ABOUT THE CITY
Beijing is the capital of the People’s Republic of China, and located in northern China, close to Tianjin Municipality and partially surrounded by Hebei Province. The city is huge, covering an area of more than 6336 square miles. Beijing has experienced many transformations since it hosted the 1008 Summer Olympics.
Beijing is the nation’s political, economic, cultural and educational center as well as China’s most important center for international trade and communications. There are towering skyscrapers; busy shopping malls and an endless stream of traffic.
Although now Beijing is a modern and fashionable city complete with a full 21st Century vitality, while living here you may experience authentic Beijing life and become acquainted with ‘old Beijing’ by exploring its many teahouses, temple fairs, Beijing’s Hutong and Courtyard.
Few cities on earth are changing as fast as Beijing, capital city of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Construction cranes rule the horizon, new hotels, shopping malls and commercial plazas (not to mention 37 sports stadiums and 59 training facilities) are springing up at giddying speed and old sectors of the city are being razed and modernized. In short, Beijing is focused on one thing only: the 2008 Olympics. Hosting the Games represents the ultimate statement of China’s emergence as a global superpower, and it is determined to make the ‘People’s Olympics’ the most successful and dazzling ever staged.
Beijing’s high-speed physical evolution moves hand-in-hand with a firmly retained grip on its rich cultural heritage and strict Communist social order. A monolithic showcase city, Beijing can give a distorted view of China to foreign visitors. Its soaring modern architecture and vast international hotels are connected by an intricate system of broad boulevards and ring roads around the city. Rush hour traffic jams can rival those of any major international city, and the pollution can be overwhelming. Beyond the modernity, Beijing offers a bountiful hotpot of traditional lane houses (hutong), parks, architectural and cultural treasures, and exquisite temples.
Since the Communist revolution of 1949, Beijing has become one of the nation’s industrial centers. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Chinese government funded major development of heavy industry in the city, led by the modernization of the Shih-ching-shan Iron and Steel Works, which is now one of the country’s major steel-producing facilities. Today Beijing ranks second only to Shanghai in industrialization, with highly developed machinery, textile, and petrochemical sectors. Agriculture also plays a significant role in Beijing’s economy, with a large farming belt on the city’s periphery serving to reduce its dependence on food supplies shipped in from the Yangtze Valley.
Beijing has a rapidly growing service sector, consisting mostly of government agencies. The People’s Bank of China, the major institution in China’s centralized banking system, has its head office in central Beijing, which is also home to a variety of specialized banks, including the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and the Agricultural Bank of China. Other financial institutions in the city include major insurance companies, credit cooperatives, securities firms, and investment companies. Wholesale and retail commerce and tourism also play a major role in the city’s economy. The free-market economic reforms of the 1990s created an economic boom for Beijing with the influx of foreign capital and technology.
Beijing has a long and tumultuous past–archaeological evidence unearthed nearby indicates that the early hominids known as “Peking Man” inhabited the area some 500,000 years ago. Since then, the city has seen imperial dynasties come and go and has been witness to wars, rebellions, foreign invasions and revolution!
The earliest records of human settlement in Beijing date back to 1000 BC. During the Warring States Period (453-221 BC) the town of Ji arose, serving as a trade outpost for Mongols, Koreans and other ethnic groups. Ji became the capital of the Kingdom of Yan, and its strategic position led to struggles for control between Mongols and Manchurians.
In 1215 AD, the capital fell to the Mongolian warlord Genghis Khan and his warriors, during his campaign to build a vast empire. After a seven-year siege the city was destroyed. In its place emerged Khanbaliq (Khan’s Town) or Dadu (Chinese for Great Capital)–built in 1267, under the control of Genghis Khan’s grandson, Kublai Khan. By 1279, Kublai had conquered all of China (together with most of Asia), becoming ruler of the largest country in history. This reign in China’s history is known as the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368).
Area: 16,808 km2
Elevation: 43.5 m
Internet country code: .cn
Currency (code): Yuan (CNY); also referred to as the Renminbi (RMB)
Official language: Chinese (Mandarin)
Time Zone: UTC+8
Calling Code: 10
The city of Beijing falls in the monsoon region, experiencing hot, wet summers and cold, dry winters. There are four very distinct seasons, with a wide temperature variation between winter (down to well below freezing) and summer, when the mercury hits the high spots. During the height of summer, July and August, Beijing is subject to sudden evening downpours of rain, so an umbrella comes in handy. Spring and autumn are relatively short seasons. Spring, between February and April, is characterized by warm and windy conditions. Autumn, between August and October, brings blue skies, pleasantly mild temperatures and slight humidity.
