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Beijing

Beijing, capital of the People's Republic of China, is the nation's political, economic, cultural, educational and international trade and communication center. Located in northern China, close to the port city of Tianjin and partially surrounded by Hebei Province, Beijing also serves as the most important transportation hub and port of entry in China.

Beijing, one of the six ancient cities in China, has been the heart and soul of politics and society throughout its long history and consequently there is an unparalleled wealth of discovery to delight and intrigue travelers as they explore Beijing's ancient past and exciting modern development. Now it has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, with about 140 million Chinese tourists and 4.4 million international visitors in a year.

A vast and symmetrical metropolis, Beijing is the orderly seat of the communist political power in China, so its architecture traces each and every mood swing from 1949 to the present, from felled hutong (narrow alleys) to huge underground bomb shelters scooped out during the paranoid 1970s. One moment you are sizing up a blank Soviet-style monument, the next you spot a vast, shimmering tower rising up from the footprint of a vanished temple. Spring can bear witness to sandstorms blowing in from the Mongolian steppe, accompanied by rapidly warming, but generally dry, conditions. Autumn, like spring, sees little rain but is crisp and short. January averages -3.7 C (25.3 F), while July averages 26.2 C (79.2 F). Annual precipitation is around 570 mm (22.4 in), and the majority of it falls in the summer months. Extremes have ranged from -27.4 to 42.6 C (-17 to 109 F).

History may have been trampled in Beijing over the past half century, but there's still much more substance here than in China's other dynastic capitals, bar Nanjing or Kaifeng. You just need to do a bit of hunting and patient exploration to find the historical narrative. It's also essential to sift the genuine from the fake: some of Beijing's once-illustrious past has been fitfully resurrected in the trompe-l'oeil of rebuilt monuments. Colossal flyovers and multilane boulevards heave with more than three million cars but ample pockets of historical charm survive. It's the city's epic imperial grandeur, however, that is truly awe-inspiring.

Frank and uncomplicated, Beijing's denizens chat in Beijinghua the gold standard of Mandarin and marvel at their good fortune for occupying the centre of the known world. And for all its diligence and gusto, Beijing dispenses with the persistent pace of Shanghai or Hong Kong, and locals instead find time to sit out front, play chess and watch the world go by.

Beijing's climate is a monsoon influenced continental climate with hot, humid summers and cold, dry winters. The best time to visit is in September and October, the "Golden Autumn". Spring is the season for dust storms. Summer can be oppressively hot and the tourist crowds tend to be the largest as well. Winter is cold and dry with infrequent, but beautiful, snow.

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