Beijing became a city during the early years of the Song Chinese Dynasty (960-1279 AD) when the Qidan, a nomadic tribe, pushed south of the Great Wall and captured and settled the area of modern Beijing. They made it their capital and founded a Chinese-style dynasty called the Liao. The Qidan Liao were in turn conquered in the early 12th century by the Jurchen, also a nomadic tribe, who were encouraged by the Song Chinese to war against the Qidan. Contrary to what the Song Chinese wanted, after defeating the Qidan, they swept southward, drove the Song Dynasty from North China, and made their capital here. By 1153 Zhongdu, Beijing's prior name, boasted a population more than a million. Zhongdu fell to the Mongols led by Genghis Khan in 1215. Under the reign of his grandson, Kubilai Khan, Beijing's modern history begins with the creation of the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368). At this point in time Marco Polo arrived, befriended the Khan and spent 20 years at the imperial court as a guest of the Khan before returning to Europe; however most of what we see today in Beijing was built later, during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). The Mings, a Chinese Confucian line of rulers, built this city to awe and impress their subjects, and it certainly did and does today. The Mings wanted Beijing to be purely Chinese. Over two hundred thousand workers dedicated 20 years to constructing this new city and its palaces. Beijing was laid out like most other major Chinese cities, however, since it was the capital of the empire, it was designed on a grand scale mostly to overwhelm and impress the emperor's neighbors and his own subjects. A series of concentric walls encircled the Forbidden Palace and the city's inner and outermost neighborhoods; today there are no walls; ring roads (major urban highways) have taken their place. Modern Beijing is China's second largest city in population, after Shanghai. It is a major transportation hub, with dozens of railways, expressways and international flights originating here. Beijing is recognized as the political, educational, and cultural center of the Peoples Republic of China, while Shanghai and Hong Kong are its economic hubs. Beijing is proud to host the 2008 Summer Olympics.
Greater Beijing is divided into eight districts: Dongcheng, Xicheng, Chongwen, Xuanwu, Chaoyang, Haidian, Fengtai, Shijingshan.
Population: 15 million (Greater Beijing Metro Area), Time Zone:GMT/UTC +8
Area: 16808 sq. km (6500 sq. miles)
Flight times: Honolulu-11 hrs, Los Angeles-7 hrs, San Francisco-17 hrs, New York-21 hrs, London-17 hrs, Hong Kong-2.5hrs.
Beijing has cold and dry winters, due to the Siberian air masses that move southward across the Mongolian Plateau. The summers are hot and humid, bringing Beijing 40% of its annual precipitation.
Average Daily High/Low Temperature:
- Spring: High 78F/20 C, Low 30F/0 C
- Summer: High 90F/32 C, Low 72F/22 C
- Fall: High 87F/31 C, Low 30F/-1 C
- Winter: High 40F/4 C, Low 23F/-4 C
Beijing Capital International Airport terminal opened October 1, 1999.
Telephone: (0)10 6456 3220 or 4247 or 3604
Taxis: the easiest way to quickly reach Beijing center. Time to the city center: 40-60 minutes. Travelers should have their destination written in Chinese or indicated on a map.
Airport-City Shuttle Bus: departs from Arrivals terminal and takes 3 routes to Beijing: Xidan, Gongzhufen and Zhongguancun. The most popular route is Xidan, which is a short walk to the Forbidden City. Gongzhufen accesses western Beijing and Zhongguancun accesses the northwest district. These shuttle also stops at intermediate locations and some hotels.
Rental cars are available through Beijing Airport Car Deals that provides cars from Advantage, Alamo, Budget, Discount, Dollar, Hertz and National.
AREAS OF INTEREST
The Forbidden City was inaccessible to most of the world for 500 years and, consequently, it has some of the best preserved ancient buildings in China. Here the original owners, the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasty, isolated themselves from the people and maintained a one-way communication with the empire. Regal fiats from the nerve center of the country were delivered to peasant subjects beyond the wall by eunuchs. Other powerful court officials actually made most of the important decisions for the emperor. Here is evidence of conspicuous wealth lush gardens, courtyards, pavilions and great halls furnished with rare antiques even though there have been losses because of invading Manchus and constant theft plus pillaging and looting by both the Japanese during WWII and the Kuomintang. A permanent restoration team constantly cares for the 800 buildings and 9000 rooms that make up the Forbidden City. In later years Mao Zedong lived a similar life to the emperors in his compound next to this Imperial City.
Located in the center of Beijing, Tiananmen Square's 440,000 square meters (4,736,120 square feet)contains many of China's most precious monuments: Monuments to the People's Heroes, Great Hall of the People and Mao Zedong Memorial Hall. The Square is the entrance to the Forbidden City.
At the north end of the Square is Tiananmen Tower. Initially built in 1417 during the Ming Dynasty.
West of the Square is the Great Hall of the People. This building, erected in 1959, is the site of the China National People's Congress meetings and the backdrop for most of the government's public spectacles. This huge Hall is divided into 3 sections: the Central Hall, the Great Auditorium and a Banqueting Hall. The numbers are quite impressive: the Great Auditorium behind the Central Hall seats 10,000, the Banqueting Hall seats 5,000. At the south side of the Square is the Mao Zedong Memorial Hall where Chairman Mao's body lies in state.
The China National Museum at the east side of the Square came into existence in 2003 and is a combination of Chinese History Museum and Chinese Revolutionary Museum. This National Museum faces the Great Hall of the People.
A one half-hour ride from Tiananmen Square, the Summer Palace is actually a series of gardens that encompass a hill, a lake, a river, and many buildings. It is a place to relax and study nature. Here the gardeners attempt to create nature perfected.
Jingshan Park (Coal Hill)
North of the Forbidden City is Jingshan Park. Covering a space of 23 hectares (56 acres), this impressive park was once an imperial garden during the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911). It was opened to the public in 1928. This artificial hill (Coal Hill) with 5 peaks was built with the earth excavated when the moat of the Imperial Palace was dug.
The newer Museum of Natural History and the ancient Temple of Heaven, built in 1420, are located here. The Tiantan served as a place of ceremony and ritual for the Ming and Qing emperors.
Drum Tower and Bell Tower
Excellent examples of early imperial architecture, these towers were erected in 1380. The Drum Tower is the counterpart of the Bell Tower, which is 300 meters to the southeast. In ancient times these towers were used to tell time with the beat of a huge drum indicating the exact time of dusk. However during later centuries it was only used to alarm the people of the Imperial City . Standing 34 meters (37 ft.) high, the tower was until recently one of the tallest structures in the city.Ê The base of these towers is made of stone while the upper stories are of wood.
Olympic Green (Venue for 2008 Olympics)
This location of over half of the 2008 Olympic competition is north of central Beijing. It is home not only to important venues but also to the Olympic Village, the Main Press Center (MPC), and the International Broadcasting Center (IBC). The city is constructing several subway stations to connect the Olympic Green and downtown Beijing. Buses and taxis are also available at all hours.
The National Stadium, nicknamed the Bird's Nest because of its' unique design, is located on the Olympic Green and covers an area of 258,000 square meters (63.8 acres). Designed by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, and the China Architecture Design Institute, construction started in December, 2003 and will have a capacity of 100,000 when completed. Besides being the venue for the opening and closing ceremonies, this stadium will be the stage for both national and international sporting events, as well as cultural and entertainment activities after the Olympics. The National Aquatics Center, namely 'H2O3', is another important venue of Olympic Green. It covers more than 65,000 square meters (about 16.1 acres) and can accommodate 17,000 spectators during swimming, diving, water polo, and synchronized swimming events.