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Bijng C affectionately called Peking by diplomats, nostalgic journalists and wistful academics C seems to have presided over China since time immemorial. In fact, Bijng (Northern Capital) C positioned outside the central heartland of Chinese civilisation C emerged as a cultural and political force that would shape the destiny of China only with the 13th-century Mongol occupation of China.

Located on a vast plain that extends south as far as the distant Yellow River (Hung H), Bijng benefits from neither proximity to a major river nor the sea. Without its strategic location on the edge of the North China Plain, it would hardly be an ideal place to locate a major city, let alone a national capital.

The area southwest of Bijng was inhabited by early humans some 500, 000 years ago. Ancient Chinese chronicles refer to a state called Yuzhu (Secluded State) existing during the reign of the mythical Yellow Emperor, one of nine states that existed at the time, although the earliest recorded settlements in Chinese historical sources date from 1045 BC.

In later centuries, Bijng was successively occupied by foreign forces, promoting its development as a major political centre. Before the Mongol invasion, the city was established as an auxiliary capital under the Khitan Liao and later as the capital under the Jurchen Jin, when it underwent significant transformation into a key political and military city. The city was enclosed within fortified walls for the first time, accessed by eight gates.

In AD 1215 the great Mongol warrior Genghis Khan and his formidable army razed Bijng, an event that was paradoxically to mark Bijngs transformation into a powerful national capital; a status it enjoys to the present day, bar the first 53 years of the Ming dynasty and 21 years of Nationalist rule in the 20th century.

The city came to be called Dd (Great Capital), also assuming the Mongol name Khanbalik (the Khans town). By 1279 Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, had made himself ruler of the largest empire the world has ever known, with Dd its capital. Surrounded by a vast rectangular wall punctured by three gates on each of its sides, the city was centred on the Drum and Bell Towers (located near to their surviving Ming dynasty counterparts), its regular layout a paragon of urban design.

After seizing Bijng, the first Ming emperor Hongwu (r 1368C98) renamed the city Bipng (Northern Peace) and established his capital in Nnjng in present-day Jings province to the south. It wasnt until the reign of Emperor Yongle (r 1403C24) that the court moved back to Bijng. Seeking to rid the city of all traces of Yun Q (literally breath of the Yuan dynasty), the Ming levelled the fabulous palaces of the Mongols along with the Imperial City, while preserving much of the regular plan of the Mongol capital. The Ming was the only pure Chinese dynasty to rule from Bijng (bar todays government).

During Ming rule, the huge city walls were repaired and redesigned. Yongle is credited with being the true architect of the modern city, and much of Bijngs hallmark architecture, such as the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven, date from his reign. The countenance of Ming dynasty Bijng was flat and low-lying C a feature that would remain until the 20th century C as law forbade the construction of any building higher than the Forbidden Citys Hall of Supreme Harmony. The basic grid of present-day Bijng had been laid and the city had adopted a guise that would survive until today.

The Manchus, who invaded China in the 17th century and established the Qing dynasty, essentially preserved Bijngs form. In the last 120 years of the Qing dynasty, Bijng, and subsequently China, was subjected to power struggles and invasions and the ensuing chaos. 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 catastrophic Boxer Rebellion; General Yuan Shikai; the warlords; the Japanese occupation of 1937; and the Kuomintang. Each and every period left its undeniable mark, although the shape and symmetry of Bijng was maintained.

Modern Bijng came of age when, in January 1949, the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) entered the city. On 1 October of that year Mao Zedong proclaimed a Peoples Republic to an audience of some 500, 000 citizens in Tiananmen Sq.

Like the emperors before them, the communists significantly altered the face of Bijng to suit their own image. The pilou (decorative archways) were brought down, while whole city blocks were pulverised to widen major boulevards. From 1950 to 1952, the citys magnificent outer walls were levelled in the interests of traffic circulation. Soviet experts and technicians poured in, leaving their own Stalinesque touches.

The past quarter of a century has transformed Bijng into a modern city, with skyscrapers, slick shopping malls and heaving flyovers. The once flat skyline is now crenellated with vast apartment blocks and office buildings. Recent years have also seen a convincing beautification of Bijng: from a toneless and unkempt city to a greener, cleaner and more pleasant place.

The mood in todays Bijng is far removed from the Tiananmen Sq demonstrations of spring 1989. With the lions share of Chinas wealth in the hands of city dwellers, Bijng has embraced modernity without evolving politically. Theres a conspicuous absence of protest in todays Bijng and you wont see subversive graffiti or wall posters. With the Communist Party unwilling to share power, political reform creeps forward in glacial increments. An astonishing degree of public political apathy exists, at least partially explained by in-built inclinations to bow to authority and a suppression of democratic instincts among the middle classes, who are doing so well out of the CCPs economic successes. Political dissent has been forced into the shadows or fizzes about fitfully in cyberspace, pursued by internet police ironing out any wrinkles that may impede construction of a harmonious society.

Some of Bijngs greatest problems could be environmental rather than political, although the two interweave. The need for speedy economic expansion, magnified by preparations for the 2008 Olympics, has put extra pressure on an already degraded environment. Water and land resources are rapidly depleting, the desert sands are crawling inexorably closer and the citys air quality has become increasingly toxic.

As the burgeoning middle classes transform Bijng into an increasingly pet-ridden city, that scourge of dog-owning societies C dog poo C is building up, so watch your step (although its nothing compared with Brussels quite yet).


Daily Seat-In-Coach Tours small vehicle in good condition
 Great Wall at Badaling and Ming Tomb 150 RMB p/p.
 Great Wall at Mutianyu and Ming Tomb 200 RMB p/p.
 Great Wall hiking tour from JingShanLing to SiMaTai 300 RMB p/p.
 Forbidden City ; Summer Palace and Temple of Heaven one day tour 250 RMB p/p.

Acrobatics Show Discount Price

 China Puppet Theatre Acrobatics Kingdom 60 RMB p/p.
 Tiandi Theatre 60 RMB p/p.
 Tianqiao Acrobatic Theatre 80 RMB p/p.
 Chaoyang Theatre Acrobatic show 80 RMB p/p.

Beijing Opera Show
Discount Price
 Liyuan Theatre Opera show 100 RMB p/p.
 Huguang Guild Hall Opera show 100 RMB p/p.
 Forbidden Love Opera at Nationalities Culture Palace 140 RMB p/p.

Kungfu Show
Discount Price
 Red Theatre Legend of Kungfu 100 RMB p/p.

Private Tours private driver and tour guide
 Great Wall at Badaling and Ming Tomb one day tour.
 Great Wall at Mutianyu and Ming Tomb one day tour.
 Great Wall from Jinshanling to Simatai hiking one day tour.
 Forbidden City; Summer Palace and Temple of Heaven one day tour.
 Mutianyu Great Wall half day tour.
 Temple of Heaven and Summer Palace one day tour.
 Hutong Tour by rickshaw.

Date: 05/20/2009

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