Living in Beijing will transport you to another world. If imperial China was the “central kingdom,” (Zhōngguó) then Beijing was and still is the center of that—in other words, the center of the universe. And a big universe it is: the sheer quantity of everything—people, cars, buildings—is enough to shock anyone. Excitement, opportunity, and, yes, smog, is in the air, and now is the perfect time to find your way to the Chinese capital.
Many view the 2008 Beijing Olympics as China’s debut as a modern nation. This debutante ball had been a long time coming—30 years to be exact, following the reform and opening of 1978. But in 2008, the world finally saw China flex its muscles as a great power, and the spectacular Olympic Park still stands as a monument to Chinese achievements. Founded over 3,000 years ago during the Zhou Dynasty, Beijing is also an ancient city, rich with culture, and has seen its fair share of ups and downs throughout history. In the long view it is no surprise that Beijing is ascendant once again.
Located in the northeastern part of China close to the coast, Beijing's modern history began during the Jin Dynasty about 800 years ago. It remained an important city, and sometimes capital (notably during the Ming dynasty), all the way up through the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 when it became the official capital city of communist China. Peking, another name for Beijing, is an older English transcription of the Chinese characters for Beijing.
Beijing is the seat of China’s government and the cultural capital of China. At the heart of Beijing’s business district lies the Forbidden City, a perfectly preserved and powerful remnant of China’s erstwhile empire. At the same time, the entrance to the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, symbolizes China’s recent tumultuous history and current modernization. Scattered throughout the city, state-of-the-art architectural feats testify to Beijing’s huge transformation over the past thirty years, such as the gravity-defying CCTV tower designed by Dutch architects Rem Koolhaas and Ole van Scheeren, and Terminal 3 at Beijing Airport, designed by Sir Norman Foster.
Before you head to China, it’s a good idea to take a look at some of these classic books to get an appreciation for the history and culture of the country: The Man Who Loved China by Simon Winchester, The Good Earth by Pearl Buck, and On China by Henry Kissinger (NY Times Bestseller).