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Chinese 北京
Postal Peking
Literal meaning northern capital

Beijing is the capital of China. The name means "northern capital," in contrast to Nanjing, the "southern capital." In effect, Beijing is the capital of the communist world today, as the communist world is dependent on China.

In English, the city was called Peking until the 1980s. When Chiang Kai-shek moved the capital from Peking to Nanjing in the Republican period, Peking became Peiping, which means, "Northern Peace", to show that it was no longer the capital - there have been many different capitals of China and various Chinese states throughout history, and Beijing has been the capital of the People's Republic since its founding in October 1949.

Beijing was elected the host city for the games of the XXIX Olympiad in 2008. The Beijing 2008 Olympic Games emblem shows a "Chinese Seal, Dancing Beijing".

Beijing is the host city for the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympics.


Beijing Map.jpg

The city had a powerful strategic location at the tip of the North China Plain. Lying on major trade routes to Mongolia, Manchuria, and Korea, it served both as a citadel for defense of the lowlands against invasions from the north and as a base for Chinese expansion into these areas. Beijing has been a major settlement at least since 1027 BC, when the feudal state of Yan established its capital, Ji, in the area of modern Beijing. Yan was destroyed during the unification of China by the Emperor Qin Shi Huang in the third century BC. The city of Ji became the administrative center of the Guangyang Commandery. Ji was the capital of one of thirty six prefectures under the new feudal government system of Qin dynasty China. In 608 AD the Sui emperor, Yang, built a canal from the Yellow River to Ji to supply troops engaged in his campaigns against Korea. The canal was later linked with others to the south to form the Grand Canal, part of which, near Beijing, is still in use today. After the fall of the Tang dynasty in 906, Ji came under the control of the Qidans (Khitans) who founded the Liao dynasty in the North East of modern China. Ji became the second capital of the Liao and was renamed Nanjing or Yanjing which means 'Southern Capital'. The Liao fell to the Nuzhen (Jurchen) people who founded the Jin dynasty. In 1153, Wan Yanliang moved the Jin capital to Yanjing and renamed the city Zhongdu (Central Capital). During the Jin period, the city was five kilometers wide with a registered population of 225,592 households (estimated to be around one million people). In 1261, the Mongol emperor, Kublai Khan, after conquering the Jin, chose the site as the chief capital of his new Yuan dynasty. Dadu (Great Capital), as the new capital was called, quickly developed into a cosmopolitan city, visited (probably) by Marco Polo and other Europeans by the 13th century. In 1367, however, Dadu fell to Han Chinese forces under the command of the first Ming emperor, who moved his capital to Nanjing in Jiangsu Province and renamed Dadu, Peiping, or Northern Peace. In 1420 the capital was returned to Peiping, which was promptly renamed Beijing, or Northern Capital. It has remained China's capital ever since.[1]

Ming dynasty: 1368-1644

Before the mid-15th century, Beijing residents relied on wood for heating and cooking. However, a population boom quickly led to a massive logging of the forests around the city, and by the mid-15th century the forests had largely disappeared. As a substitute, the residents had to use coal, which was found in West Mountain's coal mine and was brought from areas north of the city. The use of coal caused many environmental problems and changed the ecological system around the city.

During the Ming dynasty, 15 epidemic outbreaks occurred in the city of Beijing, including smallpox, "pimple plague," and "vomit blood plague" - the latter two were possibly bubonic plague and pneumonic plague. In most cases, the public health system functioned well in gaining control of the outbreaks, except in 1643. That year, epidemics claimed 200,000 lives in Beijing, thus compromising the defense of the city from the attacks of the peasant rebels and contributing to the downfall of the Ming dynasty.

The Ming dynasty built granaries known as the Jingtong storehouses. The government established administration and supervisory systems for the storehouses that proved mutually supporting. An abundance of grain had been stored, but with the population increase during the Ming dynasty, grain supplies substantially decreased to the extent that there was little food. The Jingtong granaries were forced to distribute grain to government officials, and at times allocated grain to the military. The Jingtong granaries were also used to control grain prices and prevent inflation, but eventually the dearth of grain decreased the ability of the granaries to control prices.

