Beijing city centre

Life in Beijing

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temple of heaven

As a city combining both modern and traditional architecture by constantly innovating itself, yet always remaining linked to its glorious and notorious past, the “Northern Capital” is a mega-city rich in history. Beijing, formerly romanized as Peking, is the capital of the People’s Republic of China, the world’s most populous capital city. It is home to the headquarters of most of China’s largest state-owned companies and is a major hub for the national highway, expressway, railway, and high-speed rail networks.

live and work in beijingBeijing’s history dates back three millennia. As the last of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China, Beijing has been the political centre of the country for much of the past eight centuries. With mountains surrounding the inland city on the three sides, in addition to the old inner and outer city walls, the city was strategically poised and developed to be the residence of the emperor and acted therefore as the perfect location for the imperial capital. Beijing is known for its opulent palaces, temples, parks, gardens, tombs, walls, and gates. Its art treasures as well as its universities have made it the centre for culture and art in China. The city hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics and will be hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics, making it the first city to ever host both, Winter and Summer Olympics.

The city is located in northern China and is governed as a direct-controlled municipality under the national government. Municipal government is regulated by the local Communist Party of China (CPC) who 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. Moreover, as the capital of China, Beijing also houses all of the important national governmental and political institutions, including the National People’s Congress.

 

Work

Working in Beijing has become increasingly more popular amongst the expat community. Taking up employment in Beijing means working in China’s major post-industrial city.

In 2015, Beijing was home to 52 companies of the Fortune Global 500 company headquarters, more than any other city in the world. Among these companies we can find state-owned enterprises State Grid, China National Petroleum, and Sinopec Group. Beijing CBD is quickly becoming the centre for Beijing’s economic expansion, rapid modernization, and radically changing skyline, with the ongoing or recently completed construction of multiple skyscrapers. Beijing’s Zhongguancun area is also known as China’s Silicon Valley and China’s centre of innovation and technology entrepreneurship. 

work in Beijing

The Beijing Economic and Technological Development Area (BDA) attracts enterprises from the fields of materials engineering, mechanical and electronic products, and pharmaceuticals, such as the global healthcare corporation Sanofi-Aventis. Top multi-national companies such as Google, Intel or Microsoft can also be found there. The combination of growing scientific and technological innovation and the financial importance of the capital create a good atmosphere for Chinese entrepreneurship and foreign investment. Although the Chinese stock exchange is located in Shanghai and Shenzhen rather than Beijing, Beijing Financial Street is nonetheless referred to as China’s “Wall Street”. It hosts the nation’s three most important regulatory and supervisory institutions, the biggest Chinese commercial banks, as well as hundreds of domestic and foreign financial institutions, such as Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan.

Foreigners working or planning to work in Beijing, whether for a Chinese company or any of the global companies in the city, need to prove they are foreign experts. With this system, China is attempting to attract the most qualified foreign talent and expats from all around the world to contribute to its development and international presence. The test for whether an expat will be able to find a job in Beijing is to ask whether they have something to offer that Chinese people in Beijing cannot do as well. There are thousands of jobs for language teachers of all languages, although the highest demand is for English teachers, as well as in industries where a foreign language is necessary, such as broadcasting. Many jobs do, however, require a rudimentary knowledge of Chinese as well. In addition, foreigners are allowed to open their own businesses in China, and many do. Most choose to take on a Chinese partner to deal with much of the paperwork, though agencies for setting up businesses are easy to find. There are many foreign-owned restaurants, for instance, but they do face a number of challenges and are encouraged to take on Chinese staff rather than act purely for foreign interests. New technologies, engineering, pharmaceuticals, R&D, finance, intellectual property, education, marketing, advertising and consulting are also popular areas of expat employment. Getting a visa and a work permit for China is necessary. Seeing as getting a job might sometimes prove a bit more difficult, many expats decide to come to Beijing to do an internship first, and then look for a job. Finding a job whilst already being in China might prove easier than trying to find a job from overseas.

 

What to expect

Climate

Beijing has a monsoon-influenced humid continental climate. It’s characterized by higher humidity in the summers due to the East Asian monsoon, and colder, windier, drier winters that reflect the influence of the vast Siberian anticyclone. During spring, sandstorms blowing in from the Gobi Desert across the Mongolian steppe can take place, accompanied by rapidly warming, but generally dry conditions. Autumn is also a season of transition with minimal precipitation. During winter, the average temperature is -3ºC, whereas in summer average temperatures reach 26-27ºC. Most precipitations fall during the summer season.

