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Beijing
 
The capital city of the People's Republic of China (PRC), Beijing (Peking) is a fast-growing, dynamic metropolis that, while courting foreign businesses and visitors, maintains a firm grip on its rich cultural heritage and a strictly Communist social order. It is a monolithic showcase that can give a distorted view of China to foreign visitors. Beijing is a modern city with high-rise buildings, shopping malls and vast international hotels connected by an intricate freeway system crisscrossing the city. However, the modern buildings conceal traditional hutongs (alley ways), parks, numerous architectural treasure and exquisite yellow-tiled temples whose prayer flags and wind chimes move in the breeze created by the passing traffic. An unmissable experience is a morning visit to one of Beijing's public parks. This is when people let their hair down by indulging in their particular favorite physical activity, be it tai'chi, jogging, singing or even ballroom dancing. The population of Beijing is about 15 million.

Beijing is at its best in late spring and autumn. Autumn is a particularly pleasant time to visit as the days are warm and the leaves of the many trees in the city turn glorious shades of red and gold. The heat and humidity of the summers and the biting wind in winter can be extreme.

The local highlights: Chinese Opera, Tiananmen Square, etc.

The Great Wall of China is the longest structure ever built. It is about 4,000 miles long, and it was built entirely by hand. About 1, 200 - 1, 500 miles of the Great Wall were built during the reign of Emperor Shi Huangdi (Qin Dynasty). The Great Wall crosses northern China from the east coast to the central part of China. The Chinese built walls along their borders as early as the 600's B.C. During the Shang and Zhou dynasties, walls were built between Chinese regions which were fighting with each other. Walls were also built to protect China from outside invaders.

Lying at the center of Beijing, the Forbidden City, called gugong, in Chinese, used to be the imperial palace of the Ming and Qing dynasties. It is called the Palace Museum now. About 500 years being the imperial palace, it houses numerous rare treasures and curiosities. It is now listed by the UN as World Cultural Heritage in 1987 and is the hottest tourist magnets.

Hutong means traditional, small and narrow alleys having a history of more than 500 years. It is not known how many Hutongs exist in Beijing today, but if all the Hutongs were connected they would be longer than the Great Wall which is 4000 miles. The names for different Hutong are fascinating too; one is called Stinking Leather Hutong (reason can be that some merchants were once processing leather and became quite famous), and another is called Doufu Chen Hutong (reason can be that merchants were once making Doufu or bean curd here and became well-known). It is not only a kind of architecture, but also serves as a window into Beijing folk life and the "encyclopedia of the history and culture of Beijing."