Beijing is one of those wonderful cities that manages to combine the historic with the modern, and pull off both with aplomb. The billions of dollars worth of renovations that resulted from being awarded the 2008 Olympics Games have transformed what some felt was dowdy backwater of a city into a modern metropolis any country would be proud of.
Beijing is now blessed with top-quality hotels and restaurants, a world-class subway system – set to become the world’s biggest by 2015 – and some of the most eye-catching and modern architecture on the planet.
Yet beyond the modernity, this ancient city can still offer an incredible number of historic attractions, including its remarkable network of hutong alleyways, which provide a unique village-within-a-city atmosphere of slow-paced living and timeless charms. Beijing is also the country’s most convenient launch pad for trips to China’s most famous sight of all; the Great Wall.
Beijing became China’s capital in 1421 and remained so until the imperial regime collapsed in 1911. From 1911 to 1949, Beijing suffered, as did the rest of China, from destructive factionalism. The Japanese invasion in 1931 was followed by civil war. In 1949, Mao Zedong’s communists prevailed and the People’s Republic of China was founded with Beijing as the capital.
The first decade or so of Mao’s rule stabilised a fearful, humiliated nation, and strong advances were made in industry, agriculture, education and health care. Beijing’s Old Town suffered, though, as most of its walls, gateways and decorative arches were levelled to make way for new roads.
From the late 1950s to the early 1970s, it was the turn of the people to suffer as Beijing’s ill-fated political programmes such as the Hundred Flowers Movement, the Great Leap Forward and, most infamously, the Cultural Revolution, saw persecution, violence and famine spread like wildfire across the country.
Many Chinese art forms dating back centuries struggled to survive. Artists were organised into associations, which meant that Mao Zedong’s Communist Party controlled every aspect. Travelling theatre, music and dance groups were created to project the party’s message to the masses via carefully managed stage plays and ideological films. Plays written before the 1950s, films with human interest and the Beijing Opera were suppressed, and their creators persecuted.
Mao’s death in 1976 saw the first shoots of nascent political freedom, but they culminated in the tragic events at Tiananmen Square in June 1989. Any hint of political freedoms were swiftly curtailed, but new leader Deng Xiaoping continued in his quest to open China up to the world economy until his death in 1997.
Today China’s economy – now the world’s second largest – continues to grow at an incredible rate.
Beijing is at its best in late spring and autumn when crisp, sunny days are accompanied by tree leaves turning red and gold. The searing heat of summer and the biting winds in winter can be extreme.
Source : worldtravelguide.net