Beijing is, in some ways, like a time capsule. Walking through sites such as the Forbidden City and the nearby Great Wall of China evokes images of ancient dynasties. Tiananmen Square remains a stark reminder of unrest and repression, but is also the site where Mao Zedong proclaimed the People’s Republic of China.
There are also more recent symbols of China’s ascent on the world stage, such as the iconic venues built for the 2008 Summer Olympics, the titanium-domed National Centre for the Performing Arts, and the oddly-shaped headquarters for Chinese Central Television, known to locals as “Big Shorts".
Moving to Beijing is especially exciting for expats given its long-standing role at the centre of Chinese culture and politics, and its prominent position in the international business sphere, as it occupies a space between the distant past and an exciting future.
China’s first post-industrial city, Beijing is home to dozens of Fortune 500 companies and corporate heavyweights. The city’s financial sector plays a major role in the Chinese economy, while real estate, information technology and pharmaceuticals make their own contributions to the city’s domestic product.
Affectionately called Tan Da Bing or “spreading pancake", Beijing’s growth is expected to continue, absorbing the surrounding areas and becoming a 100 million-strong megacity. This process is well underway, with the city’s public transport network progressively serving more people living further from the city centre.
As it stands, the city's size is staggering; it is home to more than 20 million people. The sheer magnitude means that there are already smaller city-like districts within Beijing, from expat suburb communities to expansive, shapeless developments.
Beijing is not always as accommodating as other international cities and foreign residents have to overcome the challenges of becoming familiar with a language and culture entirely different from their own. As isolated from the local populace as expats sometimes feel, the density of Beijing’s burgeoning population can feel stifling and claustrophobic.
Growth has brought other challenges to life in Beijing. Hazardous levels of pollution are commonplace, and traffic is consistently congested. Many do, however, make the adjustment successfully and find themselves in a city that is both ancient and modern, and that embodies Chinese culture for a global audience.