Beijing

formely called Peking in English, is the capital of the People’s Republic of China and one of the four municipalities of the PRC which as the status of a province in China’s administration system. Located in the north east of the country, Beijing Municipality borders Hebei Province to the north, west, south and for a small portion in the east. It borders Tianjin Municipality to the southeast.

The country’s second most populated city, after Shanghai, it is a major transportation hub and is recognised as the political, educational and cultural centre of China. Beijing is one of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China and will host the 2008 Olympics.

The name Beijing literally means ‘Northern capital’, keeping to the East Asian tradition of naming capitals explicitly as capitals. The name Peking is used by the Chinese Postal Map Romanisation and originated with French missionaries four hundred years ago and corresponds to an older pronunciation of the name Beijing.

The city has actually had numerous names in China at different times in history. Between 1928 and 1949 it was called Peiping (literally Northern Peace) when the Kuomintang government established their capital in Nanjing. The Community Party of China reverted the name to Beijing in 1949 to show that it had returned to its role as capital. The Republic of China on Taiwan never formally recognised the name change and throughout the 50s and 60s it was common for Taiwan to refer to Beijing as Beiping to emphasis the illegitimacy of the PRC. Today, however, almost everyone in Taiwan, including the government, uses the name Beijing.

Yanjing is and was an informal name for Beijing and refers to the ancient State of Yan that existed here in the Zhou Dynasty. The name lives on in the locally-brewed Yanjing Beer. Macro Polo referred to Beijing as Cambuluc; it was known as Khanbaliq during the Yuan Dynasty.

History

As early as the 1st millennium BC there were cities around the area of Beijing and during the Warring States Period, 473-221 BC, the capital of the State of Yan was established in the present day capital. After the fall of Yan, the Qin, Han and Jin dynasties that followed set up local prefectures in the area. In the Tang Dynasty, Beijing became the headquarters of Fanyang jiedushi, the military governor of what is now northern Hebei. The An Shi Rebellion which took place here in 755 is seen as the turning point of the Tang Dynasty, marking the time when the central government began to lose control of the entire country.

In the Later Jin Dynasty, northern China ceded a large portion of its northern holdings, including Beijing, to the Khitan Liao Dynasty in 936. In 938 the Liao Dynasty set up a second capital in what is now Beijing. This capital was called Nanjing, or Southern Capital,
Nanjing became Zhondgu when the Jurchen Jin Dynasty annexed Lio and moved its capital here in 1153, but the capital was burned to the ground by Mongols in 1215 and rebuilt slightly to the north in 1267. The Mongol (Yuan Dynasty) founder Kublai Khan made this his capital, naming it Kahnbaliq, meaning ‘great residence of the Khan’. Kublai Khan chose this area in which to base his capital instead of more traditional locations in central China because of its proximity to his power base in Mongolia. This greatly enhanced the city’s status. Kublai Khan’s capital stretched from what is now the northern stretch of the 2nd Ring Road northward to between the 3rd and 4th Ring Roads. There are remains of the Mongol era wall still standing.

After the fall of the Mongols in 1368, the Ming Dynasty rebuilt the city and set up the Shuntian prefecture around the city. The third Ming Emperor Yongle moved the Ming capital from Nanjing to the renamed Beijing, the ‘northern capital’. The city was also known as Jingshi, which simply means capital. It was during the Ming Dynasty that Beijing took its present shape and the Ming-era city wall stood in place as the existing city wall until just recently, when it was pulled down to make the 2nd Ring Road.

The Forbidden City was built between 1406 and 1420. Beijing remained China’s capital through turbulent times as the Manchus overthrew the Ming Dynasty and set up the Qing Dynasty in its place,

Beijing is thought to have been the world’s largest city from 1425 to 1650 and from 1710 to 1825. The city was the siege of the foreign legations during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. In 1911 the Xinhai Revolution attempted to replace Qing rule with a republic and originally wanted to move the capital to Nanjing. To help the revolutionaries, a high-ranking Qing official ,Yuan Shakiai, forced the Qing emperor to abdicate in Beijing and the revolutionaries accepted him as the present of the new Republic of China. The capital, however, remained in Beijing.

Yuan deceived the revolutionary cause by accumulating power and declaring himself emperor. The move was of course very unpopular and Yuan died a year later, ending his brief reign. Regional warlords again seized power of China and the most powerful factions fought frequent wars to take control of Beijing.

The warlords of the north were pacified by the success of the Kuomintang’s Northern Expedition. Nanjing was made the capital of the Republic of China in 1928 and Beijing was renamed Beiping, or ‘north pacified’ (or Northern Peace) to emphasis that the government in Beijing was not legitimate.

Beiping fell to Japan during the Second Sino-Japanese War on 29 July 1937. The city was again called Beijing during the occupation and it was made the seat of the Provisional Government of the Republic of China, a puppet state that ruled the ethnic Chinese population in Japanese-occupied North China. Later this administration merged into the Wang Jingwei Government in Nanjing. When Japan surrenders at the end of the war, Beijing became again Beiping. That name change would only stick for a few years; the capital was once again Beijing when the Communists took control. In January 1949 Communist forces entered Beiping without a fight. That October, Mao Zedong’s Community Part of China announced the creating of the People’s Republic of China in Tiananmen, in Beiping. They also decided that Beiping would be the capital of the new government, and that it would take back its old name of Beijing.

