can be a problem, as most do not speak English. You can ask that your hotel write your destination on a card to give to the driver. Make sure to take the hotel's card (and a map) that lists the hotel's address in Chinese. This can be a 'get out of jail free' card if you get lost and need to get back via taxi. A regular city map with streets and sights in Chinese will also help.
As elsewhere in the world it is really hard to find a taxi when it rains. Most of them refuse to take passengers and, truth be told, many will try to rise their fares. Although it seems unreasonable (triple to five times the normal fare), sometimes it is better to take their offers, rather than to wait for another cab.
Voiding Scams and Fakes
All official taxis have license plates beginning with the letter "B", "Black cabs" may look like taxis but their license plates will start with letters other than B. It's nearly impossible to hail a black cab on the streets; they generally hang out around tourist sights like the Great Wall and the Summer Palace or around subway stops. Black cabs will charge you a higher fee for the journey, unless you are a good bargainer, know where you are going, and know what the right fare should be. Sometimes they drop foreign tourists in wrong places. In some extreme cases, the driver may even take them to the countryside and rob them. If you find you hired a fake taxi and are overcharged, don't argue if you are alone, pay the driver and remember the car's license plate number, then call police later.
To avoid being taken advantage of, it is a good idea to know the rough direction, cost, and distance of your destination. You can easily find this out from asking locals before calling a cab. Verify these values with the taxicab driver to show them that you are in the know, and are probably too much trouble to cheat. Keep track of the direction of travel with a compass and/or the sun. If the cab goes in the wrong direction for a long distance, verify the location with the taxi driver. For scamming drivers, that is usually enough for them to go back on the right track (without ever acknowledging that they were trying to cheat you). Honest drivers will explain why they are going that way. In addition, sometimes a cab driver might tell you an extravagant price to get somewhere and tell you the meter is broken.
Keep in mind that central Beijing can be off limits at certain times, forcing cabs to reroute. And some roads forbid left turns (with big road signs) either at certain hours or all the time, so the driver might make a detour.
The National Stadium or Bird's Nest in Chaoyang District is a new major landmark and the symbol of the 2008 Olympic Games. Two modern buildings in Chaoyang District are remarkable landmarks: the CCTV Building (sometimes called The Underpants or Bird Legs by locals) and the World Trade Center Tower III. Both are outstanding examples of modern architecture.
There are also a number of remarkable remains from the medieval city including the Ming Dynasty City Wall SitePark (the only remains of the city wall) in Chongwen District, the Drum and Bell Towers in Dongcheng District, and Qianmen in Chongwen District. Palaces, temples and parks
The city's many green oases are a wonderful break from walking along the never ending boulevards and narrow hutongs. Locals similarly flock to Beijing's palaces, temples and parks whenever they have time. The green areas are not only used for relaxing but also for sports, dancing, singing and general recreation.
The most important palace, bar none, is the Forbidden city in Dongcheng District. The Forbidden City was home to the Imperial Court during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. The Temple of Heaven in Chongwen District is the symbol of Beijing and is surrounded by a lively park typically packed with hordes of local people drinking tea, practicing calligraphy or tai-chi or just watching the world go by. The Yonghegong (Lama Temple) in Dongcheng District is one of the most important and beautiful temples in the country.
Other parks are scattered around Beijing. Some of the best are Zhongshan Park in Xicheng District, Beihai Park in Xicheng District, Chaoyang Park in Chaoyang District and Ritan Park in Chaoyang District. The Beijing Zoo in Xicheng District is also worth a visit, especially for the pandas.
Haidian District is home to the Summer palace the ruins of the Old Summer Palace Fragrant Hills and the Beijing Botanical Garden All are quite close together and worth a visit.
