Beijing Map from 1935 hanging in the KFC SE of Tiananmen to provide an overview of the relatively unchanged city, and what areas were used for (thieves markets, execution grounds etc)

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.

Geography

Beijing Map
Beijing Districts Subway Map English

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

Sightseeing

  • The magnificent Forbidden City is the largest and the best-preserved Imperial Palace complex in the world.
  • The solemn Tiananmen Square is the largest central city square in the world, which serves not only Beijing’s symbol but also all of China.
  • The Great Wall is one of the ‘Eight Wonders of the World’
  • HouHai lake is a beautiful restaurant and bar area, well worth an evening.
  • HuTongs are the foundation of residential living in Beijing, and disappearing quickly, or being converted to funky shops or food & beverage spots.
  • The Summer Palace (頤和園) is a vast ensemble of lakes, gardens and palaces. It serves as a popular recreational park. Mainly dominated by Longevity Hill (万寿山) and Kunming Lake (昆明湖), it covers an expanse of 2.9 square kilometres, three-quarters of which is water. Longevity Hill is about 60 metres high and has many buildings positioned in sequence. The front hill is packed with halls and pavilions, while the back hill, is quiet and natural. The central Kunming Lake was entirely man-made and the excavated soil was used to build Longevity Hill.  In 1998, UNESCO included the Summer Palace on its World Heritage List. It declared the Summer Palace “a masterpiece of Chinese landscape garden design. The natural landscape of hills and open water is combined with artificial features such as pavilions, halls, palaces, temples and bridges to form a harmonious ensemble of outstanding aesthetic value“.
  • Beijing Old Summer Palace YuanMingYuan HaiYanTang RuinsThe Old Summer Palace (圆明园), known as the Ruins of Yuanmingyuan is to the east of the Summer Palace.  Originally called the Imperial Gardens (御园), was a complex of palaces and gardens in present-day Haidian District. Constructed in the 18th and early 19th centuries, the Old Summer Palace where the Qianlong Emperor of the Qing dynasty and his successors resided and handled state affairs; the Forbidden City was used for formal ceremonies. The Old Summer Palace was known for its extensive collection of garden and building architecture and other works of art. It was also called the “Garden of Gardens” (万园之园) in its heyday. In 1860, during the Second Opium War, as the Anglo-French forces approached Beijing, two British envoys, a journalist for The Times and a small escort of British and Indian troopers were sent to meet Prince Yi under a flag of truce to negotiate a Qing surrender. Meanwhile, the French and British troops reached the palace and conducted extensive looting and destruction.  Later on, as news emerged that the negotiation delegation had been imprisoned and tortured, resulting in 20 deaths, the British High Commissioner to China, Lord Elgin, retaliated by ordering the complete destruction of the palace, which was then carried out by British troops.
  • The Temple of Heaven (天坛) is the largest group of structures in the country dedicated to rituals that pay homage to the glory of heaven. This temple was built specifically for worship of heaven and prayers for good harvests during the Ming and Qing dynasties. There are two amazing acoustical spots in the temple. The temple complex was constructed from 1406 to 1420 during the reign of the Yongle Emperor, who was also responsible for the construction of the Forbidden City.  There is a spot on top of the tri-leveled round altar where your words reverberate around you. The other one is at the Echo Wall (or whispering wall) that partially encloses a circular courtyard. Words whispered at one end travel along the wall and can be heard clearly by someone listening at the other end. The Temple comprises 3 main groups:
    ★ The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests (祈年殿) is a triple-gabled circular building, built on three levels of marble stone base, where the Emperor prayed for good harvests. The building is completely wooden, with no nails. The original building was burned down by a fire caused by lightning in 1889. The current building was re-built several years after the incident.
    ★ The Imperial Vault of Heaven (皇穹宇) is a single-gabled circular building, built on a single level of marble stone base. It is located south of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests and resembles it, but is smaller. It is surrounded by the Echo Wall. The Imperial Vault is connected to the Hall of Prayer by the Vermilion Steps Bridge, a 360-metre-long raised walkway that ascends from the Vault to the Hall of Prayer.
    ★ The Circular Mound Altar (圜丘坛) is the altar proper, located south of the Imperial Vault of Heaven. It is an empty circular platform on three levels of marble stones, each decorated by lavishly carved dragons. The center of the altar is a round slate called the Heart of Heaven (天心石) or the Supreme Yang (太阳石), where the Emperor prayed for favorable weather. The Altar was built in 1530 by the Jiajing Emperor and rebuilt in 1740.