Altitude:& 52m/170ft. Area: 16,807 sq km/6487 sq.miles
Population: 13,000,000 approx.
Beijing lies in the north-west of the North China plain, not far from the Western slopes of the mountains of Yanshan, and about 150km/93 miles from the Bohai Sea. A dense network of roads, railways and airways connects Beijing with China's other major cities.
Beijing, an autonomous city with the status of a province, is not only the political centre of the country, it also plays an outstanding part in the nation's cultural, economic, scientific and academic life. Many trading and industrial firms are situated here. The most important educational and cultural institution include: nine colleges for the various sciences, the Academica Sinica, several universities (including the university of Peking founded in 1898; the University of Qinghua founded in 1911, and the People's University founded in 1950), technological universities, numerous colleges and institutes (in particular the Central Institute for Nationalities and the Institute for Foreign Languages), and research establishments, as well as museums and libraries (including the Beijing University library with its ten million volumes and 22,000 periodicals), also the planetarium and the zoological and botanical gardens.
The historic city center which dates from the Ming dynasty (14th-17th c.) has largely preserved its original appearance. Traces of the medieval city which was divided into two parts can still be seen. It joined the four points of the compass and consisted of the north city formerly known as the Tartar city which was laid out on a regular rectangular pattern. This section was defended by a 20km/12 mile long wall with nine gates (two in the east, three in the south, and two in the west and north sides). The south city was surrounded by a 14km/9 mile city wall with seven gates.
The two city walls were completely destroyed, but two of the old gates are preserved - the "Qian Men" behind Mao's Mausoleum and the "Desheng Men" in the north of the forbidden city.
After 1949 a permanent change in the appearance of the city took place. Owing to a redevelopment program the majority of the city walls and numerous old houses were demolished. Wide streets, various public buildings such as museums, sport centers, airports, etc. emerged in their place and the underground, which runs under the line of the former city wall, was built. Since the late 1970s an endless succession of unimaginative, monotonous skyscrapers have been built as well as tenement blocks to house the ever growing population, hotels, administrative buildings, etc.
From the mid eighties the government has tried to carry out the redevelopment of the old city more cautiously; this plan also includes restoring cultural and historic relics. It is intended that usage of space will be reduced and that the ecological problems will be solved.
From the point of view of the tourist, Beijing is China's most interesting city. Among the city's historical and cultural monuments are the Imperial Palace, the Beihai park, the Coal Hill Park and Heavenly Temple. On the city's outskirts there are many other sights, including the Summer Palace, the Fragrant Mountain, the Great Wall, and the Ming Tombs.