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While most visitors find they have enough of trouble surviving Chinese traffic without actually getting behind the wheel, some may choose to take up the challenge. International licenses are not recognized in China, so you will need to obtain a Chinese license. First take your U.S. or international drivers license to an official translator and stop by a hospital for a physical exam (local clinics don’t count). Next is a written test, which in major cities is available in English; if not, you will be allowed to bring a translator with you. Bring a few passport photos for the application, your residence permit and passport, your translated foreign license, and money to cover the fees. When the process is complete you can return in a week for your card. If you live in Beijing, it’s easier just to pay FESCO (Foreign Enterprise Service Corporation, www.fescochina.com ) to handle the whole process for you.
The Beijing subway is possibly the best way to get around Beijing. There are currently two main lines and one other that goes wandering off through the Northern suburbs; by 2008 there should be five more. The Beijing subway is extremely cheap, very rarely out of service, and the speed puts Beijing’s buses to shame. All this leads to its one disadvantage – horrendous crowds. The two lines you’re most likely to use are Line 1 (The East-West Line) and Line 2 (The Circle Line). The East-West Line runs through the heart of Beijing, past Tiananmen Square, and intersects the Circle Line at Jianguomen and Fuxingmen. The Circle Line follows the route of the Second Ring Road, roughly encircling central Beijing. Line 13 has two interchanges with the Circle Line and meanders away to the North from there. Line 5, due to be completed sometime in 2007, will run North-South through Dong Cheng, the Eastern part of central Beijing, meeting the circle line at Yonghegong and Chongwenmen, and Line 1 at Dongdan.
Beijing Capital International Airport
The airport is 15 miles north of downtown Beijing. It’s the busiest airport in the country. There are scams at the airport, so be careful about paying someone without seeing the immediate benefit of it. Scams include claiming there is a fee to leave the airport, and fake taxi stands. Get your taxi from the stand outside, there are fake ones around. All legit taxis have license plates that start with the letter “B”. Fare to the city shouldn’t be more than 100 yuan.
To/From the Airport
Beijing’s transport system is being improved in anticipation of the 2008 Olympic Games. Shuttle buses run regularly to the city center (about 45 minutes), Beijing Railway Station and major hotels. Metered taxis are also available, but it is recommended that passengers have their destination written in Chinese to avoid confusion. Traveling time to the city is about an hour.
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Dialing from New York to Beijing:
Dial: 011 86 10 XXXX-XXXX
How the number is composed:
011 is the international prefix used to dial somewhere outside of U.S.A.
86 is the international code used to dial China.
10 is the local area or city code used to dial Beijing.
XXXX-XXXX is the local number. Exchange X with your number.
Dialing from Beijing to New York:
Dial: 00 1 212 XXX-XXXX
How the number is composed:
00 is the international prefix used to dial somewhere outside of China.
1 is the international code used to dial to U.S.A.
212 is one of multiple city/area codes in use for New York.
XXX-XXXX is the local number. Exchange X with your number.
Television is dominated by the numerous CCTV (Chinese Central TV) channels. The programming consists of quirky game shows, Beijing Opera-style soap operas, news programs (all good news of course!), and propaganda shows that highlight exciting new advancements such as a new pedestrian bridge, or a calligraphy contest at an elementary school.
You can get cable television that will get you English-language favorites like Star TV, ESPN, HBO, and MSNBC. The box costs as much as 1,000 ($125), but you might get one free from your landlord or from your local cable TV company. Monthly fees for cable TV are only around 25 ($3), which might already be built into the cost of your rent. If not, you’ll have to pay by automatic bank draft from your local bank account each month.
Satellite TV is becoming more widely available, especially in the high-rise buildings where the landlord or management company has purchased a license for the entire building. In some cases the channels you get might be limited by the direction your home faces.