Museums and Galleries
The museums in Beijing are generally not yet up to the standard seen in cities such as Paris, Rome and New York. However the city contains one of the largest and most well known museums in Asia, the Palace Museum also known as the Forbidden City. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. China's government is determined to change the backward perception of its museums and has invested heavily in their development. It has also made most of them (not the Forbidden City) free to visit. However, for some museums tickets must be reserved three days in advance.
One of the most well-known museums in Beijing is the National Museum in Dongcheng District, which has been closed for renovation since 2007 and is expected to reopen in 2010. The Military Museum in Haidian District has long been a favorite with domestic and foreign tourists. The Capital Museum in Xicheng District is a new high profile museum with historical and art exhibitions. Finally, a number of restored former residences of famous Beijingers, especially in Xicheng District, give a good insight into daily life in former times.
The contemporary art scene in Beijing is booming and a large number of artists exhibit and sell their art in galleries around the city. The galleries are concentrated in a number of art districts, including the oldest and easiest accessible, but also increasingly commercial and mainstream, Dashanzi Art District in Chaoyang District. Other newer and perhaps more cutting edge art districts include Caochangdi in Chaoyang District and Songzhuan Artist's Village in Tongzhou District.
The language of Beijing is Mandarin Chinese. Standard Mandarin itself was the administrative language of the Ming and Qing dynasties and was based mainly on the Beijing dialect. For language students this makes studying in Beijing an excellent chance to learn the language in a relatively pure form. That being said, Beijing dialect contains nasal "er" sounds at the end of many words. Hence the ubiquitous lamb kabobs (yáng ròu chuàn) become "yáng ròu chuànr". In addition, the Beijing dialect consists of many local slangs which have not been incorporated into standard Mandarin. Beijing taxi drivers are famously chatty and will gladly engage students of the language offering excellent chances to practice the language and get a feel for the changes in the city and country from an "Old Beijinger".
English is spoken by staff at the main tourist attractions, as well as at major hotels. Otherwise, English speakers are not common, so always get your hotel's business card to show the taxi driver in case you get lost. Likewise, have staff at your hotel write down the names of any tourist attraction you plan to visit in Chinese, so locals can point you out in the right direction.
Three styles of architecture predominate in urban Beijing. First, the traditional architecture of imperial China, perhaps best exemplified by the massive Tian'anmen (Gate of Heavenly Peace), which remains the People's Republic of China's trademark edifice, the Forbidden City, the Imperial Ancestral Temple and the Temple of Heaven. Next there is what is sometimes referred to as the "Sino-Sov" style, built between the 1950s and the 1970s, with structures tending to be boxy, bland, and poorly made. Finally, there are much more modern architectural forms — most noticeably in the area of the Beijing CBD and Beijing Financial Street.
Beijing of the early 21st century has witnessed tremendous growth of new building constructions, showing various modern styles from international designers. A mixture of both old and new styles of architecture can be seen at the 798 Art Zone, which mixes 1950s design with a blend of the new.
Politics and Government
Municipal government is regulated by the local Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in issuing administrative orders, collecting taxes, and operating the economy. The local party authority is headed by the Beijing CPC Secretary The local CCP also directs a standing committee of the Municipal People's Congress in making policy decisions and overseeing local government. Local government figures include a mayor, vice-mayor, and numerous bureaus focusing on law, public security, and other affairs. Additionally, as the capital of China, Beijing houses all the important national governmental and political institutions, including the National People's Congress.
Beijing Financial Street, the economic centre of Beijing Wangfujing Street is one of the busiest streets in Beijing, with nearly 100,000 visitors daily (August 2008).
Beijing is amongst the most developed cities in China with tertiary industry accounting for 73.2% of its GDP; it was the first post industrial city in mainland China. Finance is one of the most important industries of Beijing. By the end of 2007, there are 751 financial organizations in Beijing that generated 128.6 billion RMB revenue accounting for 11.6% of the total financial industry revenue of the entire country. It is also accounts for 13.8% of Beijing's GDP, the highest percentage of that of all Chinese cities. Beijing is home to 26 Fortune Global 500 companies, the third most in the world behind Tokyo and Paris.