Highway banditry in Ming China's capital region during the 15th and 16th centuries owed much to the strong state presence radiating outward from Beijing. Due to administrative interstices, inadequate supervision, access to arms, and economic privation, the thousands of imperial troops in the capital region intended to protect the interests of the throne were often the most likely to turn to brigandage. In the same way, recipients of imperial favor such as eunuchs, imperial in-laws, and high officials often used their privileged position to engage in illegal activities, including acting as fences for local brigands. Even officials responsible for eradicating banditry maintained strong links to brigands and other marginal elements of Ming society. Thus brigandage need not be a phenomenon of the periphery, noting that it can also grow out of a strong state presence.[2]

Qing dynasty: 1644-1911

The Qing (pronounced "ching") dynasty was able to maintain and secure a relatively stable and adequate supply of food for the population of the capital city of Beijing during the late 17th and early 18th centuries. The Qing state played a paramount role in regulating grain distribution and market forces, policing food supplies, and providing relief when necessary, mostly in the form of soup kitchens. The grain tribute system, by which the Qing state acquired grain from other regions of China, was vital in supplying Beijing's population with food. Beijing's food supply and prices during this period, relative to contemporary Paris and London, were stable. The Qing leadership found that providing food security in Beijing helped maintain a degree of political stability.[3]

Several temple fairs, including the Huguo fair, began to be held in Beijing from the end of the Ming to the mid-Qing dynasty. These temple fairs, different from those organized in commemoration of the spirits, were much more like bazaars and were held every month around the temples. They constituted the most important market network in Beijing in the Qing dynasty. The prosperity of these temple fairs signaled a new stage in the city's commercial history and showed how some of the temples were transformed from sacred to secular space. Both the Qing rulers' attitude toward religion and the city's isolation policy enforced by the Manchus after they occupied Beijing affected the temple fairs' location and development.

The Qing court in China included dramatic performances to entertain the emperor. These performances were the responsibility of the Nanfu, an office of the imperial household. When Qianlong was emperor (1736–95), the Nanfu had up to a thousand employees, including actors, musicians, and court eunuchs. In 1827, Qianlong's grandson Daoguang changed the name from Nanfu to Shengpingshu, severely downsized the department, and reduced the number of performances. The Shengpingshu thereafter hired civilian Beijing residents and monitored their interactions with other acting troupes. Thus the Shengpingshu took authority over all Beijing drama troupes, keeping a register of all authorized groups, controlling an actor's ability to travel or change troupes, and censoring the scripts of all palace performances. The Shengpingshu continued in the republican period until the expulsion of Puyi, the last emperor, in 1924. Actors were one of many socially debased groups in China during the Ming and Qing dynasties. One reason for their low status was the strong association of theater performers with prostitution. By the late Qing, actors in Beijing had been able to take advantage of political change to improve their status. By the dynasty's end, it was individual behavior rather than professional association that determined their status. [4]

The baojia system of local government and surveillance was adopted in 1813 after the rebellion of the Eight Trigrams sect failed to improve social order in the capital. In 1860 British and French forces captured the city after destroying much of the imperial Summer Palace.

20th century

In 1900, during the Boxer Rebellion Beijing was violently conquered and looted by the Eight Power Allied Force. In Beijing became "Beiping" after the Nationalist Party (Kuomintang, or KMT) moved the national capital to Nanjing, and Beijing therefore lost its status of political center, In late July, 1937, Beijing was occupied by the Japanese army until 1945. In late January, 1949 Beijing gracefully surrendered to the Communist regime and became the capital city for Mao Zedong.

