The big Norwegian edged out Luka Mezgec (Argos-Shimano) and Nikolas Maes (Omega Pharma- Quick Step) after finding a late gap.
Willem Wauters (Vacansoleil-DCM), Sander Cordeel (Lotto-Belisol), Davide Viganò (Lampre-Merida) and Ryota Nishizono (Champion System) attacked straight away on the 190km stage and built up a lead of nine minutes at one stage.
However, on a flat day, the sprinters' teams were able to reel them in and set up the exciting finish.
Cordeel was the last man standing but was caught with about 5km to go.
"It's a good win. I'm a little surprised as I had a hard couple of weeks after the Worlds finding the motivation. I still did the training I had to do and so to win here couldn’t be better," Hushovd said.
"With 20km to go they (the break) still had two minutes and so we were scared. My BMC team-mates pulled a lot and so it was up to me to do a good job and finish it off."
Hushovd has a chance to defend the leader's jersey on another flat day on Saturday but things get tough on stage three.
The five stage race concludes on Tuesday when the riders race between two iconic spots - Tiananmen Square to the Bird’s Nest Piazza.
Results from Tour of Beijing (Beijing - Beijing, 190.5 km) on Friday
1. Thor Hushovd (Norway / BMC Racing) 4:20:34"
2. Luka Mezgec (Slovenia / Argos) ST
3. Nikolas Maes (Belgium / Omega Pharma - Quick-Step)
4. Alessandro Petacchi (Italy / Omega Pharma - Quick-Step)
5. Michael Matthews (Australia / Orica)
6. Enrique Sanz (Spain / Movistar)
7. Ruediger Selig (Germany / Katusha)
8. Nacer Bouhanni (France / FDJ.fr)
9. Jonas Van Genechten (Belgium / Lotto)
10. Roberto Ferrari (Italy / Lampre)
Classification from Tour of Beijing after Stage 1 on Friday
1. Thor Hushovd (Norway / BMC Racing) 4:20:24"
2. Willem Wauters (Belgium / Vacansoleil) +3"
3. Luka Mezgec (Slovenia / Argos) +4"
4. Nikolas Maes (Belgium / Omega Pharma - Quick-Step) +6"
5. Ryota Nishizono (Japan / Champion System) +9"
6. Alessandro Petacchi (Italy / Omega Pharma - Quick-Step) +10"
7. Michael Matthews (Australia / Orica)
8. Enrique Sanz (Spain / Movistar)
9. Ruediger Selig (Germany / Katusha)
10. Nacer Bouhanni (France / FDJ.fr)