In 2008, Beijing's nominal GDP was 1.0488 trillion RMB (150 billion USD), a year-on-year growth of 9% from the previous year. Its GDP per capita was 63,029 RMB (9,075 USD), an increase of 5.2% from the previous year. In 2008, Beijing's primary, secondary, and tertiary industries were worth 11.28 billion RMB, 269.32 billion RMB, and 768.2 billion RMB. Urban disposable income per capita was 24,725 yuan, a real increase of 12.4% from the previous year. Per capita pure income of rural residents was 10,747 RMB, a real increase of 12.4%. Per capita disposable income of the 20% low-income residents increased 16.7%, 11.4 percentage points higher than the growth rate of the 20% high-income residents. The Engel's coefficient of Beijing's urban residents reached 31.8% in 2005 and that of the rural residents was 32.8%, declining 4.5 percentage points and 3.9 percentage points, respectively, compared with 2000.
Beijing's real estate and automobile sectors have continued to boom in recent years. In 2005, a total of 28.032 million square metres of housing real estate was sold, for a total of 175.88 billion RMB. The total number of cars registered in Beijing in 2004 was 2,146,000, of which 1,540,000 were privately owned (a year-on-year increase of 18.7%).
The Beijing CBD, centred at the Guomao area, has been identified as the city's new central business district, and is home to a variety of corporate regional headquarters, shopping precincts, and high-end housing. The Beijing Financial Street, in the Fuxingmen and Fuchengmen area, is a traditional financial centre. The Wangfujing and Xidan areas are major shopping districts. Zhongguancun, dubbed "China's Silicon Valley", continues to be a major centre in electronics- and computer-related industries, as well as pharmaceuticals-related research. Meanwhile, Yizhuang, located to the southeast of the urban area, is becoming a new centre in pharmaceuticals, IT, and materials engineering. Urban Beijing is also known for being a centre of pirated goods and anything from the latest designer clothing to the latest DVDs can be found in markets all over the city, often marketed to expatriates and international visitors.
Major industrial areas include Shijingshan, located on the western outskirts of the city. Agriculture is carried out outside the urban area of Beijing, with wheat and maize (corn) being the main crops. Vegetables are also grown in the regions closer to the urban area in order to supply the city.
Beijing is increasingly becoming known for its innovative entrepreneurs and high-growth start-ups. This culture is backed by a large community of both Chinese and foreign venture capital firms, such as Sequoia Capital, whose head office in China resides in Chaoyang, Beijing. Though Shanghai is seen as the economic centre of China, this is typically based on the numerous large corporations based there, rather than as a centre for Chinese entrepreneurship.
The development of Beijing continues to proceed at a rapid pace, and the vast expansion of Beijing has created a multitude of problems for the city. Beijing is known for its smog as well as the frequent "power-saving" programmes instituted by the government. Citizens of Beijing as well as tourists frequently complain about the quality of the water supply and the cost of the basic services such as electricity and natural gas. To reduce air pollution, a number of major industries have been ordered to reduce emissions or leave the city. Beijing Capital Steel, once one of the city's largest employers and its single biggest polluter, has been moving most of its operations to Tangshan.
Specially designated industrial parks in Beijing include: Zhongguancun Science Park, Yongle Economic Development Zone, Beijing Economic-technological Development Area, and Tianzhu Airport Industrial Zone.
The population of Beijing Municipality, defined as the total number of people who reside in Beijing for 6 months or more per year, was 17.4 million at the end of 2007. There were 12.04 million people in Beijing Municipality who had Beijing hukou (permanent residence), and the remainder were on temporary residence permits. In 2006, a study by the Beijing Statistics Bureau estimated the total of all people living in Beijing (permanent, temporary, unregistered and others) to be "close to 20 million."Recent statistics cited by China Daily put the number of migrant workers in the service and construction industries in Beijing at "more than 5.1 million."In addition, there is a large number of migrant workers (min gong) who live illegally in Beijing without any official residence permit (or unregistered people).