Boxer rebellion

The Boxer Rebellion and the siege of Beijing of 1900 brought worldwide attention to the city. The Boxers began as an obscure, anti-Christian, antimissionary, and antiforeign peasant movement in northern China. The Empress Dowager Cixi was pleased when Boxers attacked foreigners who were building railroads, exploiting China's mineral wealth, dividing up the port trading concessions, and converting many peasants to an alien faith. In June, 1900, the Boxers invaded the city and slaughtered many Chinese Christians and Westerners. The Chinese government was unable or unwilling to control the situation. Western civilians, military personnel, and Chinese Christians retreated to the legation quarter. For 55 days they survived with limited food and water. In August Western troops occupied the city by force of arms. The Empress Dowager grudgingly agreed to indemnify the Western governments and to make many additional concessions. Subsequent reforms laid the foundation for the end of Manchu rule and the establishment of a modern nation.[5]

Rickshaws were more popular in Beijing than in other cities in the 20th century due to the limited public transportation resources, the low cost of rickshaw fares, and the large number of passengers. The poor job market in industry in Beijing caused many unemployed people to become rickshaw pullers. Thus, the pool of rickshaw pullers in Beijing was made up mostly of local residents. A number of descendants of the former royal family of the Qing dynasty also found employment in the rickshaw-pulling trade. The income of rickshaw pullers was not stable; many had to take two shifts a day to support their families.


In late Qing China girls' schools were supported by reformers and the reactionary government alike. In post-Boxer China the necessity of change was accepted by the central government and even Cixi, the dowager empress, called for the education of women. But while the government sought educated women who could be "good wives and wise mothers," activists called for varying degrees of female independence and integration in society at large. Many political reformers favored female education as a form of national self-strengthening but all efforts were haunted by concerns over threats to morality. Confucian roots could be found for opposition to footbinding (Beijing girls' schools made unbound feet an entrance requirement) but not for the greater freedom and end to gender segregation called for by some feminists. Generally, female educational reformers in Beijing sought evolutionary changes due to their own links with the current elite.[6]

The Peking Union Medical College, founded by the Rockefeller Foundation (based in New York) in 1924, set the standard in prewar and wartime China for the training of nurses, but it had a mixed legacy. Its high training standards earned the college a reputation for elitism and inflexibility. Moreover, maintaining strict high standards did little to meet China's acute need for nurses. On the other hand, the college made major inroads into pre- and postnatal nursing, public health nursing, and rural nursing. Moreover, the college played an instrumental role in transforming nursing from a foreign and male-dominated profession into one dominated by female, Chinese nurses.[7]

The Beijing police academy, founded in 1901, was China's first modern institution of police training and also the largest police training center in the late Qing period. The school hired Japanese teachers to undertake most of the teaching and administrative work. The school provided a national useful model for police academies in other major cities and exerted great influence on the development of China's modern police forces.

From early antiquity through the end of the 19th century, the primary missions of Chinese imperial and private libraries were to collect and preserve books and documents. Except for a few isolated historical periods, these libraries rendered no services at all to the public. The Metropolitan University Library in Beijing, founded in 1898, was China's first modern academic library with a clear goal of serving a burgeoning program of public higher education. The library's founding reveals an intriguing story of tension between the modern Western and traditional Chinese concepts of what a library should be.[8]

City planning

Beijing went from a planned imperial city into a modern metropolis in the early 20th century. The newly created municipal government sought to modernize Beijing through public works to improve the old urban infrastructure. Consequently, city walls and gates were reconfigured; streets were paved, widened, and expanded; and new rules of urban planning and zoning were introduced. Reflecting changes in political power relations, the modernist transformation in the urban built environment was evidently brought about by a combined force of Western influences and Chinese indigenous developments, especially by a shift in ideological allegiance from imperial authority to people's rights, by the state's increasing intervention in urban affairs, and by new technologies transmitted from the West.[9]

