Telephone code: 010, Population: 13.8 million, Area: 16,800 sq km
Beijing , capital of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), is where they move the cogs and wheels of the Chinese universe. Those who have slugged it out in hard-seat trains and ramshackle buses through the poverty stricken interior of China appreciate the creature comforts of Beijing . The city boasts some of China’s best restaurants and recreation facilities, and palatial hotels fit for an emperor. Foreigners who have passed their time only in Beijing without seeing the rest of China come away with the impression that everything is hunky-dory in the PRC.
Whatever impression you come away with, Beijing is a cosmetic showcase and not a realistic window on China . For the past twenty years, the city has undergone relentless modernisation. It is now gearing up for the mother of all facelifts in preparation for the 2008 Olympics. But look beyond the wide boulevards, glittering hotels and high-rises and you’ll still find many historical and cultural treasures.
History records that Beijing was first settled around 1000 BC. It began as a frontier trading town for the Mongols, Koreans and tribes from Shandong and central China , and by the Warring States period had grown to be the capital of the Yan kingdom. The town underwent a number of changes as it acquired new warlords – the Khitan Mongols and the Manchurian lurches tribes among them. During the Liao dynasty, Beijing was referred to as Yanjing (Capital of Yan), which is still the name of Beijing’s most popular beer.
Beijing’s history really gets under way in AD 1215, the year Genghis Khan set fire to Yanjing and slaughtered everything in sight. From the ashes emerged Dadu (Great Capital), alias Khanbaliy, the Khan’s town. By 1279 Genghis Khan’s grandson Kublai had made himself ruler of most of Asia , and Khanbaliq was his capital. With a lull in the fighting from 1280 to 1300, foreigners managed to drop in along the Silk Road for tea with the Great Khan. The mercenary Zhu Yanhang led an uprising in 1368, taking over the city and ushering in the Ming dynasty. The city was renamed Beiping (Northern Peace) and for the next 35 years the capital was shifted south to Nanjing.
In the early 1400s Zhu’s son Yongle shuffled the court back to Beiping and renamed it Beijing (Northern Capital). Many of Beijing’s historic structures. such as the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven , were built in Yongle’s reign.
A change of government came with the Manchus. who invaded China and established the Qing dynasty. Under them, and Kangxi and Qianlong. Beijing was expanded and renovated, and summer palaces, pagodas and temples were built.
In the last 120 years of the Qing dynasty, Beijing , and subsequently China , was subjected to power struggles and invasions, and the chaos they caused. The list is long: the Anglo-French troops who in 1860 burnt the Old Summer Palace to the ground; the corrupt regime of Empress Dowager Cixi; the Boxers: General Yuan Shikai: the warlords: the Japanese occupation of 1937; and the Kuomintang.
Beijing changed hands one last time when, in January 1949, the People’s Liberation Army, (PLA) entered the city. On 1 October of that year Mao proclaimed a ‘People’s Republic’ to an audience of some 500,000 citizens in Tiananmen Square.
Like the emperors before them, the Communists significantly altered the face of Beijing to suit their own image. Down came the commemorative arches, while whole city blocks were reduced to rubble to widen major boulevards. From 1950 to 1952 the city’s magnificent outer walls were levelled in the interests of traffic circulation. Soviet experts and technicians poured in, leaving their own Stalinesque touches.
The capitalist-style reforms of the past quarter century have transformed Beijing into a modem city, with an array of skyscrapers, slick shopping malls and heaving flyovers. The once flat skyline is now crenellated with vast apartment blocks and office buildings.
Recent years have seen a convincing beautification of Beijing : from a toneless and unkempt city to a greener, cleaner and more pleasant place.
Beijing’s successful bid for the 2008 Olympics is set to further transform the capital. The city’s already manic construction drive has been ratcheted up another gear: a gargantuan expanse of land in the north of the city will become the 1215-hectare Olympic Green, boasting nit Olympic Village capable of housing close to 18,000 people.
In a bid to sweep away the summer smog that chokes the city. Officials trumpet a target of 90% of buses and 70% of taxis running on natural gas by 2007, while polluting industries will be elbowed into the suburbs.
With a total area of 16.800 sq km. Beijing municipality is roughly the size of Belgium.
Though it may not appear so to the visitor in the turmoil of arrival. Beijing is a city of very orderly design. Think of the city as one giant grid, with the Forbidden City at its centre. As for the street names: Chongwenmenwai Dajie means ‘the avenue (dajie) outside (wai) Chongwen Gate (Chongwenmen)’ – that is. outside the old wall – whereas Chongwenmennei Dajie means ‘the avenue inside Chongwen Gate’. It’s an academic exercise since the gate and the wall in question no longer exist.
