Beijing, also known as Peking, capital of China, the second largest city in China after Shanghai, is the cultural, political, and intellectual center of the country, as well as a major industrial and commercial metropolis. Initially settled more than 2,000 years ago, it has been the capital of China for most of the last 700 years. The climate is seasonal, with hot summers and cold winters. Temperatures can climb higher than 38¡ãC (higher than 100¡ãF) in July and drop lower than -15¡ãC (lower than 5¡ãF) in January.

Beijing and Its Metropolitan Area

Beijing is an independently administered municipal district of about 16,810 sq km (6,490 sq mi). It comprises ten urban districts and eight predominantly rural counties. The urban districts include four dense city districts and six suburban districts. The suburbs are growing rapidly as new institutional, industrial, and residential buildings are constructed, converting agricultural land to urban uses. The eight rural counties continue to provide basic grain, vegetables, fruits, building materials, and water supplies to the city. However, significant industrial growth has also occurred in these areas.

The city proper consists of two older sections in the center of the city and new outlying residential, industrial, and institutional areas built mainly after 1949. The old section includes a square inner city on the north constructed between 1409 and 1420, and a rectangular outer city to the south built between 1521 and 1566. Once encircled by a wall about 24 km (15 mi) long and about 15 m (50 ft) high, the inner city has at its core the Forbidden City. Between 1421 and 1912, this was the walled palace and inner compound of China¡¯s imperial family and was so named because ordinary citizens were not allowed inside.

Tiananmen (the Gate of Heavenly Peace, also known as Tian¡¯an Men), locates along the city¡¯s north-south axis south of the Forbidden City. Major installations were added in and around Tiananmen Square, including the Great Hall of the People, built in 1959, where the national legislature meets. Several blocks east of the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square is Wangfujing Avenue, the city¡¯s most famous shopping district.


As the nation¡¯s capital and political center, the particular economic role of Beijing has been a topic of considerable debate and controversy. The Communist government has designated Beijing as an appropriate center for industrial, commercial, transportation, trade, cultural, and scientific development. Nevertheless, Beijing has become the second largest industrial center in China after Shanghai. In the early 1990s more than 2.1 million workers were employed in industry in Beijing. Processed foods, textiles, paints, paper, high-quality lubricants, and electronic products are now produced in Beijing. Construction activity has also increased rapidly. New buildings, factories, and improvements to the infrastructure are widespread. In the early 1990s there were about 684,000 construction workers employed in Beijing.

Commercial and service activities have grown rapidly in recent years and in the early 1990s employed more than 1 million workers. The city is a major hub for shopping, retailing, and trade, and international products and brands are now commonplace.

Beijing is one of China¡¯s main centers of transportation and trade. A major expressway was recently completed to Tianjin, an important port city about 90 km (55 mi) to the southeast. Beijing is the hub of a national network of major highways. Railway lines radiate to all parts of the country, and some connect to North Korea, Russia, and Mongolia. Within the city there are new roads and expressways. Opened in 1969, the Beijing subway continues to expand and is one of China¡¯s noteworthy efforts at mass transit. Despite new road construction, traffic has become increasingly congested as more cars become available. Most people still travel short distances on bicycles, and these contribute to the clogged streets. Beijing¡¯s international airport, located 26 km (15 mi) northeast of the city, has extensive domestic service to most of the larger cities in China and is also served by several international carriers with direct service to North America, Europe, and other parts of Asia.


By 2003 the estimated population had grown to 14,564,000. The city has a low birth rate, a low death rate, and a very low rate of natural population increase. Most of Beijing¡¯s recent growth has been by immigration. In the mid-1990s the city also had more than 1 million transients (visiting workers on temporary permits or illegal workers) who were not included in the official population statistITCS. They serve as construction workers, domestic servants, and in other low-level service activities.

More than 90 percent of the population of Beijing is Han Chinese, and the remainders are Manchus, Mongols, Turkic peoples from western China, and other minority nationalities and foreigners. Mandarin Chinese is the language spoken in and around Beijing. The dialect of Beijing has become the standard form of Mandarin, which is the country¡¯s official spoken language. See Chinese Language.

Education and Culture

Beijing has more colleges and universities than any other Chinese city. The most prominent institutions are Peking University, founded in 1898; and Tsinghua University, founded in 1911, which is the most prestigious scientific and technical institution in the country. Both institutions are located in the northwest suburbs, an area associated with higher education and research. Also in this area are the People¡¯s University, founded in 1937, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, founded in 1949.

Beijing also has many museums and cultural activities. There are numerous theaters, including the People¡¯s Theater, the Capital Theater, and the Nationalities Theater. The Beijing Concert Hall is among the venues for musical performances. There are also art museums and a museum of natural history.


Settlement in the vicinity of modern Beijing traces back to 3000 BC or earlier. Its location on the northern flank of the Huabei Pingyuan (North China Plain) was crucial as a geographic and political intersection between the settled farming populations of the Han Chinese to the south and west and the nomadic tribal groups to the north, northeast, and northwest. An administrative capital was built here during the Zhou (Chou) dynasty (1045?-256 BC).

Beijing is the capital of Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties, which enjoys a history of more 800 years before the P.R. China was founded.