In the early 20th century municipal governments, local gentry, and merchants all contributed to the concept and organization of public parks in Beijing. The idea of the public park as a place where common people could relax in a pastoral setting came to China from the West via Japan. The Beijing municipal council argued that parks would provide wholesome entertainment and thus reduce alcohol use, gambling, and prostitution. Built on sites of former imperial gardens and temples, parks represented modernity and good health and morals. They also provided places for commercial activities and the open exchange of political and social ideas for the middle and upper classes.[10]

City officials improved public health by promoting better sanitation and health education initiatives. A comparison of living standards and mortality rates among the Qing imperial lineage and the residents of Beijing's First Demonstration Health Station demonstrates the efficacy of projects that provided clean water, sanitation, and education on the proper handling of food and wastes. Even when improvements in the standard of living are considered, public health measures exerted a strong influence over the control of contagion within the general population.[11]


Two mass movements erupted in Beijing during October and November 1925: the Movement for Tariff Autonomy and the Capital Revolution. They had different origins and motives. The Movement for Tariff Autonomy drew the participation of thousands of students in its demonstrations against the Special Conference on Customs Tariffs, an international meeting in October to decide the extent of China's control of its national tariffs. Violent clashes with police transformed this movement into a more radical, Bolshevik-style revolt against local warlord Duan Qirui (1865-1936). The second movement, known as the Capital Revolution, was led by Nationalist Party representative Li Dazhao and involved massive demonstrations, violence, political demands, and the destruction of the offices of one of Beijing's leading newspapers, Chenbao. This student-based revolt was unable to supplant warlord control of the city and disbanded by late November.[12]

Cultural revolution

During the late years of the Cultural Revolution decade (1966–76), political life in China was dominated by contention between radical and conservative factions in the Communist Party. Mao Zedong's ambivalence, first supporting one faction and then the other, has long puzzled scholars.

China's Red Guard movement of 1966-68 shows that rapid shifts in the properties of political institutions can alter choices and actors' interests, rapidly transforming the political landscape. New evidence about the origins of the movement in Beijing's universities indicates that factions emerged when activists in similar structural positions made opposed choices in ambiguous contexts. Activists subsequently mobilized to defend earlier choices, binding them to antagonistic factions. Rapid shifts in the contexts for political choice can alter prior connections between social position and interests, generating new motives and novel identities.[13]

Andreas (2006) argues that factional contention was being institutionalized, creating a system that pitted administrators against rebels: veteran cadres were put in charge of the political and economic bureaucracies, while radicals were given institutional means to mobilize political campaigns against these officials, pressing Mao's radical agenda. Andreas examines in detail the system of governance implemented at Qinghua University in Beijing. Power was divided between veteran university officials and a "workers' propaganda team," composed of workers and soldiers drawn from outside the school, and the propaganda team was charged with mobilizing students and workers to criticize their teachers, supervisors, and university officials. The result was a tumultuous system very much at odds with the conventional practice of ruling Communist parties (including the Chinese Party before the Cultural Revolution), which had been guided by ideals of monolithic unity and a clear hierarchy of authority.[14]

Since 1980

The Beijing democracy movement (1978–81) constructed a progressive Marxist identity, and its individual participants used it to prove the movement's historical necessity and justify its democratic agenda. Combined with the related identity of socialist citizens, the proponents defended the movement against adversaries from without and the right-wing minority within. The way the movement activists defined their collective identity offered them a progressive Marxist platform to champion their cause. This collective identity not only precluded confrontational opposition to the Communist Party, it enabled a more constructive use of both classical Marxist and Western democratic thinking in the movement's agenda.[15]

Demonstrator in Tiananmen Square

The Tiananmen Square massacre took place when a series of peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations led by students, labor activists and intellectuals in the People's Republic of China between April 15, 1989 and June 4, 1989, were broken up by the People's Liberation Army. The death toll is estimated to be between 1,000 and 3,000 in Beijing alone. The demonstrations mainly took place on Tiananmen Square in Beijing, but large protests also occurred in several cities throughout China, including Shanghai. The crackdown was a source of friction between China and the West.[16]

Tiananmen (T'ien-an Men, or Gate of Heavenly Peace) Square marks the southern exit from the Forbidden City.


