Beijing Travel Guide

Understand

History

Beijing literally means Northern Capital, a role it has played many times in China's long history. Beijing's history dates back several thousand years but it first became notable in Chinese history after it was made the capital of the State of Yan under the name Yanjing. Yan was one of the major kingdoms of the Warring States Period, some 2,000 years ago. After the fall of Yan, during the later Han and Tang dynasties, the Beijing-area was a major prefecture of northern China.

In 938, Beijing was conquered by the Khitans and declared the capital of the Liao Dynasty. The Mongols seized the city in 1215. From 1264 Beijing served as the capital of a united China under Kublai Khan. His victorious Mongol forces renamed the city, Great Capital (大都). From there, Kublai and his descendants ruled their empire from a northern location closer to the Mongol homelands. During this period, the walled city was enlarged and many palaces and temples were built.

After the fall of the Mongol-founded Yuan dynasty in 1368, the capital was initially moved to Nanjing. However, in 1403 the 3rd Ming emperor, Zhu Di, also known as Emperor Yongle, moved it back to Beijing and gave the city its present name. The Ming period was Beijing's golden era. The Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven and many other Beijing landmarks were built in this period. The capital developed into a huge city becoming the religious and cultural center of Asia.

In 1644, the Manchus overthrew the declining Ming dynasty and established China's last imperial line - the Qing. Despite the changing political climate, Beijing remained the capital. The Manchu imperial family moved into the Forbidden City and remained there until 1911. The Qing built both the Summer Palace and Old Summer Palace. These served as summer retreats for the emperors and their entourages. During the 19th century, Western countries established foreign legations in the Qianmen area south of the Forbidden City. These came under siege during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900.

The Qing dynasty fell in 1911. In the chaotic first years of Republican China, Beijing was beset by fighting warlords. Following the Northern Expedition, the Kuomintang moved the capital to Nanjing in 1928, and renamed Beijing as Beiping ("Northern Peace") to emphasize that it was no longer a capital. Beijing remained a center for education and culture throughout the Republican Era. When the Kuomintang was defeated by the Communists in 1949, the new government proclaimed a People's Republic with its capital at Beijing.

Recommended reading includes Peking - A Historical and Intimate Description of Its Chief Places of Interest, by Juliet Bredon (written in the 1930s (ISBN 0968045987 and Twilight in the Forbidden City by Reginald Fleming Johnston (ISBN 0968045952)

Orientation

Beijing is characterised by its vastness and large distances between locations. Until recently, the city was almost entirely made up of hutongs with narrow lanes and single 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 with official buildings and embassy areas dominating the city. Beijing is also the historical and cultural centre of China with many historical buildings and sites - especially within Ring Road Two. The city has undergone rapid modernisation in recent years, with improvements of institutions, business environment and work conditions.

People

Given their city's historical, cultural and political heft, Beijingers are justifiably proud to be citizens of the capital. An attitude known as 大北京主义 or "Great Beijing-ism" is often used to describe their attitude toward people from other regions of China. They are often much more interested in politics and willing to talk about current events than people elsewhere in China. Beijingers also seem to focus on not losing face and often use humor in order to do so. However, many Chinese from other provinces find Beijingers very friendly and straightforward comparing with people from Shanghai especially.

Climate

Beijing has a monsoon-influenced continental climate with hot, humid summers and cold, dry winters. The best time to visit is in September and October, during the "Golden Autumn" (金秋). Spring is the season for dust storms and is otherwise warm and dry. Summer can be oppressively hot and the tourist crowds tend to be the largest as well; prevailing winds from the south trap pollutants (mountains lie to the north and west), making summer the worst season for air quality. Winter is cold and dry, with infrequent, but beautiful, snow. Temperatures can easily fall below −10°C in winter and or just as readily rise above 35°C in summer as well.

Demographics and geography

Beijing has a population of 17.55 million people (30% migrants) living on 16,800 km2 distributed in 18 districts. The city borders Hebei Province to the north, west and south and Tianjin Municipality to the east.

source: Wikivoyage

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