treasure-house of East Asia'
The capital city of the People’s Republic
of China (PRC), Beijing (Peking)
is a rapidly-growing, dynamic metropolis that, while welcoming foreign
businesses and visitors, retains a strong grip on its rich cultural
heritage and a tightly controlled Communist social order. It is
a monolithic showcase that may give a distorted impression of China
to foreign visitors. Beijing is a cosmopolitan city with high-rise
buildings, shopping malls and huge international hotels linked by
an elaborate freeway system crisscrossing the city. During rush
hour, traffic jams can rival those of any major city around the
world and the ringing of cell phones is incessant. However, the
modern buildings hide traditional hutongs, parks, numerous architectural
treasure and beautiful yellow-tiled temples whose prayer flags and
wind chimes flap in the breeze created by the passing traffic.
Beijing became China’s capital in 1421 and remained so until
the fall of the imperial regime in 1911. It wasn't until late in
19th century that Westerners were permitted to reside there and
all trading links had formerly been restricted to Canton. From 1911
to 1949 Beijing endured, as did the rest of China, from the battles
fought between various factions trying to take over the whole country.
The Japanese invasion in 1931 was followed by a
nasty civil war, which ultimately led to Communist supremacy
under Mao Tse Tung and the founding of the People’s
Republic of China with Beijing as the capital.
The first ten years of his power were victorious in many ways. Stability
prevailed all over the whole country and great progress was achieved
in agriculture, industry, education and health care. However, in
1966, Mao initiated the Cultural Revolution, an
attack on his more liberal political colleagues, which resulted
in several years of anarchy all through the country. After Mao’s
death in 1976, China slowly began to open up, welcoming foreigners
as investors and as tourists and local Chinese were allowed to set
up businesses. Beijing is now keen to show what a thriving commercial
capital it has become.
A great place to begin exploring the city is Tiananmen Square,
the location where Mao Tse Tung declared the foundation of the People’s
Republic. Today, the Square is well known as a result of the suppression
of the 1989 student-led pro-democracy protests. To stand –
alongside thousands of visitors – and witness the imposing
majesty of the Forbidden City to the north and
the giant portrait of Mao Tse Tung on the Tiananmen Gate
itself is to understand the awesome control that China’s leaders
have always had on the people.
Not to be missed is a morning visit to one of Beijing’s
public parks. This is when residents let their hair down
and relax by indulging in their particular favourite physical activity,
whether it's tai’chi, jogging, singing or even ballroom dancing.
Beijing is at its finest in late spring and autumn.
Autumn is an especially pleasant time to visit as the weather is
warm and the leaves of the many trees in the city turn amazing shades
of red and gold. The heat and humidity of the summers and the chilling
wind in winter can at times be extreme.