Beijing at a Glance
Moving to Beijing
Moving to Beijing is probably the first choice for a considerable number of foreigners coming to live in mainland China. On the one hand, this location discloses the wealth of China’s cultural heritage to tourists and expatriates. But it will also show you the disadvantages of a contemporary Chinese mega-city: crowdedness, traffic congestions, air pollution, the occasional power shortage, and sometimes extreme weather conditions, with sandstorms in spring, sweltering summers, and freezing winters.
Nonetheless, expat life in the capital can be a fascinating opportunity. Below, you’ll find a few practical tips for moving to Beijing.
A Short History of Beijing
Beijing became the capital of the Great Mongolian Empire in the late 13th century. The major enhancement in its status resulted in more people moving to Beijing. This was also the time when the travels of Marco Polo captured the European imagination. In his manuscripts, the Italian merchant described how he met the Great Khan himself.
Meanwhile, after the end of the rather short-lived Yuan Dynasty, the historical city largely became what it is today. The Ming emperors decided to move to Beijing’s Forbidden City. Representatives from other East Asian nations came to Beijing in order to pay tribute to the influential and powerful regime.
Several centuries later, during the Second Opium War (1856-1860), Anglo-French forces invaded the city. They forced the imperial government to grant the British, French, and Russians the right to establish a permanent diplomatic presence. Subsequently, the first diplomatic staff members from Western powers started moving to Beijing.
Since the late 19th century, the city went through several wars: a nationalist rebellion, revolutionary upheavals, more invasions by foreign powers, and a full-blown civil war. Eventually, it became the capital of contemporary China in 1949.
Ever since then, migrant workers (míngōng), industrial laborers, employees, government officials, and foreign nationals have arrived in Beijing in a seemingly endless stream. The metropolitan population now counts 20.7 million inhabitants.
In Maoist China, moving to Beijing from abroad was impossible due to the country’s isolationist politics. Even after the beginning of Deng Xiaoping’s more liberal rule, it was mostly expats from diplomatic circles who were moving to Beijing. They had to live in designated foreigners’ quarters. Today, foreign nationals come to Beijing for a variety of reasons.
The universities and colleges in Haidian District attract visiting students, guest lecturers, and EFL teachers. Many foreign-invested enterprises and Chinese companies have a branch office with a permanent representative in Beijing. Thus they want to maintain their ties to Chinese government bureaucracy.
The city also has a flourishing “post-industrial” business climate, so many expats moving to Beijing will be working in finance, real estate, or in science and high-tech start-ups. Last but not least, its status as the home of China’s national institutions means that numerous foreign correspondents report about the latest developments in Chinese politics and economy.