 

Transport

The Beijing Capital International Airport has been the second busiest in the world by passenger traffic since 2010, and, as of 2016, the city’s subway network is the busiest and second longest in the world after Shanghai’s subway system. If you decide to walk around the city, be careful when crossing roads (this is also true for when you bicycle your way around the city). Assume that none of the road users will give way to you, even if a policeman is present.

public transport in BeijingThe subway in Beijing is a great way to get around the city and is also clearly marked in English for non-Chinese speakers. At 3-9 RMB per trip based on distance, it is one of the cheapest subway systems in the world. The network has expanded rapidly in recent years, with 17 lines currently operating and new lines under construction or planification. Be warned that during rush hour it can get extremely crowded and many popular stations even have outdoor queues. Also, if you buy a single trip ticket, keep in mind that the ticket is only valid from the station you bought it and on the day you bought it. You can also “rent” a pre-paid card for a 20 RMB refundable deposit and no expiry which you can top-up with money.

The bus system is cheap, convenient and covers the entire city, but might be more tricky if you do not understand Chinese as most bus drivers do not speak English and stop names are usually only announced in Chinese. Metro-based bus fares are usually around 2 RMB, but with a public transportation card you can get a 60% discount.

Taxis are a convenient choice when traveling with family or luggage and fares are very reasonable. However, taxi drivers do not speak or read English, so you might want to have your destination written down in Chinese characters. Also, attempting to get a taxi during rush hour might prove almost impossible and traffic jams are quite common. Taxis charge a starting fee of 13 RMB with average daytime trips costing around 20-30 RMB and a cross-town journey being around 50 RMB. It is always a good idea to ask for a receipt (fāpiào).

 

Cuisine

Beijing Roast DuckBeijing showcases the best of China’s (and neighbouring) flavours as well as a few surprising additions of its own. Its food is as headstrong as its residents with garlic, chilli, fermented soybean, and anything else being used to bring out bold flavours. Whereas rice is the go-to staple food in the South of China, the North is better known for using wheat-based staples such as dumplings and hand-pulled noodles. The most iconic Beijing dish is the Peking roast duck (Běijīng kǎoyā). The duck, crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside, is served sliced. These slices are then rolled in light pancakes and eaten with sides like fermented bean paste, cucumbers, and spring onions. As we’ve mentioned, dumplings and noodles are the go-to dish in the North. Dumplings, or jiaozi, are served either steamed, fried or in a soup and accompanied with black rice-vinegar and smoky chilli-oil. Zhájiàng noodles (Zhájiàngmiàn) is another classic Beijing dish that consists of firm, drained, hand-pulled wheat noodles topped with minced-pork in a smoky yellow-soybean paste reduction, and fresh vegetables that are laid to the side for you to add in. Famous street food that you can find in Beijing include flatbreads. These golden-toasted flatbreads and pastries come in many forms: Cōng yóubǐng (filled with spring onions), Xiànrbǐng (filled with minced lamb and spring onions), jianbing (crepe filled with chili, garlic, soybean paste, egg and a crispy fried cracker), yuè bĭng (moon cakes are classically filled with a red bean or lotus paste), and many more. Also a popular street food are barbecue skewers (or chuàn’r). In terms of drinking, one of Beijing’s most famous and unique flavours is a grey-green drink that locals have proudly adored since the Liao dynasty. Sometimes translated as “soymilk”, Beijing’s dòuzhī is actually made from mung beans, has a mild sourness to it and is not sweet like soymilk is.

 

Budget

As mentioned above, transport in Beijing is reasonably priced. A single trip with the metro will cost you around 3-9 RMB, a single trip by bus around 2 RMB, and taxi fares start at 13 RMB with average daytime trips costing around 20-30 RMB. A monthly ticket for public transportation will be around 217 RMB. In terms of food, a basic lunchtime menu in the business district can be found at 60 RMB. Local food/restaurants are always cheaper than eating at Western restaurants. Regarding groceries, 1L milk is around 12 RMB, a dozen eggs will cost you 13 RMB, a load of white bread is around 17 RMB and a kg rice is around 8 RMB. Monthly rent for a furnished two-bedroom apartment will cost you between 7.000 and 13.000 RMB in an expensive area and 5.000 – 9.000 RMB in a normal area. One-month utilities for two person is around 290 – 470 RMB and one month internet can be found at 86 RMB.