The population of Beijing's urban core (city proper) is over 13 million. After Chongqing and Shanghai, Beijing is the third largest of the four municipalities of the PRC, which are equivalent to provinces in China's administrative structure.
Most of Beijing's residents belong to the Han Chinese majority. Other ethnic minorities include the Manchu, Hui, and Mongol. A Tibetan-language high school exists for youth of Tibetan ancestry, nearly all of whom have come to Beijing from Tibet expressly for their studies. A sizable international community exists in Beijing, many attracted by the highly growing foreign business and trade sector, others by the traditional and modern culture of the city. Much of this international community lives in the areas around the Beijing CBD, Sanlitun, and Wudaokou. In recent years there has also been an influx of South Koreans who live in Beijing predominantly for business and study purpose. Many of them live in the Wangjing and Wudaokou areas.
Ethnic groups in Beijing, 2000 census
People native to urban Beijing speak the Beijing dialect, which belongs to the Mandarin subdivision of spoken Chinese. Beijing dialect is the basis for Standard Mandarin, the language used in mainland China, Taiwan, and Singapore. Rural areas of Beijing Municipality have their own dialects akin to those of Hebei province, which surrounds Beijing Municipality.
Beijing opera, or Peking opera (Jingju), is well-known throughout the national capital. Commonly lauded as one of the highest achievements of Chinese culture, Beijing opera is performed through a combination of song, spoken dialogue, and codified action sequences, such as gestures, movement, fighting and acrobatics. Much of Beijing opera is carried out in an archaic stage dialect quite different from modern Standard Mandarin and from the Beijing dialect.
Siheyuans line hutongs or alleys, which connect the interior of Beijing's old city. They are usually straight and run east to west so that doorways can face north and south for Feng Shui reasons. They vary in width — some are very narrow, enough for only a few pedestrians to pass through at a time.
Once ubiquitous in Beijing, siheyuans and hutongs are now rapidly disappearing, as entire city blocks of hutongs are leveled and replaced with high-rise buildings. Residents of the hutongs are entitled to live in the new buildings, in apartments of at least the same size as their former residences. Many complain, however, that the traditional sense of community and street life of the hutongs cannot be replaced. Residents, however, have limited control over their own property, as the government usually owns it. Some particularly historic or picturesque neighbourhoods of hutongs are being preserved and restored by the government, especially for the 2008 Olympics.
Mandarin cuisine is the local style of cooking in Beijing. The Peking Roast Duck is perhaps the most well-known dish. The Manhan Quanxi ("Manchu-Han Chinese full banquet") is a rare traditional banquet originally intended for the ethnic-Manchu emperors of the Qing Dynasty; it remains very prestigious and expensive. The Fuling Jiabing is a traditional Beijing snack food, a pancake (bing) resembling a flat disk with filling, made from fu ling (Poria cocos (Schw.) Wolf, or "tuckahoe"), an ingredient common in traditional Chinese medicine. Teahouses are also common in Beijing. Chinese tea comes in many varieties and some rather expensive types of Chinese tea are said to cure an ailing body extraordinarily well.
The cloisonné (or Jingtailan, literally "Blue of Jingtai") metalworking technique and tradition is a specialty of Beijing's cultural art, and is one of the most revered traditional crafts in China.Cloisonné making requires elaborate and complicated processes which includes: base-hammering, copper-strip inlay, soldering, enamel-filling, enamel-firing, surface polishing and gilding. Beijing's lacquerware is also well known for its sophisticated and intrinsic patterns and images carved into its surface, and the various decoration techniques of lacquer includes "carved lacquer" and "engraved gold".
Younger residents of Beijing have become more attracted to the nightlife, which has flourished in recent decade, breaking prior cultural traditions that practically restricted it to the upper class.