10 Incredible Facts About Beijing, China

Beijing, China: the capital city, top study destination, full of history and culture…and what else? Do you know everything there is to know about this amazing city? Discover the top 10 facts about Beijing right here!

Beijing is one of the world’s oldest cities

As an inhabited city, Beijing has over 3,000 years of history and is one of the oldest in the world! The city is six times older than New York.

The historical artifacts around Beijing are ancient: the Great Wall was built in the Qin Dynasty (221-207 BCE). Today it is just to the north of the city. Scientists have determined ancient human species (Homo erectus) lived in the area where Beijing is today around 770,000 to 230,000 years ago.

Read More: 10 Chinese Dynasties You Should Know

facts about Beijing

Beijing is arranged in rings

With the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square at the very center, Beijing has expanded in “rings” outward over the decades. Each “ring” is marked by a big circular road that goes around the whole city. The concept originated with Beijing tram lines that ran from the 1920s to the 1950s, where a tram that looped from Tiananmen to Gulou was called the “Ring Road” route. In Beijing, you will often hear people give directions by referencing the ring roads: “It’s out in the fifth ring,” or “I live in the third ring.” 

Beijing currently has 7 ring roads. Even Beijing’s metro lines follow the ring pattern:

Beijing pronunciation became standard Mandarin

Why is Beijing known as the best place to learn Mandarin Chinese? It’s because the style of Chinese spoken in the capital over time became the standard dialect for all of China.

According to the Chinese Language Institute, “in 1932, a dictionary of a common language based on northern prestige dialects from in and around Beijing emerged. This dictionary was called Vocabulary of National Pronunciation for Everyday Use (国音常用字汇 Guóyīn Chángyòng Zìhuì). Eventually, its contents would become the foundation for modern Putonghua.” (Putonghua=Modern Mandarin).

facts about Beijing

…But, Beijing still has its own unique dialect!

If you learn Chinese in Beijing, you might realize that many speakers will add an “er” sound to the end of words (儿 in Chinese). But in other places, like Shanghai and Taiwan, Chinese speakers might not understand you if you speak this way. The “er” sound is a central feature of Beijing dialect, and can make every word sound a bit different:

  • 不知道 buzhidao (I don’t know) sounds like burdao
  • 一点点 yidiandian (a little bit) sounds like yidiar
  • 老师 laoshi (teacher) sounds like laoer

A Beijing dialect speaker interviewed by the New York Times said, “I love to listen to the Beijing dialect…It is something innate. When I speak the Beijing dialect, it comes naturally from my heart.”

facts about Beijing - Beijing damas dancing

Beijing was the capital 6 times

This is one of the best trivia facts about Beijing. Beijing is not just the capital of the modern-day People’s Republic of China. It was also the capital city five other times:

  • 221 BC: Yan State Capital, Warring States Period
  • 1271: first a national capital for the Yuan Dynasty
  • 1402: Became Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) capital
  • 1644: Qing Dynasty capital
  • 1912: Republic of China capital

facts about Beijing

Beijing is one of four province-level cities

Next to Tianjin, Shanghai, and Chongqing, Beijing is one of only four cities in China that are municipalities directly under the central government, or “province-level cities.” Technically they are not part of any other province–the cities are so big and important they are treated as a province of their own.

The local CPC issues administrative orders, collects taxes, manages the economy, and directs a standing committee of the Municipal People’s Congress in making policy decisions and overseeing the local government.

facts about Beijing - Beijing skyline

Beijing has the most billionaires in the world

The world’s wealthiest people love to live here. With 100 billionaires, Beijing beats out New York City (99), Hong Kong (80), and Moscow (79) to have the biggest uber-rich population. With so many successful Chinese companies like Huawei and Tencent, it’s no wonder!

Read More: Top 10 Richest People in China in 2022

Pollution is no longer a big issue…But traffic jams are!

Beijing has a reputation for being one of the most polluted cities in the world. In the past, this was definitely true. Coal accounted for 40% of pollution in Beijing due to factories on the edge of the city and neighboring provinces producing power generation, steel, and cement. But Beijing declared a “War on Pollution” in 2014, and the results are excellent! 2021 was the best year on record for Beijing clear skies since 2013, with CGTN reporting “The number of severely polluted days during summer and autumn was eight days, dropping by 86.2 percent compared to 2012.”

Now that the pollution has improved significantly, Beijingers have switched to complaining about traffic instead. Because the city roads are arranged in rings and follow the old imperial layout of the city, traffic jams are a common occurrence. Perhaps a “War on Traffic” is coming next!

Beijing has 197 museums!

If you ever need something to do on a rainy weekend in Beijing, take a trip to one of Beijing’s 197 registered museums! This makes Beijing the city with the most museums in all of China. Museums are a great way to learn about the history and culture of Beijing: check out the popular Palace Museum or the huge National Museum of China. Or, if you have a lot of time and curiosity, take a long drive to the Manchu Folk Culture Museum, Taxation Museum, or Cinema National Film Museum.

One man visited over 130 Beijing museums in 2021. Read about his adventures here.

facts about Beijing - museum life

The first KFC in China was built there

The first KFC was built in Qianmen, Beijing on November 12, 1987. The three-story-tall restaurant sold over 2,200 buckets of chicken and earned USD83,000 in just 24 hours. It continued to be extremely popular and even today, KFCs are found everywhere in China and are the most popular international fast food in China.

facts about Beijing - first KFC

A few years later, McDonalds followed and opened its first store in April 23, 1992. Though McDonalds had opened a store in Shenzhen, southern China, 2 years earlier, the Beijing store was still also a huge hit. It was the largest McDonald’s in the world at that time, with seating for 700 customers. The store served 40,000 on the very first day!

What other facts about Beijing do you know? Leave us a comment!

Study in Beijing

10 facts about Beijing is just not enough, so here is one more…Beijing is home to the two best universities in China: Tsinghua University and Peking University. The city is also known as the best destination to study Mandarin Chinese and Chinese culture. Discover all there is to learn in Beijing here:

Savannah Billman has a master's degree in Chinese Law and Society at the Yenching Academy of Peking University. She holds a B.A. from NYU Shanghai and has also written for The World of Chinese, TechNode, SupChina, and Sixth Tone.
Savannah Billman
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