Capital of the People’s Republic of China, Beijing is a delightful mix of modern and ancient, young and old, contemporary and traditional. Although recently surpassed by Shanghai as China’s largest city (18 million to Shanghai’s 20 million), Beijing remains the political, educational, and cultural center of China. From the ancient hutong alleyways that lead to the Forbidden City, to Mao’s portrait keeping an eternal gaze on Tiananmen Square, to CCTV’s ‘donut’ shaped tower, Beijing leaves a lasting impression on all who visit. Here, you can visit a traditional Chinese medicine doctor in a Yuan dynasty courtyard, grab a snack of Mongolian beef jerky, hear someone singing Beijing opera, and nearly get run over by a Rolls Royce – all in just one block.
Business is booming in China, and in Beijing more than anywhere you’ll feel yourself being swept up in the current.
Local Business Etiquette and Customs
Beijing women tend to dress casually and modestly. In business settings, the standard suit or skirt/slacks with blouse is appropriate in all situations. Protocol and hierarchy are very important in Chinese society. Gifts are generally expected in business meetings. Guanxi, or personal connections, are extremely important in business, and you may find that you are unable to set up a meeting or conduct business without a personal introduction (there are companies that specialize in arranging these personal introductions for western firms hoping to do business in China). Despite this, Chinese society is fairly easy-going and there are few taboos you’ll encounter while socializing with the Chinese. It is perfectly acceptable to ask personal questions such as, “why aren’t you married?” “why don’t you have kids?” “how much money do you make?” “how much did you pay for your hotel room/car/purse/apartment?” More than anything it’s innocent curiosity and just a way to make small talk. You can deflect these questions with a smile or laugh and an open-ended answer, or you can always throw the question back at them, “I just haven’t met a good partner yet. What about you, are you married?”
Finally, despite a city-wide campaign before and during the 2008 Olympics, pushing, queue-jumping, and spitting are all fixtures of Beijing daily life.
TRAVEL AND TRANSPORT
Beijing has one of the world’s longest metro systems, with even more new lines set to open through 2015. It is open from approximately 5:30am to 11:00pm (although do double check the time of the last train if you plan to be out late!).
Women in Beijing feel perfectly safe riding the subway alone at all hours. Buses are also plentiful and safe for all passengers at all hours, although the bus system can be difficult to navigate on your own if you don’t read Chinese.
Taxis are everywhere and while there are no specific ladies’ only companies, safety is not a concern with real, licensed taxis. Official Beijing taxis are either dark green & yellow, dark blue & yellow, or maroon & yellow with a little ‘taxi’ sign sticking up from the roof (like London or New York cabs). The driver should use the meter- it is illegal to try to charge more by quoting you a flat rate. Taxi drivers do not speak, read or understand English, so make sure you have your destination written in Chinese to show the driver. There is a system of unofficial taxis called heiche, which literally means “black car.” Sometimes they will pull up and ask where you’re going if they notice you trying to hail a taxi. Heiche have three small red lights in the top-center of the front window. It is best to avoid these and wait for a real taxi.
More and more Beijingers are buying cars, but the bicycle remains the most popular form of transport in this city.
Safety and Emergency ServiCes
Beijing, China, and East Asia in general are extremely safe for all travellers. Women do not need to take any special precautions when travelling in this region. The main safety concerns are pickpocketing or petty theft, crazy drivers that don’t stop at crosswalks, common tourist scams, and language barriers- English is not widely spoken or understood.
While planning your travel to China, keep in mind that the Chinese government still controls and censors internet use. Facebook, Twitter, and You Tube are completely blocked and Google (and all its related services), international news sites, and occasionally Skype have brief service interruptions. You can purchase and install a VPN (Virtual Private Network) for your computer, or use a web-based VPN to get around this and have access to Facebook, Twitter, G-Mail, CNN, etc. during your trip. Securitales (www.securitales.com) is a good option for short-term travellers to mainland China.
Networking: See who is networking in Beijing now
Read the doing business in China guide.