Introduction to Beijing
Beijing is the capital of China and a fascinating mixture of the old and new. With an area of 16,808 square kilometers, it is today the political, cultural and administrative center of the People’s Republic which was founded in 1949, the home of more than 19.72 million citizens and the seat of government.
Beijing has been in existence as a settlement for more than 3,000 years, although the remains of “Peking Man” show that human life existed in this part of China half a million years ago. It has been a center of power under the Mongols, the Ming, the Manchu and now the People’s Republic of China for a period spanning almost seven hundred years.
Being one of the few inland capitals of the world not built on a major river, it owes its long pre-eminence to its strategic geographical position. Lying on the northwestern fringe of the Great North China Plain, Beijing serves as a gateway to the Inner Mongolian steppes in the north, the Shanxi plateau in the west and, through the easternmost pass of the Great Wall at Shanhaiguan, to north-east China.
Beijing first achieved prominence during the Warring States Period (476 – 221 BC), when it became the capital of the Kingdom of Yan and was called Ji (meaning “reeds”, because of the marshy nature of the terrain). The Mongolian emperor, Kublai Khan, renamed it Dadu (great capital) when he made it the base for his Yuan Dynasty (1271 – 1368 AD), but the first emperor of the succeeding Ming Dynasty moved his court to Nanjing (Nanking), where it remained until the third emperor returned the royal seat to Beijing.
Hence the name, Beijing, meaning “northern capital”, was used as opposed to Nanjing, which means “southern capital”. Since then, Beijing has always been the capital of the nation, except for a brief period during the civil war in the first half of this century, when Chiang Kai-shek’s commanding army again moved the government to Nanjing.
It was from the rostrum in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square that, on October 1, 1949, the late Chairman Mao Zedong formally proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
The historic Tiananmen rostrum is not only the symbolic heart of China, but also the key to Beijing. The whole city radiates out from it – or more exactly, from the grand royal compound of the Forbidden City – the old imperial palace – on the northern side of the square. The original city of Beijing was planned and for a time developed in such a way that the Forbidden City remained at the true center of the capital. Old meets new everywhere in Beijing – the ancient Forbidden City is overlooked by skyscrapers, the famous Great Wall pass north of the city proper is now surrounded by car parks, the centuries-old observatory stands next to a motor flyover, old court houses are dotted with glittering supermarkets, broad tar-paved avenues are full of tourists, and damp underground tombs of the bygone emperors are illuminated by electric lighting.
Beijing, the capital of the People’s Republic of China, is one of the most historical cities in the world. It is not only the political and administrative center of the country, but also China’s greatest repository of monuments and treasures. And almost all of the visitors in Beijing are attracted and fascinated by the special charm of the Chinese capital city. When talking about Beijing, one can’t help mentioning the largest public square in the world, Tiananmen Square. More than ninety percent of foreign visitors who come to China want to see Beijing, and their tour of Beijing usually starts at Tiananmen Square in the heart of the city, a site of great political and historical significance.
The square, which can accommodate 5,000,000 people, is flanked by the Great Hall of the People to the west, the Museum of the Chinese History and the Museum of the Chinese Revolution to the east, with the ancient Tiananmen Gate to the north, Chairman Mao’s Memorial Hall is in the south part of the square.
During the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644)and the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911), the square was only one-quarter of its present size, and was enclosed by a red wall. The only common people allowed to enter the enclosure were those being dragged in to be executed.
After the 1911 revolution that toppled the Qing Dynasty, the wall gates were demolished to let in common people, and the square has since been the scene of many historic demonstrations.
The square was expanded to its present size after the founding of the People’s Republic. During festivities or political gatherings, the square is alive with people, red flags, lights and music.
Beijing not only ranks high among the tourist destinations in the world, but also becomes the capital of Chinese cuisine. It is well-known that Chinese cuisine is the oldest in tradition and stands first on the list among the world best, with many world-renowned restaurants where sumptuous banquets are served. The eight best-known Chinese cuisines today are the Yue (Canto), Lu (Shandong), Chuan (Sichuan), Huaiyang, etc.. the rapid growth of tourism, coupled with a demand for cuisine that can be produced quickly, in large quantities and using local produce, has resulted in more varied and imaginative offerings. In a Chinese restaurant, serving even the simplest dishes should look good, smell good and taste good. Seeing is believing. Only by tasting as many different dishes as possible can one get the genius of Chinese cooking.