Some half a million years ago, Peking man lived in Zhoukoudian, in the southwestern suburbs of Beijing. The climate
of that time was warmer and more humid than it is today. Forests and lakes in the area supported large numbers of
living creatures. The fossil remains of Peking man, his stone tools and evidence of use of fire, as well as later tools
of 18,000 years ago, bone needles and article of adornment from the age of Upper Cave Man are the earliest cultural
relics on record in China today.
Some four to five thousand years ago, settlements to the southwest of Beijing were thriving on basic agriculture and
animal husbandry. Story has it that the legendary Yellow Emperor (Huang Di) battled against the tribal leader Chiyou
in the ¡°wilderness of the prefecture of Zhuo.¡±Zhuolu, a town west of present-day Beijing, is perhaps the site of the
first metropolis in the area. Yellow Emperor¡¯s successor, Emperor Yao, was said to have established a legendary
capital Youdu (City of Quietude) that was where the city of Ji was actually built.
During the Warring States Period (475¨C221BC), the Marquis of Yan annexed the territory of the Marquis of Ji,
making the city of Ji his new capital. The approximate location was north of Guang¡¯ anmen Gate in present¨Cday
Beijing near the White Cloud Temple (Baiyunguan).
Early in the third century BC, the first Emperor of Qin (Qin Shi Huang) set about conquering six states and unifying
China. The city of Ji was named administrative center of Guangyang Commandery, one of 36 prefectures in China¡¯s
first feudal empire. For 10 centuries, through to the end of the Tang Dynasty (618-907), Ji remained a strategic
trading and military center and the object of frequent power struggles.
Two emperors during that period -- Emperor Yang of the Sui Dynasty (581-618) and Emperor Taizong of the Tang
Dynasty -- left their mark on the city. Emperor Yang amassed troops and supplies at Ji for expeditions against Korea.
Emperor Taizong also used the city for military training. He built the Temple for Compassion for the Loyal
(Minzhongsi), which is dedicated to troops who died in battle. This temple was the precursor of the Temple of the
Origin of the Dharma (Fayuansi) located outside the old walls of the city.
At the beginning of the Tang Dynasty, Ji was little different from any other large feudal cities. Several centuries later,
however, when the Tang was nearing a state of collapse, the Qidans (Khitans) came from the upper reaches of the
Liaohe River and moved south to occupy Ji and make it their second capital. They called the city Nanjing (Southern
Capital) or Yanjing. Emperor Taizong of the Liao Dynasty (916-1125) carried out reconstruction projects and built
palaces, which were used as strongholds from which the Qidans set out to conquer the central plains of China.
Mongol armies occupied Zhongdu in 1215. At this time, the city of Kaiping (in present¨Cday Inner Mongolia
Autonomous Region) served as the principal Mongol capital (Shangdu), while Yanjing was given provincial status. It
was not until 1271 that Kublai Khan formally adopted the new dynasty¡¯s name -- Yuan -- and made Yanjing the
capital. Kublai Khan rebuilt the city and gave it the Chinese (Han) name of Dadu (Ta-tu) or Great Capital, though in
Mongol it was known as Khanbalig (Marco Polo¡¯s Cambaluc), the City of the Great Khan. When the Mongols
finally eliminated the Southern Song and unified China, Dadu became the political center of the country for the first
time in history.
As the capital city of the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), Dadu enjoyed great fame in the 13th century world. The envoys
and traders from Europe, Asia and Africa who paid visits to China were astounded by the splendor and magnificence
of Dadu. Marco Polo¡¯s description of the palaces of Cambaluc, as the called Khanbalig, us most famous of all:
On August 2, 1368, Ming troops seized Dadu and renamed it Beiping (Northern Peace). Zhu Yuanzhang, the founding
emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), however, made Nanjing his first capital. Beginning in 1406, Emperor
Yongle of the Ming Dynasty spent 15 years constructing walls 12 meters high and 10 meters thick at their base around
the city of Beiping. The construction of palace buildings and gardens began in 1417 and was completed in 1420. The
following year, Emperor Yongle formally transferred the capital from Nanjing to Beiping and, for the first time,
named the city Beijing (Northern Capital).
After the collapse of the Qing Dynasty in 1911, China fell prey to the Northern Warlords and Kuomintang, Beijing
suffered the same fate as the rest of China, hobbling along like an old camel without a sense of direction. The Chinese
People¡¯s Liberation Army formally entered Beijing on January 31, 1949, opening a new chapter in the long history
of the city. It was in Tian¡¯anmen Square on October 1st, 1949, that Chairman Mao Zedong proclaimed the
establishment of the People¡¯s Republic of China, with Beijing as its capital.
The city has changed totally since then. It has expanded from its old confines within the nine gates of the Inner City
wall (Zhengyangmen, Chongwenmen, Xuanwumen, Chaoyangmen, Dongzhimen, Fuchengmen, Xizhimen, Andingmen
and Deshengmen) to the seven outer gates (Dongbianmen, Guangqumen, Xibianmen, Guang¡¯ anmen, Yongdingmen,
Zuoanmen and Youanmen) and out into the suburbs, Beijing now covers an area of about 750 square kilometers,
which includes a dozen new living districts built on the outskirts of town.
New buildings like the International Post Office and Bank of China have been built along the Second Ring Road, the
former line of the Inner City wall. Old living quarters and blocks of traditional Beijing¨Cstyle buildings, such as
Liulichang Culture Street, have been restored. Large¨C scale construction has been undertaken along the Third Ring
Road and the fourth Ring Road.
Future development in Beijing will continue to preserve the symmetry of the old city layout while integrating modern
architectural design into the over¨Call plan.