Beijing’s long and illustrious history started some 500,000 years ago. It is here that the ancestors of modern Homo sapiens, Peking men, lived in caves. Records show that Beijing has been an inhabited city for more than three thousand years and has endured invasions by warlords and foreign powers, devastating fires, the rise and fall of powerful imperial dynasties and has emerged each time as a strong and vibrant city. Beijing City was established over 3,000 years ago and was called Jin City in the Western Zhou Dynasty (11th century BC – 771 BC). Ever since Emperor Qin united China in 221 BC, Beijing has played an important role in north China. It was the capital city in the Liao (916-1125), Jin (1115-1234), Yuan (1271-1368), Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. During these 800 years, 34 emperors lived and ruled here. The world renowned Forbidden City was built during this period. At the end of the Qing Dynasty, World War I broke out. Beijing became the focus of invaders. The war disrupted the society. Many residences of royal families were robbed and burned down. After that, the whole country was reduced to the status of semi-colonial and semi-feudal society. It wasn’t until October 1st, 1949 that the People’s Republic of China was founded and Beijing became its pride.
The name of China’s capital has changed over the centuries. At one time or another it has been known as Yanjing, Dadu, Beiping and Peiping. Peking or Beijing means “Northern Capital.” Beijing is the officially sanctioned pinyin spelling based on the Mandarin dialect. Beijing is the second largest city after Shanghai.
The city is marked by its flatness and arid climate. There are only three hills to be found in the city limits (in Jingshan Park to the north of Forbidden City) and mountains surround the capital on three sides. Like the configuration of the Forbidden City, Beijing has concentric “ring roads”, which are actually rectangular, that go around the metropolis and serve as good reference points as one attempts to move about the city. Beyond the ring roads are the most-visited portions of the Great Wall of China.
Beijing hosted the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, and will also host the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, the only city to host both.
Beijing Municipality is a large region, equal to a province or state, the city is designed around a series of concentric Ring Roads, using the Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City as it’s centre point, aligned on a perfect north/south axis, and is broken out into a series of primary districts:
- Dongcheng District (东城区) covers the eastern half of the city area approximately up to Third Ring Road to the north and Second Ring Road to the east and south. This is the most important tourist district of Beijing, including Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Chongwen (崇文区; Chóngwénqū) is a former district covering the southern third of Dongcheng, including the Temple of Heaven. Other important areas are Wangfujing (Walking Street), Gulou (the Drum Tower and Nanlougouxiang), Yonghegong (Yonghe Lama Temple) and Dongzhimen.
- Xicheng District (西城区) covers the western half of the central city area to just beyond Second Ring Road in the west and up to Third Ring Road to the north and south. It includes Beihai Park, Shichahai/Houhai area, Xidan, Beijing Zoo and the National Centre for Performing Arts. Xuanwu (宣武区; Xuānwǔqū) is a former district covering the southern third of Xicheng.
- Chaoyang District (朝阳区) covers a large area east of the central city area stretching from Second Ring Road until slightly beyond Fifth Ring Road to the east. Includes the CBD, Sanlitun (the Village and Workers’ Stadium), Olympic Green (Birds Nest, Water Cube and other Olympic venues), 798 Art Zone, Chaoyang Park, Ritan Park and various embassy areas
- Haidian District (海淀区) covers the northwest of the main urban area. It includes the New and Old Summer Palaces, Wudoukou, the Zhongguancun high technology industry and business cluster and Beijing’s major concentration of universities.
- Fengtai District (丰台区) covers the area south and west of Beijing. It includes Beijing West Railway Station
Traffic can be crazy in Beijing, and reckless driving is fairly normal. Loud, persistent honking is commonplace. It is simply another way to indicate that the driver is there. Be prepared for drivers to violate traffic laws even to the extent of going in reverse on highways to back up to a missed exit or driving on a sidewalk. Also expect occasional road debris (a piece of wood or torn out tire) to be laying in the roadway. At night, be careful of missing manhole covers or road work taking place without warning or without proper illumination at night. Pedestrians should be very careful crossing the street people will generally stop for you, but they will honk. Keep an eye on the locals and cross with them — there is strength in numbers. Also note some construction trucks will abuse the speed limit and also are known to at times ignore traffic signals. Proceed when clear, not necessarily when the traffic light is green.
WHAT TO BUY? Jade and Lacquer are known as the four best traditional handiworks of Beijing. In addition, Curios, Silk, Pearls, Snuff Bottles with hand painted pictures Inside, candied Fruits and confectionaries.
Wangfujing (王府井大街) starts with East Chang’an Avenue in the south and ends with China Art Gallery in the north. This shopping mecca houses a wide variety of shops and boutiques where you find commodities, some of which are of world-famous brands.
The Old Beijing Street which is located on Wangfujing Dajie is an underground street built in Ming and Qing styles. The outstanding characteristic of it is the centralized well-known longstanding stores selling shoes, caps, silk cloth, scissors, Chinese brushes and ink-stick, jade, teas, desserts, pickled vegetables and roast duck.