 

Sightseeing

Beijing has seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites. These include the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace, Ming Tombs, and parts of the Great Wall, among others. Siheyuans, the city’s traditional housing style, and hutongs, the narrow alleys between siheyuans, are major tourist attractions and are common in urban Beijing.

the great wall of chinaThe Great Wall of China might very well be the most popular attraction in China. Once build to protect the Chinese states and empires against the raids and invasions of the various nomadic groups of the Eurasian Steppe, the Wall comprises a series of fortifications on an east-to-west line across the historical northern borders of China. Over time, the Wall also has had purposes such as border control, regulation or encouragement of trade and the control of immigration and emigration. As one of the most impressive architectural feats in history, it’s no wonder that it attracts so many visitors. Thus, popular areas such as Badaling and Mutianyu are often overrun with tourists and hawkers. The best way to experience its true majesty is by hiking and camping on the Wild Wall, unrestored bits often in ruins and overgrown. Here you can easily find a section to yourself and hike for hours without seeing another traveller. Bring a sleeping bag and you can even spend the night in a crumbling watchtower for a full-on experience.

Another popular attraction in Beijing is the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City was home to the Imperial Court during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Unlike many other historical sights, the Forbidden City was relatively untouched during the cultural revolution due to the timely intervention of premier Zhou Enlai, who sent a battalion of his troops to guard the palace from the over-zealous Red Guards. It is located in the centre of Beijing and now houses the Palace Museum. It is listed as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world and has influenced cultural and architectural developments in East Asia and elsewhere.

the forbidden city beijingTiananmen Square is the world’s largest public square and a must see for all visitors from abroad. The square is surrounded by grand buildings including the Great Hall of the People, the Museum of Chinese History, the Museum of the Chinese Revolution, the Qianmen Gate and the Forbidden City. It is also home to the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall and the Monument to the People's Martyrs. Outside China, the square is best known for the Tiananmen Square Massacre, an armed suppression of a pro-democracy movement in June 1989.

The Summer Palace is a vast ensemble of lakes, gardens and palaces, and was an imperial garden during the Qing Dynasty. The Temple of Heaven, an imperial complex of religious buildings, is the symbol of Beijing and is surrounded by a lively park typically packed with local people drinking tea, practicing calligraphy or tai-chi or just watching the world go by. Other parks scattered around Beijing include Zhongshan Park, Beihai Park, Chaoyang Park and Ritan Park. The city's many green oases are a wonderful break from walking along the never-ending boulevards and narrow hutongs. Locals similarly flock to Beijing's palaces, temples and parks whenever they have time. The green areas are not only used for relaxing but also for sports, dancing, singing and general recreation.

Beijing hutongsHutongs are Beijing's ancient alleyways, where you can find traditional Beijing architecture. They date back to when Beijing was the capital of the Yuan Dynasty (1266-1368). Most buildings in hutongs are made in the traditional courtyard sìhéyuàn style. Many of these courtyard homes were originally occupied by aristocrats, though after the Communist takeover in 1949 the aristocrats were pushed out and replaced with poor families. Hutongs can still be found throughout the area within the second Ring Road, though many are being demolished to make way for new buildings and wider roads. Most popular among tourists are the hutongs near Qianmen, Houhai, and Yonghegong Lama Temple. The hutongs may at first feel intimidating to travellers used to the new wide streets of Beijing, but the locals are very friendly and will often try to help you if you look lost.  

It’s not just the ancient architecture that attracts so many tourists. Beijing is also home to some of the world’s most innovative modern buildings. The world’s leading architects clamber for the chance to make their mark on this global powerhouse with impressive structures such as the CCTV Building, Galaxy Soho, the NCPA concert hall and the Olympic Stadium.

Beijing is not just the political centre of China, it is also the cultural hub of the country. National top artists, writers, movie-makers and musicians converge here, making this the place to take the pulse of China’s ever-evolving cultural scene with top-class museums, galleries, and an increasing number of music venues.

Just like the many temples and palaces of the ancient past as well as the imposing socialist realist monuments of the 50s do, these modern and innovative buildings are sure to make an impact on and fascinate you.

As a whole, China is considered a great economic success story. As a result of rapid industrialisation, China’s consumer market has flourished and the country is increasingly open to foreign investment, and foreigners who consider it to be a land of opportunity have moved to China.

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