The summer seaside resort of breezy Běidàihé was first cobbled together when English railway engineers stumbled across the beach in the 1890s. Diplomats, missionaries and business people from the Tiānjīn concessions and the Běijīng legations hastily built villas and cottages in order to indulge in the new bathing fad.
Some time after Liberation, the cream of China’s leaders began congregating here each July for a summer retreat. But President Hu, apparently not much of a swimmer, has since ended the tradition, abandoning the resort to the middle class and nostalgic cadres. In addition to inspiring Mao to poetry, Běidàihé has starred tragic personalities such as Jiang Qing and Lin Biao. Lin reputedly plotted his frantic escape from Běidàihé in 1971 after a failed coup; the official line is that he died when his jet crashed hours later in Mongolia. (A much better urban legend claims that Zhou Enlai strangled him in his Běidàihé villa.)
During the summer high season (May to October) Běidàihé comes alive with vacationers who crowd the beaches and eat at the numerous outdoor seafood restaurants. During the low season, the town is dead.