21,700,000 people. 1 city.

The Beijing Dìtiě (Subway). The busiest subway system in the world with a 3.8 billion annual ridership.

Beijing is the 6th most populated city in the world. It has a larger population than every U.S. state except for California and Texas. Coming from the state of Maine — where the population is approximately 1 million — and living in the small town of Cape Elizabeth — where the population is nearly 9,000 — I have realized that never in my life have I had so many people so close to me at all times; every road, sidewalk, subway station, building, and alleyway is always bustling with people living their lives amongst the other 21.7 million people.

You may be thinking to yourself: how can a city have so many people? Is it too crowded? Is Beijing constantly experiencing pandemonium? These were the exact same questions that lingered in my mind before arriving in this city.


Inexpensive shareable bikes
Entrance/exit of the subway cars

Since my first day here, where I was able to ride a bike that my friend paid the equivalent of 15 cents for with his phone, to yesterday, when I simply followed the arrows on the subway floor that allow people to enter and exit the subway car at the same time, I realized something: Beijing may just be the most efficient city in the world. Everything in this city, from cars to people to money, is always in constant motion — all moving quickly and seamlessly in a perfectly orchestrated fashion. It is clear to me now how a city with a population three times that of New York City can exist and actually function smoothly: pure efficiency and good planning.

Looking at a map of the city of Beijing you can see it is circular with major monuments positioned perfectly along the axis of the city — this is obviously no coincidence. The city of Beijing is one that took careful planning to design. It’s creators and the current citizens who play roles in shaping the dynamic city of Beijing have established a city that leads the world in it’s technological advancements, organization, and, above all, efficiency.

Map of Beijing

Here are a few of the contributing factors that allow for such a populated city to function as well as it does:

  1. No cash — WeChat Pay and Alipay are the two most common apps that use scanning and QR codes. This makes it extremely quick and easy for customers to pay and for entrepreneurs to make money. Cash is seldom used here.

2. MoBikes — Station-less bike sharing system that people scan and pay ¥1 to bike anywhere. These bikes can be dropped off anywhere in the city for the next person to use. These bikes are ubiquitous, making it incredibly easy and simple for all citizens to travel throughout the entire city.

A MoBike being scanned

3. A vast and reliable subway system — Beijing’s subway has 22 lines and 370 stations. The subway covers all of Beijing and pricing is cheap. The Beijing subway eases the above ground traffic and gives it’s citizens a reliable transportation system that opens the whole city up to everyone.

4. Food delivery apps — food delivery companies, such as Meituan, are currently quite popular. Everyone uses this. The delivery time is unfathomably fast, creating jobs, and keeping restaurants less crowded.

The aforementioned ways are only a few of the ones I have noticed and are a small fraction of the techniques Beijing and it’s people are using to save time and make life possible in one of the most populated areas in the world.