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Beijing is the cultural and political capital of the People's Republic of China.  This ancient city has remained a constant throughout the many incarnations of the Chinese nation, a history stretching back over 5000 years.  The history of modern Beijing, however, began in the 13th century, when Genghis Khan built his fortress city Khanbaliq amongst the ashes of Yanjing – the Liao Dynasty capital that he burned to the ground in 1215.  Beijing remained the centre of power throughout the reigns of the succeeding Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties – most of the last 800 years.  After the Nationalist Government in Nanjing was replaced by the Communist Party in 1949, Mao Zedong made his capital in Beijing; famously announcing the birth of the People’s Republic of China in Tiananmen Square on October 1, 1949.  Beijing’s lengthy and diverse history can be seen on the streets of Beijing, in the variety of monuments and palaces built by emperors and governments over the centuries.  Beijing is one of the world's most iconic cities; full of must-see sights for all first-time visitors to the Middle Kingdom.

1>Modern Beijing 
Beijing thrives today as the political and cultural capital of China as well as a center of international activity and an important socialist base.
Great changes have taken place since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949. The city walls were demolished to facilitate transportation and allow for general expansion. By 2004, the population exceeded 14.9 million, and the total municipal area was increased to over 16,800 square kilometers. The city is presently divided into 16 districts: Dongcheng, Xicheng, Chongwen, Xuanwu, Chaoyang, Haidian, Shijingshan, Fengtai, Shunyi, Changping, Mentougou, Tongzhou, Fangshan, Daxing, Huairou and Pinggu. In addition to these urban districts, the municipality is comprised of two counties: Miyun and Yanqing.
Plans for future development retain the symmetrical layout of the old city on its north-south axis, extending out into the suburban districts.
From Dingfuzhuang in the east to Shijingshan in the west and from Qinghe in the north to Nanyuan in the south, the overall plan covers an area of 1,000 square kilometers. A traffic network of four concentric beltways, 28 radial roads, and underground and suburban railways are being further developed to link the city center with outlying areas and surrounding towns.
With Tian'anmen at the center, offices along 38-kilometer-long Chang'an Boulevard will concentrate on state, political and economic affairs. The areas around the Palace Museum (Imperial Palace or Forbidden City) and city gates as well as the lakes -- Zhongnanhai, Beihai and Housanhai -- have been designated landmark districts. And with a look to the future, an increasing number of historical, cultural and revolutionary sites are being renovated and opened to the public.
 
2> Official Trees and Flowers 
In the spring of 1987, delegates to the Sixth Session of the Eighth Municipal People's Congress, meeting in the Great Hall of the People. Overwhelmingly approved the scholar tree and oriental cypress as the official city trees, the Chinese rose and the chrysanthemum as Beijing's official city flowers.
The stately cypress symbolizes the courage and strength of the Chinese people, their simple, and hard working nature and their defiance in the face of aggression. This Platydadus Orientalis, or Oriental Arborvites, can grow as tall as 20 meters. Some of those in Zhongshan Park were planted as long as 1,000 years ago during the Liao Dynasty.
The scholar tree is a symbol of good fortune, joy and well-being. Dating back to the Qin and Han dynasties Sophora Japonica were planted extensively at the Tang Dynasty Imperial Palace in Chang' an. At Beihai Park an ancient specimen in the courtyard of the Painters Corridor, is believed to have been planted during the Tang Dynasty, before 907. Another ancient scholar tree near the Broken Bridge in the Forbidden City is said to have been planted before 1125. Both are well adapted to Beijing's cold, dry winter, hot and dry summer, and alkaline soil.
The rose, a Chinese native, has been cross-bred many times, but it still has half of the original Chinese strain, Known as Perpetual Spring, Monthly Red, Snow Challenger and Victorious, it is fast growing, regenerates easily and is graceful and long blooming (May to October).
The chrysanthemum has many names and varieties. In Beijing potted chrysanthemums may be seen year round. They flower in summer and fall naturally but can be forced to bloom any time of year.
During the Qing Dynasty, there were 400 rare strains of chrysanthemum. Beijing's flora-culturists now boast more than 1,000 varieties.
 
3>On the Edge of the North China Plain 
The city has shifted location several times in the past several thousand years, but the spatial dimensions have remained fairly constant over time. The present city center is 39°56' N, 116°20' E, at an elevation of 44.38 meters above sea level, the northwestern corner rising mere 10 meters above the southeast.
Originally the city stood on a slight ridge of land formed by alluvial deposits. This silted base, the edge of the North China Plain, was built up over time by the sand carried downstream through the mountains by the Yongding River in the west and the Chaobai River in the east.
In terms of outlying geographical features, the extensive Yanshan Mountain range forms a silvan screen to the northeast, the long, winding Taihang Mountain range to the west. Just beyond, to the northwest, the vast Mongolian plateau begins. The Gulf of Bohai lies 113 kilometers to the east and to the south, the vast North China Plain. Geologists call this small gulf-shaped plain surrounding Beijing the "Beijing Gulf" though in fact, the city sits off in its southwestern corner, Early writers described the setting with the sea on one side and the mountains in the background as a "heavenly paradise," a "city of the gods."
Beijing has a continental monsoon climate commonly found in the temperate zone. In winter, cold, dry winds blow out of Siberia and Mongolia in the northwest; in summer, warm, moist air currents from the southeast take over. A general change of wind direction occurs in March or April and again in September. Wind velocity in Beijing is comparatively low, averaging 2 meter/second. The average annual rainfall of 630 millimeters is regarded as a generous "heavenly endowment" for North China, which is otherwise predominantly dry and short of rain.
The coldest month in Beijing is January, with an average temperature of  4.7℃. The hottest month is July, with an average of 26.1℃. Rapid temperature increases in the spring are often accompanied by sandstorms, but windless days in that season are wonderfully pleasant. Autumn, though short-lived, is a concentrated stretch of clear, crisp days and patchwork trees.
Historically speaking, the mountains to the north, east and west acted as boundaries with outlying pasture lands. Communities in the present-day "Beijing Gulf" traded with the nomadic tribes who lived out beyond Gubeikou in the north and Nankou in the west and maintained frequent commercial contact with people of the central plain region settled along the Yellow River. It was trade and the pivotal role of the area as a center of commerce which gave rise to the ancient city of Ji.

Last Updated ( Friday, 19 June 2009 16:33 )  

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