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Where What's Old Is New Again

China's capital is a city of extremes, physically exhausting and intimidating for its sheer sprawl and harsh climate, yet exhilarating and charming for its...

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China's capital is a city of extremes, physically exhausting and intimidating for its sheer sprawl and harsh climate, yet exhilarating and charming for its hidden cultural finds and mind-boggling speed of change.

While China's manufacturing base is located in the southern Pearl River Delta, Beijing is the political and cultural heart of the country — a growing region of 17 million that is the undisputed power base of the nation of 1.3 billion people.

But while it dates to the 13th century, Beijing is not even the same place it was just five years ago. With the approach this August of the 2008 Summer Olympics — China's first hosting of the Games — the decadelong government effort to modernize and change the city has at last reached its final stages.

Besides the world's greatest athletes, Beijing will welcome visitors to the eighth Beijing International Jewelry Fair, July 17 to 20, at China World Trade Center. The event, the largest summer fair in China, will include 400 exhibitors from China and 25 other countries, showcasing jewelry, diamonds, pearls, gold, silver, precious stones, and machinery. About 20,000 visitors from 10 countries are expected to attend.

New infrastructure in Beijing includes three subway lines built over the past several years and "ring road" highways looping the city, which were doubled from three to six in less than 10 years. Along with its roadways, the entire city has spread outward. An estimated 3 million inhabitants of the low-lying hutong homes that gave the city its unique look were moved to outlying satellite cities, making room for new office towers and malls. This year alone, as many as 10 shopping malls are scheduled to open in Beijing.

The new malls are packed with Chinese and Western brands from midrange to luxury, including Zara, Nike, Sephora, Dior, Vuitton, Versace, Esprit, Calvin Klein, Nine West and Marc Jacobs. China's first official Apple retail store will open in the Sanlitun Mall in the central embassy district this summer.

China eased the rules slightly on foreign retail outlets in 2004, as part of its obligation on joining the World Trade Organization. The rules remain somewhat restrictive and dictate limits on the size of retail outlets, subject to approval by the Chinese government. Foreign brands must also navigate the complex maze of China's land rights. Outsiders can open without local partners, but many choose the often simpler route of local partnership or Chinese incorporation to cut the red tape.
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