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14 Jun 2013

The Beauty of Beijing 北京, China

Beijing [北京]  • 14 JUNE 2013
This beautiful city covers an area of 16,640 square kilometers or 6,336 square miles and has a population of roughly 15 million people.

For centuries, the city's hulking official buildings served as reminders of the awesome power of the imperial state. That didn't change much when the Communist government took over in 1949. Then, with the reform and opening of China, which began some three decades ago, the new elite — corporate chieftains and their bureaucratic allies — began erecting capitalist monoliths to showcase their newfound wealth and influence. There's a lot of architectural swagger in Beijing, but between and behind it there's also a lot for the tourist to enjoy.

Beijing is an ancient city, but most expat housing was built in the last 10 years. There's a wide range of housing to choose from. Despite the choice, most expats in Beijing live at 20 of the city's better quality housing developments. All are featured on this website. The expat and Chinese housing communities aren't segregated. There's a good mix of nationalities at expat housing here. In fact, in Beijing's upper-income housing, it's difficult to tell what passport your neighbour holds. Everyone's cosmopolitan.
Expats wanting an easy commute to work live in Chaoyang, to the east of Tiananmen. Beijing's better rental apartments are here. Housing is in highrise towers, some with gym and pool facilities. Most expat housing in Chaoyang is within a 15 minute walk of the subway. Chaoyang encompasses the CBD, where most international firms are located. It's a large district, so Beijingers refer to its neighborhoods: Sanlitun, Chaoyang Park, CBD, Lido and Sanyuan Qiao. The embassies are in Sanlitun, together with shops, cafes and restaurants popular with Beijing's expats. Some expats work in Haidian and the Financial Street, but few choose to live in West Beijing. Housing in Haidian is just not good enough.

Should you live downtown or in a villa in Beijing's Shunyi suburbs? It depends on your priorities and lifestyle. Most expat parents with school-going children live in villas in Shunyi. It's close to the schools and is a better place for kids to run around. But it's also a quiet suburban villa setting that entails a longer commute to work. Few expats without kids live in Shunyi, preferring instead to live in expat housing in Chaoyang Park, Sanlitun and the CBD. If you have a toddler you might still choose to live in the city. There are kindergartens within a short walk of most expat apartment towers.

Some Beijing housing is good, but not all properties are properly maintained or well-built. Decor and styles vary. There's an aesthetic cultural gap between expat tenants and some landlords. While many of Beijing's villas and apartments are tastefully designed, some are not.

Beijing has an open rental market, so the challenge is not lack of housing choice, but narrowing down the options to a home that meets your requirements.


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