Beijing is the capital of the most populous country in the world, the People's Republic of China, and also its second largest city after Shanghai. It was also the seat of the Ming and Qing dynasty emperors until the formation of a republic in 1911. Beijing is the political, educational and cultural centre of the country and as such it is rich in historical sites and important government and cultural institutions.
Beijing has a monsoon-influenced continental climate with hot, humid summers and cold, dry winters. The best time to visit is in September and October, during the "Golden Autumn". Spring is the season for dust storms and is otherwise warm and dry. Summer can be oppressively hot and the tourist crowds tend to be the largest as well; prevailing winds from the south trap pollutants (mountains lie to the north and west), making summer the worst season for air quality. Winter is cold and dry with infrequent, but beautiful, snow. Temperatures can easily fall below −10 °C in winter and or just as readily rise above 35 °C in summer as well.
The centre of the city and most important landmark is Tiananmen Square in Dongcheng District. This is the world's largest public square and a must see for all visitors from abroad and from elsewhere in China. The square is surrounded by grand buildings including the Great Hall of the People, the Museum of Chinese History, the Museum of the Chinese Revolution, the Qianmen Gate and the Forbidden City. It is also home to the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall and the Monument to the People's Martyrs and was also the site of the infamous massacre of student activists by the Peoples Liberation Army in 1989.
The most important palace, bar none, is the Forbidden city in Dongcheng District. The Forbidden City was home to the Imperial Court during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Unlike many other historical sights, the Forbidden City was relatively untouched during the cultural revolution due to the timely intervention of premier Zhou Enlai, who sent a battalion of his troops to guard the palace from the over-zealous Red Guards. The Temple of Heaven in Chongwen District is the symbol of Beijing and is surrounded by a lively park typically packed with hordes of local people drinking tea, practicing calligraphy or tai-chi or just watching the world go by. The Yonghegong (Lama Temple) in Dongcheng District is one of the most important and beautiful temples in the country.