Beijing is a rather large city. It is not tall, like New York, but spreads like a metal fan across the earth. It is often associated with large crowds, smog, and suppression. So why should you love this city? Why visit or study abroad here?
There is something called history. If you like knowing small facts about the past, Beijing is a cornucopia of delight for you. I know history is everywhere, but Beijing is special in that it has been a city for over 3,000 years, the capital of an ever more powerful China, and was the capital of two of China’s most iconic dynasties: The Ming and the Qing. Beijing does not just have history – it has been the center of history in China for hundreds of years.
You may find yourself walking one day through the Tsinghua campus, just thinking it is an ordinary university. Nothing special. However, some fascinating history has taken place here. For instance, the Red Guards were started in this university by some of the students who criticized Tsinghua and also Beijing University’s administrations for “intellectual elitism.” Later when Mao Zedong praised them for their zealotry they committed some of the foulest acts of the Cultural Revolution, and soon Red Guards appeared all over the country.
In many ways, Beijing is the city you should visit to witness how the country has changed over the course of its often complicated, violent, and intriguing history.
You can visit the Forbidden City, a structure completed in 1420 by the Ming Dynasty’s Yongle Emperor, who was also the emperor who changed the capital from Nanjing to Beijing.
You can see the Summer Palace, which the Qianlong Emperor of the Qing Dynasty made great in 1749.
You can witness the indelible nature of communist ideals in the solid structures of Tiananmen Square, all built in the 1950s to celebrate the People’s Republic of China’s ten year anniversary.
You can also see for yourself the architecture of all the 2008 Beijing Olympic buildings, a source of pride for Chinese and a monument to China’s ever growing global power.
Yes, Beijing is very populated, polluted, and often enough political tensions blossom here, but in many ways these are problems not just that Beijing faces but China faces. If you want to know the issues modern China faces, Beijing is the place to be. Everything is front and center here, and you might just learn more here than you had thought because of that. If you can understand Beijing, you can understand China, and I think that – for me – is something special enough to maybe even love.
I look forward to visiting Beijing time and time again over the course of my life, because the change I will see in Beijing is the change I will see in China.