The Panjiayuan Market is a super shopping market for all Chinese arts and crafts. It is made up of over three thousand individual stalls covering 48,500 square metres. There really is something for everyone here. Even Hilary Clinton has shopped at Panjiayuan. There is a little overlap between stalls so you can compare and bargain but the range of goods is excellent. Stall owners come from twenty-four provinces around China to sell their wares. Panjiayuan Market is at its best on weekends. Shopping for jade. Stone cups and bowls, Teapots in all shapes and sizes, swords and axes, Stone statues and Buddha’s, Chinese chests and baskets, Chinese paintings and scroll paintings, calligraphy brushes, posters, Chinese books, Porcelain vases hand painted, Rows and rows of Wood boxes and masks… etc.. etc..
Silk Market, is a shopping market at 8 East Xiushui Street, Chaoyang. Because of its location, it is also called Xiushui Street or Xiushui Market by locals. Used to be an outdoor market, its now a shopping mall, which accommodates over 1,000 retailers. Even a silk museum was built on the third floor. 18 retailers who have been offering high quality silk over many years are located in the building. Predominantly making caps, Shengxifu, a ninety-year-old shop, is famous for its selection of material and handmade craftsmanship. And Neiliansheng, established in the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911), is famous for its Chinese cloth shoes. On the 3rd floor, you can buy authentic Chinese silk clothes like Tangzhuang suits and cheongsams. Directory of floors includes:
B1: Suitcases & Bags, Shoes, Hats, Leatherwear, CDs/DVDs, Electronics, Gift Packing, KFC & Money Exchange
1F: Clothes, Cafes, Information Desk & ATM
2F: Clothes, Boutique Corridor, Bedding, Nail Salon, Foot Massage, Money Exchange & ATM
3F: Tailor’s Shop, Scarves, Ties, Chinese Clothing, Pajamas, Silk Bedding, Children’s Wear, Toys, Silk Carpets, Nail Salon, Foot Massage, Silk Museum & ATM
4F: Jewelry, Jade, ‘Antiques’, Calligraphy, Paintings, Tea, Porcelain, Folk Handicrafts, Rugs, Cosmetics, Watches, Glasses, Stationery, Outdoor Supplies, Electrical Appliances, Digital Products, CDs/DVDs, Nail Salon & Foot Massage
5F: Boutiques, Bank, Supermarket & Teahouse
6F: Pharmacy & Food Court
Hongqiao Pearl Market (红桥珍珠市场) at Tiantan Donglu, Chongwen District, is just opposite Tiantan Park. More than 1,000,000 visitors come to Hongqiao Market to buy pearls yearly. The market also offers seafood, digital products and silk. Directory of floors includes:
1F: Digital Products & Watches
2F: Silk & Clothes
Beijing food has it’s own local style of cooking.
Peking Roast Duck (北京烤鸭) is a famous Beijing specialty served at many restaurants, but there are quite a few restaurants dedicated to the art of roasting the perfect duck. Expect to pay around RMB 160-200 at restaurants. Beijing duck is served with thin pancakes, plum sauce (甜面酱)，and slivers of scallions and cucumbers. You spread the sauce on the pancake, put a few pieces of duck, cucumber, and scallions. The end result is a combination of the cool crunchiness of the cucumber, the sharpness of the scallions, and the rich flavors of the duck. Quanjude Roast Duck (全聚德) is the most famous roast duck restaurant in China. Once people reach Beijing, they would like to taste the original roast ducks. This is the best place to experience traditional Peking Duck, with every duck being given a serial number to track it’s authenticity.
Savory pancakes (煎饼果子) are one of the most popular street snacks, eaten from morning till night with most carts operating during the morning commute and then opening again at night for the after-club crowds. This is a North China specialty. This pancake (bing) is cooked with an egg on a griddle, a fried dough crisp is added, and the whole thing is drizzled in scallions and a savory sauce. Hot sauce is optional. Not all street vendors are licensed and more than a fair share use recycled oil.
Lamb kebabs (羊肉串儿) and other kebabs are grilled on makeshift stands all around Beijing, from the late afternoon to late at night. Wangfujing has a “snack street” selling such mundane fare like lamb, chicken, and beef as well as multiple styles of noodle dishes, such as Sichuan style rice noodles, but the brave can also sample silkworm, scorpion, and various organs all skewered on a stick and grilled to order.
A winter specialty, candied haw berries (冰糖葫芦 bīngtáng húlu) are dipped in molten sugar which is left to harden in the cold and sold on a stick. You can also find variations with oranges, grapes, strawberries, and bananas, or dipped in crumbled peanuts as well as sugar. This sweet snack can also sometimes be found in the spring and the summer, but the haw berries are often from last season’s crop.
For the more adventurous, Wangfujing Snack Street (王府井小吃街) there is a street with hundreds of snack stands and shops, which mainly sells local insects and reptiles on skewers including scorpions, beetles, starfish, seahorse, centipedes, snakes, turtles, and tarantulas.
Teahouses are common in Beijing.