Beijing, the capital of China, is located in the north east part of China. The city itself is mostly built on a flat plain. The surrounding terrain is high to the north, particularly in the northwest where parts of the city are hilly, and low in the southeast. On clear days it is possible to see distant mountains from many parts of the city. Including outlying areas, Beijing municipality covers an area of approximately 16,800 sq. km (6500 sq. mi) – a similar area to that of Belgium. However, the core area of the city lies within Beijing‟s 4th ring road and is a much more manageable size. New residents quickly become acquainted with Beijing‟s layout, which consists of a quite orderly grid pattern within the concentric ring roads. Beijing time is 8 hours ahead of GMT and 13 hours ahead of EST.
Beijing has four distinct seasons: short windy spring; long hot summer; cool pleasant autumn; and a long chilly winter. In January temperatures can dip to was low as -200C (-40F) though this is not common, and July and August temperatures can exceed 400C (1040F).
Winter lasts from November to March and is cold and dry due to the Siberian air masses that move southward across the Mongolian Plateau. During the winter months the relative humidity level averages well below 30% and maximum daytime temperatures average about 0ºC, but can fall as low as minus 15ºC frequently. The prevailing winds can make it feel very cold indeed.
Spring (April/May) brings a drastic change of weather where temperatures are around 20ºC and the landscape can turn green in a few weeks‟ time. This is a very pleasant time of year but, unfortunately, if the winter has been dry there is a risk of dust storms sweeping in from Inner Mongolia. There is also a large amount of pollen in the air at this time.
Summer can begin as early as May and lasts through to about mid-September. About half of Beijing‟s annual rainfall of approximately 59cm (22 inches) falls in July and August when Beijing is affected by the fringe of the monsoon conditions from the south. It can feel uncomfortably hot and humid during these months. Average relative humidity during the summer is 60% and daytime temperatures are in the 35ºC plus range.
Autumn (September/October) is frequently the most pleasant time of the year in Beijing and sadly the least short-lived! Days are often clear and fresh, and temperatures are comfortable (in the 15 to 25ºC range) and hardly any precipitation.
Pollution has a very big effect on Beijing‟s weather and days often appear to be overcast when in fact they are merely smoggy – particularly in central areas of the city. In recent years this has improved significantly, and continues to do so year-on-year, but Beijing is still one of the most polluted cities in the world. The air quality is poor due to both dust that blows in from the Gobi desert in winter and spring and pollution caused by factories, power plants and traffic.
Improvements are occurring due to reforestation efforts (in the case of the dust storms) and rulings on emissions from home fires, industrial sites and car engines which have meant the use of cleaner types of fuel. On the other hand, there is more and more business activity and vehicle use, so air quality, while improving, still remains a problem. Air filters and humidifiers can be bought locally to help reduce the effects of the problem in the home but are quite expensive, so you might want to consider to take these with you.
For more information, see also the Outpost Beijing Briefing note on pollution in Beijing.
Beijing's population of about 21 million is predominantly Chinese but there is a sizeable expatriate community, estimated at over 100,000. Many nationalities are represented and it is easy to meet other expatriates, as there is a wide range of social clubs and organised activities on offer. Some nationalities (e.g. British, Americans, Dutch, Australians, and New Zealanders) have regular get-togethers to which others are usually welcomed. There are also sporting groups and religious groups, some of them are listed in our Inside Guide.
The city of Beijing has a long and rich history that dates back over 3,000 years. Throughout those years it has constantly evolved and is still doing so today. No one living in Beijing now can fail to notice the huge changes that are taking place in the cityscape. New shopping malls, luxury hotels, and office blocks are springing up all around us, wide new roads and motorways are forging their way across and around town, and new trees, parks and gardens are appearing everywhere. But alongside Beijing's commitment to development, there is an increasing desire to preserve the magnificent heritage of this ancient city.
The language spoken in Beijing is Mandarin, also known as Putonghua. In Chinese this language is referred to as Han Yu or Zhong Wen. Spoken Mandarin is usually taught to foreigners using a system of writing using the western alphabetic characters, known as PinYin. In Beijing, although it is possible to get by without knowing the language, few people speak English and therefore having at least a basic command of spoken Mandarin will significantly improve the quality of life and interaction with the local community that you experience during your time here.
In general, the Chinese are a collective society with a need for group affiliation, whether to their family, school, work group, or country. In order to maintain a sense of harmony, they will act with decorum at all times and will not do anything to cause someone else public embarrassment.
They are willing to subjugate their own feelings for the good of the group. This is often observed by the use of silence in very structured meetings. If someone disagrees with what another person says, rather than disagree publicly, the person will remain quiet. This gives face to the other person, while speaking up would make both parties lose face.
Impatience is seen as a character flaw, so if a foreigner becomes angry or upset they are seen to „lose face‟.