Beijing, also known as Peking, city and capital of China, encircled by Hebei Province, located in the northern part of the country, on the northern edge of the Huabei Pingyuan (North China Plain), approximately 110 km (approximately 70 mi) northwest of the Bo Hai gulf. Beijing, the second largest city in China after Shanghai, is the cultural, political, and intellectual center of the country, as well as a major industrial and commercial metropolis. Initially settled more than 2000 years ago, it has been the capital of China for most of the last 700 years. The climate is seasonal, with hot summers and cold winters. Temperatures can climb higher than 38° C (higher than 100° F) in July and drop lower than -15° C (lower than 5° F) in January.
Beijing is an independently administered municipal district of about 16,810 sq km (about 6490 sq mi). It comprises ten urban districts and eight predominantly rural counties. The urban districts include four dense city districts and six suburban districts. The suburbs are growing rapidly as new construction of institutional, industrial, and residential buildings cover the landscape and convert former agricultural land to urban uses. The eight rural counties continue to provide basic grain, vegetables, fruits, building materials, and water supplies to the city. However, significant industrial growth has also occurred in these areas, namely in the outlying towns of Shijingshan, Tongxian, Fengtai, and Fangshan.
The city proper consists of two older sections in the center of the city and new outlying residential, industrial, and institutional areas built mainly after 1949. The old section includes a square inner city on the north constructed between 1409 and 1420, and a rectangular outer city to the south built between 1521 and 1566. Once encircled by a wall about 24 km (about 15 mi) long and about 15 m (about 50 ft) high, the inner city has at its core the Forbidden City. Between 1421 and 1912, this was the walled palace and inner compound of China's imperial family and was so named because ordinary citizens were not allowed inside. It was the most sacred space in traditional, imperial China. The complex, now housing the Palace Museum (founded in 1925), was opened to the public in 1949. Beyond the Forbidden City was the Imperial City, which contained government offices, temples, gardens, palaces, and parks. Outside the Imperial City were upper-class homes, markets, and more temples. The adjacent outer city, once encircled by a wall about 23 km (about 14 mi) long, shared the northern part of its wall with the inner city. The outer city contained important temple areas and residential space for the commoners.
In accordance with traditional Chinese town planning, Beijing was designed along a north-south central axis; this line represented the imperial authority and it ran through many key government offices, buildings, imperial residences, and main gates. After the Communist revolution in 1949, most walls of the old city were demolished and replaced with thoroughfares. However, several of the old gates have been preserved. During the 1950s Tiananmen (the Gate of Heavenly Peace, also known as Tian'an Men), located along the city's north-south axis south of the Forbidden City, was rebuilt and its square to the south was enlarged to hold crowds for parades. Major installations were added in and around Tiananmen Square, including the Great Hall of the People, built in 1959, where the national legislature meets. Several blocks east of the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square is Wangfujing Avenue, the city's most famous shopping district.
As the nation's capital and political center, the particular economic role of Beijing has been a topic of considerable debate and controversy. The Communist government has designated Beijing as an appropriate center for industrial, commercial, transportation, trade, cultural, and scientific development. However, these multiple roles have sometimes conflicted with one another. Extremely rapid industrial development, for example, occurs at the expense of preserving some of Beijing's historical and cultural landmarks.
Nevertheless, Beijing has become the second largest industrial center in China after Shanghai. The industrial growth extends to outlying towns in the municipality's rural areas; there are now major factories in Shijingshan (a major iron and steel mill), Tongxian (motor vehicles), Fengtai (machinery), and Fangshan (petrochemicals). In the early 1990s more than 2.1 million workers were employed in industry in Beijing. Processed foods, textiles, paints, paper, high-quality lubricants, and electronic products are now produced in Beijing. Construction activity has also increased rapidly. New buildings, factories, and improvements to the infrastructure are widespread. In the early 1990s there were about 684,000 construction workers employed in Beijing.
Employment in agriculture, about 900,000 in the early 1990s, has remained relatively unchanged since the 1980s. Major farm products include grains, cabbages, tomatoes, eggplants, carrots, onions, milk, eggs, poultry, and pork.
Commercial and service activities have grown rapidly in recent years and in the early 1990s employed more than 1 million workers. The city is a major hub for shopping, retailing, and trade, and international products and brands are now commonplace. Since the 1980s joint ventures with foreign companies have become common, and the local economy not only includes enterprises owned by the state and collective units, but also many privately owned companies and self-employed individuals.
Beijing is one of China's main centers of transportation and trade. A major expressway was recently completed to Tianjin, an important port city about 90 km (about 55 mi) to the southeast. Beijing is the hub of a national network of major highways. Railway lines radiate to all parts of the country, and some connect to North Korea, Russia, and Mongolia. Within the city there are new roads and expressways. Opened in 1969, the Beijing subway continues to expand and is one of China's noteworthy efforts at mass transit. Despite new road construction, traffic has become increasingly congested as more cars become available. Most people still travel short distances on bicycles, and these contribute to the clogged streets. Beijing's international airport, located 26 km (15 mi) northeast of the city, has extensive domestic service to most of the larger cities in China and is also served by several international carriers with direct service to North America, Europe, and other parts of Asia.
The estimated population of Beijing municipality in 1988 was 9,879,700. In 1992 the estimated population was 11,020,000, of whom approximately 7 million lived in the dense area of the city proper. The remainder lived in small cities, towns, and villages in the surrounding counties. By 1997 the estimated population had grown to 12,590,000. The city has a low birth rate, a low death rate, and a very low rate of natural population increase. Most of Beijing's recent growth has been by immigration. In the mid-1990s the city also had more than 1 million transients (visiting workers on temporary permits or illegal workers) who were not included in the official population statistics. They serve as construction workers, domestic servants, and in other low-level service activities. Many transients live in crude shacks or other temporary shelters, or rent dormitory space. Because of their transient status and low income level, they are often blamed for rising crime and social unrest.
