Beijing (formerly known as Peking in the Wade-Giles system of Chinese transliteration) means "Northern Capital" and lies in northern China at the northern end of the North China Plain at about 100 feet (30 meters) above sea level. Not located along a river, Beijing is 87 miles (140 km) from the port city of Tianjin. Beijing has served as China's capital city almost exclusively since the 1600s.
The metropolitan boundary of Beijing was established in 1959 and places Beijing's status at the same the level of a province in China. It is approximately 100 miles (160 km) wide from east to west and 110 miles (180 km) wide from north to south with a total area of 6,900 square miles (17,900 km2).
The metropolitan population is estimated at anywhere from 8.5 million to 19 million people. Although modern airports serve Beijing, railroads, buses, and bicycles continue to serve the city as primary methods of transportation. The road system of the central city is inadequate for automobiles although a dozen major highways radiate from the city. The streets and former walls of the central city are oriented along the four major compass points. The 15th century walls of the city were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s in China.
The metropolitan area can be divided into three primary zones - 1) the central zone that includes the city center, 2) the near suburb that surrounds the old walled city and includes schools, factories, and housing, and 3) the far suburb consisting of agricultural land providing fruits and dairy products to the city along with natural resources such as coal and lumber.
The central city of Beijing is divided into two sections, the northern inner city and the southern outer city. The northern inner city is also known as the Tartar City. It includes the Imperial City, home of imperial palaces and buildings. Within the Imperial City lies the renowned Forbidden City and the 100 acre Tiananmen Square, site of hundreds of deaths due to a massacre in June 1989. Also located in the Imperial City is the Palace Museum, China's foremost collection of art treasures. This tourist center along with the fact that Beijing is a mere 50 miles (80 km) from the Great Wall of China (photo), make it a prime global tourist destination.
The months of September and October are climatically the best times to visit Beijing. Beijing experiences about 132 freezing days and 80 rain days each year. The city receives approximately 25 inches of precipitation annually; the rainy season is June through August. Beijing has an annual mean (average) temperature of 53°F (12°C); the January mean is 24°F (-4°C) and the July mean is 79°F (26°C).