Beijing

The city of Beijing is home to thirteen million people. As China’s capital on and off since the Yuan Dynasty (thirteenth century) it is the centre of government, and hosts China’s most prestigious educational and cultural centres. The city’s geography is dominated by the ‘forbidden city’, long the seat of power for Chinese emperors, and the massive Tiananmen Square. During the last twenty years the city has undergone substantial modernisation, bringing international hotels, banks, restaurants and shopping malls to the city. Most of the city’s old hutong residences have been demolished to make way for modern flats and housing developments. The 2008 Olympic Games provided a further catalyst for rapid change, with large investments in urban infrastructure, transport and sporting facilities. The city and national governments have spent over $43bn to bring facilities up to the standards of a major international city.

As the city has modernised and enlarged, so its environmental problems have become more acute. Beijing is already consuming water resources which have been allocated to last until 2030. Deforestation and climate change have meant that the Gobi Desert continues to advance toward the city, leading to vast sand storms in early spring. The number of cars in the city has more than doubled since 2005, leading to some of the most severe problems in air quality in all of China.

Archaeology in the area around Beijing has revealed traces of a Nestorian Christian presence dating to around the tenth century. In 1280 a Nestorian monk named Rabban Sauma travelled from Dadu (Beijing) on a pilgrimage through central Asia, the Middle East and into Europe. In response, a Catholic emissary was sent in the person of John of Montecorvino in 1294. During the seventeenth century the city was home to celebrated Jesuits like Matteo Ricci, Adam Schall and Ferdinand Verbiest. Protestant missions were established in the city following the Opium Wars. Now there are over 20 registered Protestant churches and 500 registered Christian meeting points. The Beijing Christian Council serves 60,000 baptized Christians. There are around 40,000 Catholics who celebrate mass at five central churches and several more suburban sites.

For further reading: Jonathan Aikman, Jesus in Beijing, rev. edn. (Monarch Publications, 2006)

view of Beijing
Beijing has been modernised over the last 20 years. Photo: Thierry Creative Commons logo
Temple of Heaven
Beijing traffic
Temple of Heaven
Beijing traffic
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