The rapid growth of population, motor vehicles and factories has created one of the highest pollution levels in the world. Days with gray, acrid skies, with an eye-reddening pollution score over 400, are common, as health officials advise wearing masks and staying indoors. Heavy trucks are allowed in only at night but their diesel fuels create much of the problem. By 2008 for the city's 12 million residents, pollution was not only an inescapable health and quality-of-life issue, but a political issue tied in with the Summer Olympics scheduled for August 2008. The city's bid for the 2000 Olympics was rejected in 1993 because of high pollution levels, and in response the city began a massive cleanup campaign. That campaign has been successful in terms of 2000 standards, but the city's economy is 2.5 times larger now, with millions more people. Over 3 million cars and trucks clog the streets, and 400,000 more are added annually as the wealth shoots up rapidly. Old dirty, coal-burning furnaces have been replaced, lowering the city's sulfur dioxide emissions. Factories and power plants were changed to burn cleaner, low-sulfur coal; sulfur dioxide emissions fell by 25% 2001–2007, even though much more coal is burned, reaching 30 million tons in 2006. Furthermore, fine-particle pollution has been exacerbated by a staggering citywide construction program which saw more than 160 million square meters (1.7 billion square feet) of new construction begun 2002–2007. Athletes may have some breathing problems, but in the long-run air quality is expected to remain a critical issue as the city grows to a projected population of 20 million.[17]



  • Brook, Timothy. Quelling the People: The Military Suppression of the Beijing Democracy Movement. 1998. 269 pp.
  • Broudehoux, Anne-Marie. The Making and Selling of Post-Mao Beijing (2004) online edition
  • Campbell, Cameron Dougall. "Chinese Mortality Transitions: The Case of Beijing, 1700-1990." PhD dissertation U. of Pennsylvania 1995. 467 pp. DAI 1995 56(5): 1997-A. DA9532148 Fulltext: ProQuest Dissertations & Theses
  • Dong, Madeleine Yue. Republican Beijing: The City and Its Histories (2003) excerpt and text search
  • Geiss, James. "Beijing under the Ming (1368-1644)," Ph.D. dissertation, Princeton University, 1979.
  • Gaubatz, Piper. "Changing Beijing." Geographical Review 1995 85(1): 79–96. Issn: 0016-7428 Fulltext: in Jstor; online edition
  • Harper, Damian, and David Eimer. Lonely Planet Beijing City Guide (2007) excerpt and text search
  • Li, Lillian M. et al. Beijing: From Imperial Capital to Olympic City. (2007). 336 pp. excerpt and text search
  • Meyer, Jeffrey F. The Dragons of Tiananmen: Beijing as a Sacred City. 1991. 208 pp.
  • Naquin, Susan. Peking: Temples and City Life, 1400-1900. U. of California Press, 2000. 816 pp. excerpt and text search
  • Shi, Mingzheng. "Beijing Transforms: Urban Infrastructure, Public Works, and Social Change in the Chinese Capital, 1900-1928." PhD dissertation Columbia U. 1993. 467 pp. DAI 1994 54(7): 2699-A. DA9333861 Fulltext: ProQuest Dissertations & Theses
  • Song, Weijie. "Mapping Modern Beijing: A Literary and Cultural Topography, 1900s-1950s." PhD dissertation Columbia U. 2006. 301 pp. DAI 2006 67(4): 1346-A. DA3213600 Fulltext: ProQuest Dissertations & Theses
  • Weston, Timothy B. The Power of Position: Beijing University, Intellectuals, and Chinese Political Culture, 1898-1929. 2004. 325 pp excerpt and text search; complete edition online
  • Xu, Yamin. "Wicked Citizens and the Social Origins of China's Modern Authoritarian State: Civil Strife and Political Control in Republican Beiping, 1928-1937." PhD dissertation U. of California, Berkeley 2002. 573 pp. DAI 2003 64(2): 613-A. DA3082468 Fulltext: ProQuest Dissertations & Theses
  • Zhu, Jianfei. Chinese Spatial Strategies: Imperial Beijing, 1420-1911 (2003) online edition

