Beijing Always more than expected

Ages-old grandeur, monument t o imperial presence, dynamic modern political and business center and sometimes distant but always emotionally-attached heart of this nation of over a billion people-Beijing.

To the visitor, it's all there as expected. The almost-overwhelming sweep of Tiananmen Square, the awe-inspiring immensity of the Great Hall of the People and the thrill of actually walking through the gates of the Forbidden city, where once upon a time none but the invited guest could enter. And, sprinkled throughout the huge bulk of the city, there are the picturesque ancient buildings, lovely parks and activity-prone open spaces which bring to hear the human element.

Welcome to history

The Name of the Italian traveler Marco Polo is often invoked when speaking of Beijing-there's even a bridge named for him-as if somehow its history started with his arrival. What did begin was a realization in the developing West that there was truth to the tales of a vast and mighty empire somewhere east over the curve of the horizon.

In point of fact, Beijing was old even in Marco's time, having been around as a capital city since the Period of the Warring States (475-221 BC), when it was selected as the center of the feudal state of Yan, roughly 1,600 years before Mrs. Polo's little boy arrived. Even so, that is not Beijing's true age, which began like so many other Chinese centers several thousands of unrecorded years before.

However, having strategic value as entreport between the barbarians of the far northern reaches and the civilized areas south, east and west did not guarantee its survival and despite being home to 33 emperors, its fortunes waxed and waned over the centuries.

But, in the end, Beijing persevered where other cities failed and lives today as the capital and political heart of the world's third largest and most populous nation.

Some salient points

Beijing's geographical position at 39 decrees, 56 minutes north latitude, about the same as Turkey, southern Spain and New York City, makes it a temperate-zone city; its location on the east of the Asian continent gives it a four-season continental climate: nice spring and autumn, humid and hot slimmer, dry and cold winter.

It is one of three municipalities under direct central government administration-the others are Shanghai and Tianjin - with ten districts and eight counties covering an area of 16,808 square kilometers (about 1,500 square miles), of which the true urban areas account for only about 750 square kilometers, Mountains protect on the north and the south is a plain that slopes 43.7 meters downward from city center to the Bohai Sea some distance away. Unlike Shanghai and its mighty Yangtze and front-door Huangpu rivers, Beijing ahs five non-descript waterways, the Yongding, Chaobai, Juma and Juhe rivers and the manmade North Canal.

Beijing is credited with a population of over 10 million, putting it second to Shanghai, with almost four million residents living in its sprawling, often-new suburbs. Something like one million commuters travel to city center each day. The Han Chinese comprises 96.5% of the population, with 300,000 residents from 55 of China's minority peoples.

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