At the time, Beijing Municipality included just its urban centre and the immediate suburbs. The urban area was split up into small districts inside what is now the 2nd Ring Road. Since that time, several nearby counties have been incorporated into the Municipality, increasing Beijing’s size many times over and giving it its present shape. The old Ming city wall was destroyed between 1965 and 1969 to allow for the building of the 2nd Ring Road.

The urban areas of Beijing have greatly expanded due to Den Xioping’s economic reforms. The urban area that previously fit within the 2nd and 3rd Ring Roads now pushes the limits of the recently built 5th Ring Road and the 6th Ring Road which is now under construction. Many areas that were recently farmland are not residential areas or commercial sites.

Beijing has seen a lot of political turmoil in recent years. Tiananment Square, a well-known historic landmark, was the site of protests in 1976 and 1989, the latter of which ended with students being shot and killed in what is now known as the Tiananmen Square Massacre.

The capital also has its share of problems due to the sheer amount of people who live there. There is heavy traffic and pollution and historic neighbourhoods are being sacrificed to make way for modern developments. In 2005 the government came up with a plan to end the sprawling development in all directions. The capital will now develop in two semicircular bands outside the city centre instead of it concentric rings.

Beijing’s being selected to host the 2008 Summer Olympics has sparked nationalist pride all across China.

Geography

The Great Wall of China stretches across the northern part of BEijing Municipality to make use of the area’s rugged topography to defend against nomadic incursions from the steppes. Beijing is located at the northern tip of a roughly triangular North China Plain, which opens to the south and east of the city. Mountains to the north, northwest and west shield the city and northern China’s agricultural centre from the desert steppes. The Jundu Mountains dominate the northern part of the municipality, while the western part is framed by the Xishan Mountains. Mount Dongling, in the Xishan ranges, is the highest peak at 2303 meters.

Major rivers in Beijing include the Yongding and Chaobai Rivers. Beijing is also the northern end of the Grand Canal of China which was built across the North China Plain to Hangzhour. Beijing largest reservoir is Miyun Reservoir, built on the upper reaches of the Chaobair River and crucial to the capital’s water supply.

The urban area of the capital makes up a small but expanding part of the municipality and passes through several satellite towns. Tian’anmen and Tinan’anmen Square are at the centre of Beijing and directly south of the Forbidden City, the former residence of China’s emperors. To the west of Tinan’anmen is Zhonghanhia, where the leaders of the People’s Republic of China reside. And running through centre Beijing from east to west is Chang’an Avenue, one of Beijing’s most busy thoroughfares. Major neighbourhoods in urban Beijing may overlap multiple districts. Several place names end with men, meaning gate, which identifies them as places where there were gates in the old Beijing city wall. Other place names end in cun, meaning village; these places were originally villages outside the city wall.

There are seven towns in Beijing outside of the urban area, and the municipality includes 18 administrative sub-divisions, 16 of which are districts and two of which are counties.

The climate in Beijing is a monsoon-influence humid continental climate where the summers are hot and humid and the winters are harsh, windy, cold and dry. Average temperature in July are 25 to 26 Celsius and in January –7 to –4 Celsius. A full 75 percent of the annual rainfall of 600 mm falls in the summer months.

Air pollution in Beijing is a serious problem and dust from erosion from the deserts in northern and northwestern China make for dust storms that seasonally hit the city. In the first four months of 2006, eight such dust storms plagued the city. Efforts are being made to clean up the city before 2008, when the capital hosts the Summer Olympics.

Economy

Beijing’s nominal GDP was 681.45 billion RMB (about 84 billion USD), a year-on-year growth of 11.1 percent from the previous year. Its per capita GDP was 44,969 RMB, and increase of 8.1 percent from the previous year and nearly double that of 2000.

Real estate and the automobile sector are doing brisk business; in 2005, over 28,032 million square metres of housing real estate was sold for a total of 175.88 billion RMB. The total n umber of cars registered in Beijing in 2004 was 2,146,000, of which 1,540,000 were privately-owned. That figure showed an 18.7 percent increase in just one year’s time in the number of private cars.

The city’s new central business district is the Beijing CBD. Centred at the Guoma area, it is home to various regional corporate headquarters, shopping malls and high-end residential areas. China’s Silicon Valley, Zhongguancun, is a major hub for electronics and computer-related industries, as well as pharmaceutical research. Yizhuang, southeast of the urban area, is becoming the centre for pharmaceuticals, IT and materials engineering. Major industrial areas include Shijingshan on the western outskirts of the city.

Beijing is also known for being a centre for buying pirated goods. Everything from pirated designer clothes to DVDs can be found in markets all over the city.

Wheat and corn are the main crops grown outside of the urban area. Vegetables are also grown near the urban centre in order to be able to make it possible to deliver them very fresh and very cheaply to the centre.