Primary sources

  • Gamble, Sidney David, ed. Peking: A Social Survey (1921) 514 pages; study by American social scienctists full text online

See also


External links

National Theater, "The Egg"


  1. Except for a brief interlude from 1928 to 1949.
  2. David M. Robinson, "Banditry and the Subversion of State Authority in China: the Capital Region During the Middle Ming Period (1450-1525)." Journal of Social History 2000 33(3): 527-563. Issn: 0022-4529 Fulltext: Project Muse
  3. Lillian M. Li and Alison Dray-Novey, "Guarding Beijing's Food Security in the Qing Dynasty: State, Market, and Police." Journal of Asian Studies 1999 58(4): 992-1032. Issn: 0021-9118 Fulltext: Jstor
  4. Xiaoqing Ye, "Imperial Institutions and Drama in the Qing Court." European Journal of East Asian Studies 2003 2(2): 329-364. Issn: 1568-0584 Fulltext: Ebsco
  5. Diana Preston, "The Boxer Rising." Asian Affairs 2000 31(1): 26-36. Issn: 0306-8374 Fulltext: Ebsco
  6. Weikun Cheng, "Going Public Through Education: Female Reformers and Girls' Schools in Late Qing Beijing." Late Imperial China 2000 21(1): 107-144. Issn: 0884-3236 Fulltext: Project Muse
  7. Kaiyi Chen, "Quality Versus Quantity: the Rockefeller Foundation and Nurses' Training in China." Journal of American-East Asian Relations 1996 5(1): 77-104. Issn: 1058-3947
  8. Jing Liao, "The Genesis of the Modern Academic Library in China: Western Influences and the Chinese Response." Libraries & Culture 2004 39(2): 161-174. Issn: 0894-8631 Fulltext: Project Muse
  9. Mingzheng Shi, "Rebuilding the Chinese Capital: Beijing in the Early Twentieth Century." Urban History 1998 25(1): 60-81. Issn: 0963-9268
  10. Mingzheng Shi, "From Imperial Gardens to Public Parks: the Transformation of Urban Space in Early Twentieth-century Beijing." Modern China 1998 24(3): 219-254. Issn: 0097-7004 Fulltext: JSTOR
  11. Cameron Campbell, "Public Health Efforts in China Before 1949 and Their Effects on Mortality: the Case of Beijing." Social Science History 1997 21(2): 179-218. Issn: 0145-5532 Fulltext: in Jstor
  12. Zheng Yuan, "The Capital Revolution: a Case Study of Chinese Student Movements in the 1920s." Journal of Asian History 2004 38(1): 1-26. Issn: 0021-910x
  13. Andrew G. Walder, "Ambiguity and Choice in Political Movements: the Origins of Beijing Red Guard Factionalism." American Journal of Sociology 2006 112(3): 710-750. Issn: 0002-9602 Fulltext: Ebsco
  14. Joel Andreas, "Institutionalized Rebellion: Governing Tsinghua University During the Late Years of the Chinese Cultural Revolution" China Journal 2006 (55): 1-28. Issn: 1324-9347 Fulltext: Ebsco
  15. Lauri Paltemaa, "Individual and Collective Identities of the Beijing Democracy Wall Movement Activists, 1978-1981." China Information 2005 19(3): 443-487. Issn: 0920-203x
  16. Tiananmen - the Rape of Peking. Michael Fathers and Andrew Higgins, 1989.
  17. Jim Yardley, "Choking on Growth: Beijing’s Olympic Quest: Turn Smoggy Sky Blue," New York Times, 29 Dec 2007