Since the Communist victory in 1949, Beijing has become a great industrial area, the heart of a vast complex of textile mills, iron- and steelworks, railroad repair shops, machine shops, chemical plants, and factories manufacturing heavy machinery, electronic equipment, locomotives, plastics, synthetic fibers, and rolling stock. With the construction in the 1970s of a pipeline that links the city with the Daqing oil fields, Beijing has developed a sizable petrochemical industry. Service industries also grew. New industrial development declined in the 1970s and 80s, mainly due to concerns over further pollution. The city is a rail hub, receiving lines from all sections of the country and linked directly with Vietnam and, through both Mongolia and NE China, with Russia. Its airport, greatly expanded in 1999, links it to all major Chinese cities and numerous foreign countries.
The city has an opera, a ballet, and the impressive national library. It is the seat of many learned societies, research organizations, and academies of fine arts, drama, dance, and music. The more than 25 institutions of higher learning include Beijing Univ., the People's Univ. of China, China Univ. of Science and Technology, Qinghua Univ., the Beijing Institute of Foreign Languages, two medical colleges, and many technical and scientific schools. The Beijing zoo is famous for its collection of pandas. The Workers' Stadium is the scene of the Pan-Chinese games, held every four years.
Beijing in the main consists of two formerly walled districts, the Outer or Chinese City and the Inner or Tatar City. The 25 mi (40 km) of ramparts and monumental gates that once surrounded the cities have been razed and replaced by wide avenues to aid the traffic flow. Within the Tatar City is the Forbidden City (formerly the emperor's residence), the Imperial City (where his retinue was housed), and the Legation Quarter. The Imperial City is now the seat of the government.
On the southern edge of the Tatar City is Tiananmen Square, which contains the monument to the heroes of the revolution, the Great Hall of the People, and the museum of history and revolution. Celebrations held in the square include May Day and the founding date (Oct. 1) of the People's Republic. In June, 1989, the Square was the site of massive protests for democratic reform, which were violently suppressed by the military, resulting in thousands of deaths and many injuries. Near the Square is the National Center for the Performing Arts.
Beijing is known for its artificial lakes and for its parks and temples. It contains many of the greatest examples of architecture of the Ming and Ch'ing dynasties as well as remains from earlier times. The Temple of Heaven (15th cent.) is set in a large park and has a massive altar of white marble before which the emperors prayed at the summer solstice. In the temple of Confucius, built by Kublai Khan, are guarded incised boulders that date from the Chou dynasty. An ancient astronomical observatory, once used by Catholic missionaries, still functions. The Forbidden City, now a vast museum, contains the imperial palaces (two groups of three each) and smaller palaces, all replete with art treasures. Just outside Beijing, rivaling the beauties within, is the imperial summer palace with its lovely parks.
In addition to the many tourist attractions in the city, the Great Wall and the gigantic Ming tombs are easily accessible. At nearby Zhoukoudian were discovered several fossil bones of so-called Peking man, now classified as Homo erectus remains.
Since 723 B.C. several cities, bearing various names, have existed at this site. The nucleus of the present city was Kublai Khan's capital, Cambuluc (constructed 1260-90). Under the name Beijing [Chin.,=northern capital] the city was the capital of China from 1421 until 1911. The gateway to Mongolia and Manchuria, it was often the prize of contending armies.
In 1860, Great Britain and France captured it after the battle of Baliqiao and forced the Chinese government to concede the Legation Quarter for foreign settlements. This cession was among the factors responsible for the Boxer Uprising (1900), in which the foreign colony was besieged until relieved by a combined expeditionary force of American, Japanese, and European troops. The foreign powers exacted a treaty that provided for the permanent garrisoning of foreign troops in Beijing.
The city changed hands repeatedly during the civil wars that followed the establishment of the Chinese Republic in 1911-12. From 1912 to 1927, Beijing, Guangzhou, and Hankou alternated as centers of government. In 1928, when the seat of government was transferred to Nanjing [Chin.,=southern capital], the name Beiping (Pei-p'ing) [Chin.,=northern peace] was adopted. Japan occupied the city after the famous Marco Polo Bridge incident in 1937 (see Sino-Japanese War, Second). The Japanese made the city the capital of a puppet state (Dec., 1937).
With the end of World War II and the abolition of the last foreign concessions (1946), the city was entirely restored to Chinese sovereignty. In Jan., 1949, it fell to the Communists, who later that year designated it the capital of the newly founded People's Republic of China and restored the name Beijing. Since 1949, Beijing has spread well beyond its two core cities, and hundreds of new buildings, hotels, and cultural centers now dot the city and its suburbs. A subway was completed in 1969 and added to in the 1980s. The government has attempted to restore and preserve many of the country's important artistic and architectural works, many of which are in Beijing, but modern construction in the city has increased since the 1990s, resulting in the loss of most of the traditional neighborhoods that once dominated Beijing. Additional construction, including the National Stadium (nicknamed the Bird's Nest), was undertaken after the city was awarded the 2008 summer Olympics.
See R. MacFarquhar, The Forbidden City (1972); O. Cail, Peking (rev. ed. 1973); Zhou Shachen, Beijing—Old and New (1984); P. Fleming, The Siege at Peking (1986); M. Meyer, The Last Days of Old Beijing (2008).