There is a growing number of entrepreneurs and high-growth start-up companies, backed by both Chinese and foreign venture capital firms. Although Shanghai is seen as the economic centre of China, this is based on the number of large corporations there, rather than the number of entrepreneurs.

Residents and visitors alike frequently complain about the quality of water in Beijing and the costs of basic services like electricity and natural gas. Major industrial areas outside of Beijing were told to clean up or pack up in an effort to reduce the thick smog that blanket the city. Most factories, unable to afford the clean-up effort, packed up and relocated in other cities.

Demographics

The population of Beijing Municipality, which includes people who live there for six months or more out of the year, was 15.38 million in 2005. Of these, 11,870 had permanent residents status. There are also a large number of illegal immigrants in Beijing who are not accounted for.

Over 95 percent of the residents are Han Chinese. Other ethnic minorities include the Manchu, Hui and Mongol. There is also a Tibetan high school for young people of Tibetan ancestry, most of whom come to Beijing specifically to attend the school.

There is a significant international community in Beijing, attracted to the foreign business and trade sector. South Koreans have also been pouring into the area for business and study.

Culture

Beijing dialect is the basis for Standard Mandarin, the language used in the People’s Republic of China, the Republic of China on Taiwan and Singapore. Native urban Beijing residents speak the Beijing dialect which belongs to the Mandarin subdivision of spoken Chinese. In rural areas other dialects are spoken similar to those spoken in Hebei Province, which all but surrounds Beijing Municipality.

Commonly praised as one of the highest achievements of Chinese culture, Beijing Opera is performed through a combination of song, spoken dialogue and codified action sequences. The dialect is ancient stage dialect and difficult to understand even for locals, which is why modern theatres usually supply electronic subtitles in Chinese and English.

The Siheyuan is the traditional architectural style and consists of a square housing compound, where rooms enclose a central courtyard where a tree and potted flowers and even a fish tank might be found. These compounds line alleys called hutongs which connect the interior of Beijing’s old city. In order to follow Feng Shui guidelines for well-being, doorways face north and south, so the alleys are usually straight and run east to west. They vary greatly in width, with some so narrow that only a few pedestrians can pass at one time.

Once found all over Beijing, hutongs are something of an endangered species as enitre city blocks of them are replaced with high-rise buildings. Displaced residents are entitled to apartments of equivalent size in the new buildings, but many regret the loss of community and street life the hutongs provided that cannot be replaced by high-rises. Some historic or picturesque hutongs such as the one at Nanchizi are being preserved and restored by the government, especially for the 200 Olympics.

Mandarine cuisine is the style of Beijing and the most well known dish is Peking Duck. The Manhan Quanxi (Manchu-Han Chinese full banquet) is the traditional feast prepared for ethnic Manchu emperors of the Qing Dynasty and it is still served but is very prestigious and pricey. From the full banquet right down to snack food; Beijing has something for every budget and taste. The Fuling Jiabing is the traditional snack of choice – it is a flat pancake or bing with a filling made from fu ling, an ingredient common in traditional Chinese medicine.

Teahouses are also common in the capital and the Chinese teas served greatly vary. Some are medicinal in nature and can be very expensive.

Beijing lacquerware is famous for its use of patterns and images carved into its surface. The Jingtailan is a cloisonné metalworking technique and tradition which originated in Beijing and is one of the most revered traditional crafts in China.

Tourist attractions

Beijing has many tourist attractions rich in history, despite the destruction wrought by European military intervention, the Japanese invasion of WWII, the Cultural Revolution and intense urbanisation and transformation.

Although it now is very much associated with the Tian’anmen Square Massacre of 1989 in Western eyes, Tian’anmen has long been one of the most important tourist sites in Beijing. Tian’anmen means Gate of Heavenly Peace and it is the main entrance to the Forbidden City. Other world famous sites include the Badaling section of the Great Wall of China, the Temple of Heaven, the Summer Palace and the Great Wall of China.

The Summer Palace is also a World Heritage Site as is the Forbidden City. Other important buildings and landmarks in the metropolitan area include the Great Hall of the People, the National Museum of China, the mausoleum of Mao Zedong, the Bell Tower and Drum Tower, historic old neighbourhoods where the Hutongs and Siheyuans have been restored, the Lugou Bridge (also known as the Marco Polo Bridge), the Prince Gong Mansion, the Zheng Yici Peking Opera Theatre and the Beijing Ancient Observatory. There are also numerous famous temples, cathedrals and mosques.

Three styles of architecture predominate in Beijing; the traditional architecture of imperial China (exemplified by the massive Tian’anmen or Gate of Heavenly Peace, the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven), the boxy, bland, shoddily ‘Sino-Sov’ buildings of the 1950s, 60s and 70s, and finally the contemporary style most noticeable in the Beijing business area the CBD, which is a mixed style of old and new.

In the Dashanzi Art District, a bizarre and striking mix of old and new architectural styles can be seen and the influence of American urban form and social values can be seen in Orange County, China, a suburb about one hour north of the city.


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