More than 90 percent of the population of Beijing are Han Chinese, and the remainder are Manchus, Mongols, Turkic peoples from western China, and other minority nationalities and foreigners. Mandarin Chinese is the language spoken in and around Beijing. The dialect of Beijing has become the standard form of Mandarin, which is the country's official spoken language. See Chinese Language.
Like most other Chinese cities, Beijing has serious pollution problems. Industrial and residential waste water disposal is largely unregulated and the burning of coal and other polluting materials contributes to the city's severe air and water pollution.
Beijing has more colleges and universities than any other Chinese city. The most prominent institutions are Beijing University, founded in 1898; and Qinghua University, founded in 1911, which is the most prestigious scientific and technical institution in the country. Both institutions are located in the northwest suburbs, an area associated with higher education and research. Also in this area are the People's University, founded in 1937, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, founded in 1949.
Beijing also has many museums and cultural activities. There are numerous theaters, including the People's Theater, the Capital Theater, and the Nationalities Theater. The Beijing Concert Hall is among the venues for musical performances. There are also art museums and a museum of natural history.
Despite much recent construction, Beijing remains a city of great monuments, palaces, temples and other reminders of the past glory of imperial China. The Palace Museum, located within the Forbidden City, was the former residence and official site of the imperial family and court. Built more than 500 years ago, this complex comprises a series of great halls and palaces which served for official and ceremonial occasions of state, banquets, and residential purposes. To the west of this complex is Zhongnan Hai, a large park and cluster of lakes that is walled and serves today as the residential compound for China's top leadership. Immediately south of the Forbidden City is Tiananmen Square. This is the site of large celebrations and rallies, such as the National Day celebrations held each year on October 1. On the east side of the square is the Museum of China's History and Revolution, and in the center is the Monument to the Heroes of the People and the tomb of Mao Zedong, who established the Communist form of government in China in 1949. In 1989 the square was the site of massive student demonstrations which were violently suppressed by the army. See Tiananmen Square Protest.
In the northwestern suburbs are tombs of most emperors of the Ming dynasty, who ruled in China from 1368 to 1644. The tombs are approached by the long Avenue of the Animals, lined with marble lions, elephants, camels, and horses. Northwest of the Ming Tombs, within the municipal boundaries, is a portion of the Great Wall.
Of the many temples in the old city, perhaps the best known and most beautiful is the complex known as the Temple of Heaven, located in Tian Tan Park in the southern part of the outer city. This complex includes two circular ceremonial buildings with blue-tiled roofs. These were the shrines where China's emperors worshipped; after the Communist revolution in 1949, the Temple of Heaven became a public park. Other noteworthy temples include the Confucian and Lama temples and the Temple of the White Dagoba built to commemorate the visit of the fifth Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, in 1651.
Major sporting events are held at the Beijing Stadium, the Workers' Stadium, and the Sports Ground. Other parks include the Summer Palace in the northwest suburbs and the surrounding temples and parks known as the Fragrant Hills, which were established as religious retreat areas and hunting grounds. Beijing also has a major zoo, a planetarium, and a former imperial observatory famed for its ancient cosmological and astronomical devices.
Settlement in the vicinity of modern Beijing traces back to 3000 BCE or earlier. Its location on the northern flank of the Huabei Pingyuan (North China Plain) was crucial as a geographic and political intersection between the settled farming populations of the Han Chinese to the south and west and the nomadic tribal groups to the north, northeast, and northwest. An administrative capital was built here during the Zhou (Chou) dynasty (1027?-256 BCE).
In the 10th century CE the Khitan Mongols from the northeast conquered part of north China and established their southern capital on the site of present-day Beijing. Early in the 12th century they were defeated by the Jurchen who established the Jin (Chin) dynasty and rebuilt the city on a larger scale.
The truly grand and elaborate development of the city emerged after the Mongol conquest of China and the establishment of the Yuan (Yüan) dynasty in the 13th century. The Mongol ruler Kublai Khan decided to establish his capital at Beijing in 1272, and for the first time the new capital, named Khanbalik, became the political and administrative center for all of China.
In 1368 Zhu Yuanzhang (Chu Yüan-chang) established the Ming dynasty and designated Nanjing as his capital. He soon overran the Yuan capital at Beijing and changed the city's name to Beiping, which means Northern Peace. After his death in 1398 a struggle ensued between Zhu's grandson, who was the son of Zhu's deceased eldest son and the rightful heir to the throne, and Zhu's second eldest son, who usurped the throne and ruled as the Yongle emperor. The Yongle emperor moved the Ming capital to Beijing in 1420 and gave the city its current name, which means Northern Capital. The city developed and grew, and the basis for its current design and layout was implemented during this time. Additional construction of temples and palaces occurred during the succeeding Qing (Ch’ing) dynasty, which ruled from 1644 to 1911.
Following the overthrow of the Qing and the establishment of the Republic of China in 1911, Beijing remained the political center of China until 1928. The Nationalist Party, headed by Chiang Kai-shek, moved the capital to Nanjing and renamed Beijing to Beiping, the city's former name under the early Ming dynasty. During World War II the city was occupied by the Japanese from 1937 to 1945, but was spared much damage. Following the Communist revolution in 1949, the city's name was changed back to Beijing and designated the capital of the newly established People's Republic of China.
Clifton W. Pannell