Like television, most Chinese radio programming is targeted to Chinese listeners. Some of the stations play a mix of western music and Chinese pop music, and numerous stations broadcast humorous stories and high-pitched traditional singing. You can also catch Voice of America broadcasts and BBC news broadcasts in the larger cities. The language might be simplified since the broadcast might be intended for locals who are studying English.
Major English-language daily newspapers include the China Daily and Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post. Most Chinese cities also now have their own daily English newspapers like the People’s Daily. The topics include politics, business, international news, sports, celebrity news, and quaint stories about locals, more like a small-town U.S. paper. Unlike the New York Times, which can be two inches thick, Chinese papers are usually only about 16 pages long, even in the big cities, and sell for just 2-3 ($0.25-0.40). These newspapers are provided for students studying English and for foreigners. As such, you will never find any news that is critical of the Chinese government. To stay up to date on world affairs you’ll have to use the Internet.
China Daily Online – www.chinadaily.com.cn
International Herald Tribune – www.iht.com
Wall Street Journal Asia – www.awsj.com
Washington Post China – http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/inatl/longterm/worldref/country/china.htm
Beijing Aquarium is the largest inland aquarium in the world including an Amazon rainforest area, coral reefs, a shark aquarium (where you can dive with the flesh eaters), whales, dolphins and a marine mammal pavilion. The latter hosts lively aquatic animal displays.
Red Gate Gallery
Beneath the giant wooden rafters of the ancient Dongbianmen Watchtower, in a room cooled by vast slate floors, hangs an array of avant-garde art. Established by an Australian art historian, Red Gate Gallery displays Beijing’s most innovative and electric modern art. After years of prohibitive restrictions that pushed contemporary work into the corner, the gallery’s 15 resident artists are once again stretching their paintbrushes, views and ideas in addressing modern-day issues. With painting, sculpture, paper-cutting, photography, performance art, lithographs, silkscreen printing and mixed media, the contrast of the modern work in an ancient setting is dramatic, to say the least. With around eight different shows each year, you might also find traveling exhibitions from other parts of China and abroad.
Wan Fung Art Gallery
This gallery is set in a gorgeous courtyard annex to the imperial palace and is part of the former repository for the imperial records, decrees and the ‘Jade Book’ (the imperial genealogical record). On display is invigorating contemporary material, creating a beautiful aesthetic transition from old China to new.
One of Beijing’s most visited sights, the immense park of the Summer Palace requires at least half a day. Nowadays teeming with tour groups from China and beyond, this dominion of palace temples, gardens, pavilions, and lakes was once a playground for the imperial court. Royalty came here to elude the insufferable summer heat that roasted the Forbidden City. The Summer Palace with its cool features – water, gardens and hills – was the palace of choice for vacationing emperors and Dowager Empresses. It was badly damaged by Anglo-French troops during the Second Opium War (1860) and its restoration became a pet project of Empress Dowager Cixi, the last of the Qing dynasty rulers. Money earmarked for a modern navy was used for the project but, in a bit of whimsical irony, the only thing that was completed was the restoration of a marble boat. The boat now sits at the edge of the lake in all its immobile and nonmilitary glory.
Anyone who has eaten Chinese food knows that steamed white rice always accompanies the meal, but what is perhaps less well known is just how integral rice and grain-based foods are in Chinese culture. The Mandarin word fan means both ‘rice’ and ‘food.’ In China, a good deal of casual talk centers around the expression, “ni chi fan le ma?” literally meaning, “Have you eaten rice (food) yet?” Regardless of region, a typical Chinese meal consists of a grain base-the fan-such as rice, noodles, or buns, with meat and vegetable dishes, referred to as cai, adding flavor and variety to, but not overriding the integrity of, the fan.
The possibilities for cai are enormous. China’s abundant variety of meats and vegetables are stir-fried, stewed, steamed, baked, roasted, oil- and water-blanched, deep-fried…every kind of cooking method is well represented.
The Chinese observe two sets of holidays, official and traditional. Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macao also have their own official and traditional holidays.
January 1 – New Year’s Day
January 2 – New Year’s Day Holiday
March 8 – International Women’s Day
April 1 – Tree Planting Day
May 1 – International Labor Day
May 4 – Youth Day
June 1 – Children’s Day
July 1 – CCP Founding Day
August 1 – Army Day
September 1 – Teacher’s Day
October 1 – National Day
The calendar the Chinese traditional holidays follow is of a unique lunar-solar system. Therefore, 1st of the 1st month referred here does not necessarily mean January 1.
