China now has 668 cities, of which 13 have populations of more than two million each; 24, between one and two million; 48, between 500,000 and one million; 205, between 200,000 and 500,000; and 378, less than 200,000.
1911, it served in succession as the capital of the Kin, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties, thus becoming a storehouse of Chinese culture, and leaving many superb historical legacies, such as the Tiananmen Gatetower, the symbol of Beijing as well as of China; Tiananmen Square, the largest city square in the world; the former Imperial Palace (the “Forbidden City”), the largest and best-preserved ancient architectural complex of the world; the Great Wall at Badaling, one of the “wonders of the world”; the Temple of Heaven, the largest of all existing temples in the world, where the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties worshiped Heaven and prayed for good harvests; the Summer Palace, the largest imperial garden in the world; the Ming Tombs, the largest imperial tomb group in the world; and Prince Gong’s Residence. Of these, the former Imperial Palace, the Great Wall and the site of the discovery of Peking Man at Zhoukoudian have been listed as world cultural heritages by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
The city of Beijing has preserved the imperial architecture of the Ming Dynasty well. In the city’s center is the oblong Imperial Palace, which is surrounded by a 10-odd-meter-tall wall topped with a turret on each of the four corners and skirted by a moat. Outside of the Imperial Palace is the original Imperial City’s vermilion walls, nine km in circumference and having many symmetrical city gates. In addition, there is also a square “inner city” 20 km in circumference, and an oblong “outer city” in the south of the “inner city.” Hence the city of Beijing is in the shape of a Chinese character “凸” With the Forbidden City at the center, there is a central axis running through it from north to south, on either side of which are streets, shops and residential houses laid out in a symmetrical chequerboard pattern. Winding rivers, beautiful gardens, and ancient and solemn sacrificial altars and temples are scattered all over the city, adding beauty to its symmetrical pattern.
As an ancient city, Beijing is also attractive for its new look. Since 1949, when Beijing was designated as the capital of the PRC, tremendous changes have taken place in the city’s appearance. In the past, Tiananmen Square was an imperial square forbidden to ordinary people, with vermilion walls on the eastern and western sides. In the 1950s, the walls were pulled down, and the square was expanded from 11 ha to 40 ha, where citizens go sightseeing, hold rallies, have recreational activities and relax. The square is now flanked by massive modern buildings, including the Great Hall of the People, where the NPC is held annually, the Museum of Chinese History, the Museum of the Chinese Revolution, the Monument to the People’s Heroes and the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall. North of the square, Chang’an Avenue has been widened and extended. Today it is the city’s major west-east artery, lined on either side with towering new buildings. Since the 1980s, the urban construction of Beijing has developed at a high speed. Now more than 200 star-rated hotels and several dozen high-class shopping centers are distributed all over the city. The National Library of China, the Central TV Center, the World Trade Center, the International Exhibition Center, the China Theater, the Beijing West Railway Station and other modern buildings now tower on the Beijing skyline. The construction of the ring roads, expressways to the airport and the Great Wall at Badaling, about 200 flyovers, the new sports city at the Asian Games Village, and so on, have added a modern flavor to the old city. If you take a view of the city from the Wanchun Pavilion at the peak of Jingshan (Prospect Hill), you will find the “inner city” of Beijing has been surrounded by towering buildings. The ancient architectural complexes and the new buildings, which add radiance and beauty to each other, seem to form a huge new painting scroll of Beijing