A major boulevard can change names six or even seven times along its length. Streets and avenues can also be split along compass points: Dong Dajie (East A CIVIC). Xi Dajie ( West Avenue ), Bei Dajie ( North Avenue ) and Nan Dajie ( South Avenue ). All these streets head off from an intersection, usually where a gate once stood.
Officially, there are four ‘ring roads’ around Beijing , circling the city centre in concentric rings. A fifth ring road exists on paper, but construction has yet to begin.
Lonely Planet publishes a waterproof color Beijing fold-out City Map, with Chinese script. English-language maps of Beijing are generally handed out free at the big hotels. They’re often part of an advertising supplement for various companies whose locations are- of course, also shown on the map. It’s better to fork out a few Yuan for a bilingual map that shows bus routes. These are available from the Friendship Store and hotel gift shops.
If you can deal with Chinese-language maps. you’ll find a wide variety from which to choose. You can pick these up at train stations or at any street-side news stalls for Y3. Map-laden hawkers patrol Wangfujing and the area around Tiananmen Square.
Beijing is well serviced by expat mags, which include That’s Beijing . Jianwen Guide. Beijing Journal, City Weekend. Beijing this Month and Metrozine. All the bars in the Saulitun area carry them: also try top-end hotels. Expat maps offer extensive and up-to-date listings for bars, restaurants and clubs, and carry classified adverts, personal columns, housing info, reviews and travel columns. On the net, your best bet is www.chinanow.com for daily updated travel and entertainment news relating to the capital.
Unless otherwise indicated, all of the places mentioned below appear on the Central Beijing map.
Your hotel should offer a number of tours within and around Beijing . Many travel agents advertise their services in the expat mags these can be useful for single or multi-day tours around Beijing and China . Phone around to find one that can reliably converse in English. For a list of travel agents in Beijing , consult www.chinatour.com/agt/a.htm
You can book rail and plane tickets and tours at the main government-run Beijing Tourism Group (BTG’. Beijing Luxingshe; Tel: 6515 8562) on the ground floor of the Beijing Tourist Building at 28 Jianguomenwai Dajie. near Scitech Plaza . This is also where you can pick up Trans-Manchurian and Trans-Mongolian train ticket as well as information about the city.
The Beijing Tourist Administration Bureau’s Panda Tours (Tel: 6803 6963) have English speaking guided tours from numerous major hotels. Sights include the Great Wall. Chinese acrobatics, the Summer Palace . the Forbidden City and farther afield destinations such as Chengde.
There is an English-speaking 24-hour Beijing Tourism Hotline (Tel: 6513 0828). It can answer questions and hear complaints.
Beijing is not a bad place to stock up on visas. There are two major embassy neighborhoods Jianguomenwai and Sanlitun. For a list of embassies in Beijing with addresses and phone numbers, see the Facts for the Visitor chapter earlier in this book.
The Jianguomenwai embassy area is in the vicinity of the Friendship Store, east of the city centre. The Sanlitun embassy cluster is several kilometres to the north-east, near the Great Wall Sheraton hotel.
All hotels – even most budget ones – can change travelers cheques or US dollars.
If you want to cash travellers cheques and receive US dollars in return (necessary if you’re going to Russia or Mon”olia), this can be done at CITIC at the International Building (Guoji Dasha), adjacent to the Friendship Store at 19 Jianguomenwai Dajie. On major international credit cards CITIC will advance cash. There’s a useful branch of the Bank of China in Sundongan Plaza , east of the Forbidden City on Wanefujing Dajie.
The following international credit card companies have representative offices in Beijing : Visa International (Tel: 10 800 110 2911): The American Express Service Center (Tel: 6505 2888): Diners Club International (Tel: 6510 1833. 24-hour hotline Tel: 6606 2227).
Major bank addresses in Beijing include: CIT1C Industrial Bank (Tel: 6554 2388, 6621 9988) Block C, Fuhua Mansion . 8 Chaoyangmen Dajie: Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (Tel: 6526 0668) Ground Floor, Block A. COFCO Plaza, 8 Jianguomennei Dajie.
Growing numbers of Bank of China branches have ATM machines where you can draw from international accounts. The ATM at Capital Airport is extremely useful. Another handy wall-mounted ATM accepting Visa, MasterCard, Plus and Cirrus is at the Bank of China on Wangfujing Dajie. Some upmarket hotels (eg. Lower Level 2, The Palace Hotel and Swissotel) and department stores (eg, the Lufthansa Center ) have ATMs. The Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (see previously) has a 24-hour ATM where you can draw money from your overseas HSBC account.