Month 1 Day 1 – Chinese New Year (Spring Festival)
Month 1 Day 15 – Lantern Festival
Fifth of the 24 Solar Terms – Qing Ming Jie (Pure & Bright)
Month 5 Day 5 – Duan Wu (Dragon Boat) Festival
Month 7 Day 7 – Qi Xi (The Seventh Eve)
Month 7 Day 15 – Ghost Festival
Month 8 Day 15 – Mid-Autumn Festival
Month 9 Day 9 – Double Ninth Festival
Normal working hours are from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with a one-hour lunch break. Almost all government offices, institutions, schools, and other official units do not work on Saturday and Sunday.
Hospitals, post offices, banks, monuments, and museums are usually open seven days a week from 8:30 or 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Hospital emergency clinics are open even when the rest of the hospital is closed to visitors. Shops usually remain open from 8:30 or 9:00 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day, including public holidays. Restaurants and bars stay open later at night. It is possible to eat as late as 10:00 p.m., and some open-air restaurants stay open even later into the night.
Currency & Banking
The Bank of China and CITIC Industrial Bank provide personal and corporate banking facilities for expatriates in China, as do the main foreign banks, HSBC (London), Standard Chartered Bank (London), and Citibank (New York). These banks offer multicurrency accounts, renminbi accounts, foreign exchange, credit cards, ATMs, loans, and even mortgages. The main branches of China’s other banks may also provide such services, but their banking facilities are likely to be more limited.
To open a current (checking) or savings account you usually just need to complete a signature card, show your passport as identification, and make the appropriate deposit (varies depending on bank and type of account).
Deeply rooted in Chinese society is the need to belong and conform to a unit, whether the family, a political party or an organization. The family is the focus of life for most Chinese. Age and rank are highly respected. To be successful in your relationships in China, it is imperative to play by the rules of the Chinese social paradigm. Understanding the role of guanxi (connections) and mianzi (saving face), two of the most important social values in China, will help you know what to expect in your relationships with the Chinese.
The idea of shame, usually expressed as ‘face,’ could be loosely defined as a loss of status or self-respect, similar to the western concept of ‘losing face.’ Never insult, embarrass, shame, yell at or otherwise demean a Chinese person.
Electricity & Time Zone
Electricity is 220V AC, 50Hz. Expect to buy some power strips, as the wall outlets are sparse, and while two-pin and three-pin sockets are standard, don’t be surprised if your apartment has five or six different types of outlets.
The definition for time zones can be written in short form as UTC±n (or GMT±n), where n is the offset in hours. Here is an example given the local time in Beijing and New York City at 12:00 UTC when daylight savings time is not in effect:
Beijing Standard Time Zone: GMT/UTC + 8 hours = 8:00pm
NYC Standard Time Zone: GMT/UTC – 5 hours = 7:00am
Beijing is on China Coast Time and does not observe Daylight Savings time.
In many ways the Chinese have a much healthier society than Americans. At a time of day when most Americans are hitting their snooze buttons, many Chinese are hitting their local park for tai chi exercises and ballroom dance practice, followed by their daily commute by bicycle. Chinese meals are often high-vegetable, low-meat, low-sugar affairs that keep the cholesterol and the weight down. And traditional medicine shops do a brisk business in dried snake, seahorse, and ginseng root, believed to work wonders for one’s vitality and longevity.
Adopting a traditional Chinese lifestyle may add a few years to your life, but there are plenty of influences that will take away from it as well. Diseases tend to float around rural China with fluidity.
Standard apartments are the most common housing arrangements for both locals and foreigners alike. “Standard” is in contrast to “serviced,” which are apartments that are run more like hotel rooms complete with services like daily housekeeping and room service. Standard apartments vary greatly in quality, size, and cost. At one end of the spectrum you might find very old (and very cheap) apartments, with rudimentary plumbing and no heating or air-conditioning. Modern luxury apartments, on the other hand, may have large garden tubs, Italian marble and real hardwood floors, central heat and air, and broadband DSL access wired into the walls.
