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
Future development in Beijing will continue to preserve the symmetry of
the old city layout while integrating modern architectural design into the