China has some of the most visited cities and provinces in the world, namely, Shanghai, Guangdong, and Guangzhou. Beijing, however, is of a completely different league. Though it has embraced modernity, especially after the country opens itself to the rest of the world about 50 years ago, it has beautifully preserved not only its ancient buildings but also its long-standing culture and heritage. A trip to Beijing, therefore, is a comprehensive look of its past, present, and even future.
Beijing is currently the official capital of the Republic China and the most populous of all cities. It ranks second in terms of city size, next to Shanghai. Its name is actually derived from the words “Northern Capital,” which obviously is a reference to its location. It is around 100 kilometers from Bo Hai Sea and very near the provinces of Hebei and Tianjin.
Beijing is one of the cities in the world that have undergone the most number of name changes. It was used to be Dadu during the Yuan Dynasty and Zhongdu in Jin Dynasty. Historical records also referred to it as Beiping and then later Peking.
The city is actually a flat land, a part of the Plains of North China, and surrounded by only a couple of hills and a mountain range of Yanshan and Xinshan, found on its north. Two of the most popular rivers that pass through Beijing are Chaobai and Yongding.
It is mainly composed of 2 counties and 14 districts. Some of the suburbs are located really far from the central point of the city, where much of the economic development is happening. Over thousands of years, the size of every district or county had changed, depending on what dynasty ruled the time period. When the walled city was put up, Beijing was roughly 24 square miles. As of the present, it grew exponentially to more than 4,000 square miles.
For a lot of experts, Beijing’s history began even before the first dynasty existed. As early as more than 25,000 years ago, some of the world’s first Homo erectus lived among the caves of Fangshan. There’s no doubt, however, the city is more connected to the different dynasties that ruled the land.
One of the earliest and well-known dynasties in Beijing was Qin, which started in 226BC. Emperor Qin was able to conquer Jin and reunited the rural areas. This was later followed by the Sui Dynasty, a time when the population grew to more than 100,000. By 1215, a Mongolian leader named Genghis Khan spread his kingdom within China, including Zhongdu. Then came Jin and Yuan Dynasties.
By 1368, the Ming Dynasty flourished in the city; and the emperor, his family, and some elected officials chose the Forbidden City to be their official complex. Around this time, the name of the city was changed to Beijing. More than a hundred years after, Qing Dynasty followed suit and several wars, both civil and international.
During World War I, Beijing was badly hit as the emperor was no longer able to function properly, and invaders found their way into the homes and buildings. There was a lot of looting, burned establishments, and death within the area. For a long time, the city struggled after it was reduced to almost a feudal political division.
Beijing was able to regain its glory in 1949 when the Republic of China was founded, and it was chosen as the country’s capital. Today Beijing remains under the direct control of the Communist government, not of the province.
Beijing has a very interesting history for its economy. Unlike other cradles of civilization, such as Egyptian and Indian, Beijing is located quite far from the major rivers such as Huang He. However, it’s still able to build itself as a center of economy since the ancient early times also because of its location: trade caravans need to pass through the plains, where the city is located, before they can move up the mountains.
Despite the political turmoil it went through during the early twentieth century, Beijing is still able to rise and become one of the most important economies in the world. In the city center, there are more than 750 finance centers or companies, generating over 125 billion RMB in profits. It is also one of the world’s capitals for real estate and automobile. The central business district, which covers several thousands of square miles, is filled with shopping centers, luxurious accommodation options, and high-end housing.
Recently, reports cited that Beijing is experiencing slowness in economic growth, though the figures are still high compared to those of other countries, especially within Asia. Moreover, it’s preferred by some of the city’s financial analyst since they want to focus more on quality GDP.
Beijing ranks as one of the most visited cities in the world. In 2011 alone, it had more than 90 million visitors. Domestic tourism (or tourism brought in by domestic arrivals) increases to more than 9 percent each year. Outbound tourism is also quite high, which is a testament of the better lifestyle of its people.
Though a lot of people go to Beijing to observe skyscrapers, most still prefer to stick to its historical sites or landmarks, such as Forbidden City, Great Wall of China in the northern mountains, Summer Palace, Tiananmen Square, Tombs of the Ming Dynasty, Water Cube and Bird’s Nest (which were constructed during the 2008 Olympics), Lama Temple, and Capital Museum. There are also many parks, nature reserves, and quaint villages visitors can include in their itinerary.
The natives speak Mandarin Chinese, though a lot of them can now converse in English because of the city’s progress. They are allowed to practice certain religions to a certain extent by the government. You will know what these religions are by the kinds of churches you see. Some of them, especially the taxi drivers, can be very talkative. You may want to take the opportunity to get to know more about Beijing and find out which attractions are worth your while.