Capital of the most populous nation on earth and first city of a land that has fired the global imagination, Beijing is the striking metropolitan core of a country with one of the world's oldest civilisations. For decades at the fringes of world events, Beijing now finds itself positioned in the spotlight as the dynamic nucleus of a country generating staggering gross domestic product (GDP) figures. Pundits talk of the 21st century as belonging to China, and China itself - as everyone knows - belongs to Beijing.
The city may have left the money-making to Shanghai and Shenzhen, and the music making to Hong Kong and Taiwan, but as the dynastic capital since the 13th century, Beijing has an indisputable pedigree. Annihilated by Genghis Khan, esteemed by Marco Polo, reshaped by the Ming, courted by the West and plunged into chaos by Mao Zedong - Beijng has had a dramatic and turbulent past, but its authority has rarely been in question.
But exactly where this city is now heading, no one quite knows for sure. The fores of cranes, thump of jackhammers, crackle of welding torches and sweep of the wrecking ball;suggests a vigorous, yet incomplete, revolution. What is certain is that Beijing, for centuries a vast and introspective walled bastion, has long been stirring and is now moving forward in gigantic leaps. With the 2008 Olympics - the Holy Grail of Beijing city planners ĘC in the bag, the transformation has received new vigour.
Beijing still stumps first-time visitors who arrive expecting a ragged tableau of communist China. New arrivals are struck by both the city's modernity and its immensity. But in this headlong rush into the future, history - an increasingly precious commodity has not been totally condemned. Within Beijing's environs you will find some of China's most stunning sights: the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven Park, thel Temple and the Great Wall, to name just a few.