POST & COMMUNICATIONS
The International Post & Communications Building (Tel: 6512 8120, www.bipto.com.cn ) is on Jianguomen Beidajie. It’s open Monday to Friday from 8am to 6pm and 9am to 5pm for international package pickup (be sure to bring your passport). All letters and parcels marked ‘Poste Restante, GPO Beijing’ will wind up here. The staff even file poste restante letters in alphabetical order, a rare occurrence in China, but you pay for all this efficiency – there is a Y 1.5 fee charged for each letter received.
There are a number of private couriers that offer international express posting of documents and parcels. The major ones are:
- United Parcel Service (Tel: 6593 2932) Unit A. 1st floor, Tower B, Beijing Kelun Bldg, 12a Guanghua Lu. Chaoyang District
- DHL (Tel: 6466 2211 fax 6467 7826) 45 Xinyuan Jie, Chaoyang District. There are also branches in the Kempinski Hotel and China World Trade Centre.
- Federal Express (Tel: 800 810 2338, 6561 2003) Hanwei Bldg. 7 Guanghua Lu. Chaoyang District. There’s also a branch in the Golden Land Bldg, next to the 21st Century Hotel.
- TNT Skypak (Tel: 6465 2227, fax 6462 4018) 8a Xiangheyuan Zhongli. Chaoyang District
Email & Internet Access
Beijing is well served with Internet cafes. The most organised is Sparkice, at a number of locations: 2nd floor. China World Trade Center , I Jiauguomenwai Dajie (Tel: 6505 2288 ext 80206), open 24 hours, and Unit S118, East Wing, Lufthansa Center . 50 Liangmaqiao Lu (Tel: 6465 3388 ext 4530). charging Y8 per hour 10am to 8pm and Y12 per hour 10pm to lam. Beijing Normal University has a popular Internet cafe on the lst floor of the Foreign Students Building . 19 Xinjiekou Waidajie (Liuxuesheng Lou; Tel:6220 9220), which is open 24 hours and charges Y5 per hour. You can also try 11 Fans, B, Full Link Plaza (Tel: 6588 0399), also open 24 hours and charging Y 10 per hour. Check the expat rags for further listings.
The massive Beijing Library (Tel: 6841 5566. www.nlc.gov.cn), at 39 Baishiqiao Lu. Haidian District, west of the Beijing Zoo. has foreign periodicals and foreign books reading rooms. Although foreigners aren’t allowed to check books out you can buy a day pass for Y1 on the 3rd floor. You can also access the Internet here. The library is open 9am to 5pm daily.
Various embassies also have small libraries. The American Center for Educational Exchange (Tel: 6597 3242), at Room 2801. Jingguang Centre, Hujialou, in the Chaoyang district, has a useful library. The British Council (Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy; Tel: 6590 6903) on the 4th floor of the Landmark Bldg Tower 1, 8 Donosanhuan Beilu, next to the Great Wall Sheraton, also has a useful information center.
The Public Security Bureau (PSB: Gonganju: Tel:6404 7799) has an office at 2 Andingmen Dongdajie, about 300m east of the Lama Temple . It’s open 8.30am to noon and 1pm to 5pm Monday to Saturday. The visa office is on the 2nd floor.
Beijing International SOS Clinic (tel: 6462 9112. 24-hour alarm centre – 6462 9100, www.internationalsos.com ) is at 1 Xingfu Sancun Beijie, behind the German embassy. It has a high-quality clinic with English-speaking staff. It’s open Monday to Friday 9am to 6pm , with 24-hour emergency medical care. International SOS also has a dental clinic (Tel: 6462 0333). The Beijing International Medical Centre (Tel: 6465 1561/1562/1563, fax 6465 1961) is at Room 106 in the Regus Office Building , Lufthansa Center , at 50 Liangmaqiao Lu. It is open 24 hours and has English-speaking staff: pharmacy, dental service and counselling is also available.
The Hone Kong International Medical Clinic (Tel: 6501 2288 ext 2345/6, fax 6502 3426) is on the 3rd floor of the Hong Kong Macau Center at Swissotel. It has a 24-hour medical and dental clinic, with obstetrical/ gynaecological services, and staff can also do immunisations. Prices are more reasonable than at SOS and the International Medical Centre. Note for all of the aforementioned that it’s much cheaperjust to ask what medicines you need and then buy them at a pharmacy on the street.
Chinese hospitals that cater to foreigners are cheaper than international clinics. Beijing Union Medical Hospital (Xiehe Yiyuan: Tel: 6529 6114, emergency 6529 5284), at 53 Dongdan Beidajie. is a firstrate hospital set in wonderful building sear WangfujTng. There is a foreigners and high-level cadres-only in the back building. It’s open 24 hours and has the full range of facilities for inpatient and outpatient care, as well as a pharmacy.
Also try the Beijing United Family Hospital (Tel: 6433 3960. www.beijingunited.com ) at 2 Jiangtai Lu, an American joint venture open 24 hours with a comprehensive range of inpatient and outpatient care.