Letters and postcards can be mailed within China for 1 ($0.12) or less, depending on the destination. Airmail letters or postcards to the United States currently cost about 12 ($1.50). Package rates within China are just about 100 ($12.50) per kilogram, and packages sent internationally via surface mail cost a little more than 200 ($25) per kilogram. International packages can also be airmailed, but the rates will be at least quadruple the surface mail rates. Options like delivery confirmation and certified mail are not available in the Chinese postal system.
To mail a package, or to receive a package at the post office, you are required to show your passport and fill out some paperwork. When shipping a package, don’t seal your box before you go to the post office, as the contents will need to be inspected.
Embassy & Visa
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Visa applications are no longer accepted by mail; you will have to apply in person at your nearest Chinese consulate or embassy, or have your travel agent or visa agent do it for you. There is an application fee, which varies depending on your citizenship and the number of entries into China. All visas are classified as single entry, double entry, or multiple entry.
If you are a U.S. citizen or resident alien living or traveling outside the United States, you generally are required to file income tax returns, estate tax returns, and gift tax returns and pay estimated tax in the same way as those residing in the United States. Your income, filing status, and age generally determine whether you must file a return. Generally, you must file a return if your gross income from worldwide sources is at least the amount shown for your filing status in the Filing Requirements table in Chapter 1 of Publication 54, Tax Guide for U.S. Citizens and Resident Aliens Abroad (available at www.irs.gov). The IRS web site has a wealth of information available for the overseas taxpayer. Follow the ‘Individuals’ and ‘International Taxpayers’ links, or search for IRS Publication 54.
U.S. Tax Information
Internal Revenue Service
P.O. Box 920
Bensalem, PA 19020
(215) 516-2000 (not toll-free)
Phone service available from 6:00 am to 11:00 pm (EST) M-F
China has recently placed in effect a new rule that all pets must go into quarantine for seven days even if they meet all the requirements of entry. At the end of the seventh day the remainder of the 30-day quarantine period can be home quarantine.
Bringing a pet into China is somewhat complicated even if you have the proper veterinary health certificate and immunization record for the pet. It is recommended that you utilize the services of a company that specializes in the entry process, such as Jialiang K-9 Kennel – www.jialiang.com . You may bring only ONE pet (cat or dog) per adult traveling into China.
China only reads the encrypted microchip which contains nine digits. It is made by Avid.
The Chinese school system is structured very much like the U.S. system, with elementary, junior high, and high schools. Beyond that, there are universities, some of which allow foreign students to enroll, and technical schools. The official school calendar is established by the central government each year and typically begins around September 1, ending around July 15 for summer break. The other major break is for Chinese New Year/Spring Festival, which typically runs January 15-March 1.
Primary and Secondary Schools
Because both parents typically work in China, the children start their schooling in a preschool (called “kindergarten” in China) as early as two years old, unless the grandparents are able to watch the children. There are quite a few private English preschools available, whether run by foreigners or Chinese. At six years old, every child is required to be enrolled in elementary school, which lasts until age 12.
If possible, you should start learning Chinese in your home city before moving to China. More and more western universities now offer 2-3 years of Chinese classes, or you can sign up at one of the language schools that can now be found in virtually every major western city. The best way to achieve fluency once in China is to enroll in a university program. At least one university in each large city has a Mandarin language program for international students.
You’ll also find privately run language schools that cater to foreigners. You can enroll in a group class or sign up for individual one-on-one instruction. Some crash courses are as short as 10 days, but most classes meet two or three times a week for a month. If you don’t know any Chinese at all, after completing an intensive one-month beginner’s course you’ll know about 250 words. This isn’t too bad considering you need to know about 800 words for basic daily life, but you’re nowhere near the 3,000 needed to read a newspaper. Foreigners who enroll in a school tend to learn at a much more rapid pace than those who just study on their own.
Colleges & Universities
China’s higher education system consists of technical schools and universities. The tech schools prepare students for careers in fields such as manufacturing, cosmetology, and cooking, while the universities function just as in the United States. There is no community college or junior college system, but some private schools are filling in the gap, such as the Australian Informatics College. Unlike the universities, the private schools often don’t require minimum test scores.
More than 50 Chinese universities accept foreign students. Beijing is the top destination for most, with Qinghua and Beida Universities at the top of the list. Shanghai is the second most popular study city, and Fudan and Jiaotong are the preferred schools. Another popular choice is Zheijiang University in Hangzhou, China’s largest.