History of Beijing: The Glorious Evolution

The history of Beijing is full of celebrated events, with its glorious evolution from a small walled city to the flamboyant modern capital of China. One among four major historical cities, Beijing stands testimony to crystallization Chinese civilization from an ancient war-torn nation to a splendid symbol of hegemony.

Its imperial past is epitomizes historic wisdom and efforts backed by national regeneration. The city history is well embodied with philosophical and cultural heritage that is inspiring and diversified.

Pre-Imperial History of Beijing
The earliest recorded history of Beijing dates back to the pre-imperial era though the city was home to Paleolithic and Neolithic human settlements. Known as City of Ji, the city considered to be of strategic importance was found mentioned in the annals of Shang dynasty written in the 11th century BC. It became Yanjing or the capital of Yan kingdom during the second century BC.

Early Imperial History
First Chinese emperor Qin Shihuang conquered ancient Beijing in 226 BC and made it the headquarters of Guangyang Commandary, one of 48 territorial divisions. With the Han rulers taking over China, the city came under their domination in 202 BC. The Kingdom of Wei conquered Beijing and merged it with Zhou county. The city passed from one hand to another until 386 AD when the northern China came under the Wei domination. The city came to be recognized as Youzhou during the Tang rule. The Tang dynasty built Fayuan Temple to commemorate Korean campaign in 645 AD.

Beginning of Capital
The history of Beijing took a decisive turn in 938 AD when the Liao Dynasty selected the city as its southern capital. They renamed the city as Nanjing. In 1125, Jurchen nomadic tribal acquired Beijing and incorporated the city renamed as Yanjing into the Jin dynasty. Jin ruler Wanyan Liang made it his capital.

Forbidden City - history of Beijing

The city was called the central capital or Zhongdu and China was ruled over from it. The rulers expanded the city, fortified and beautified it with palaces, bridges, and gardens. They also issued paper money at the capital.

Mongol Period
Mongol leader Genghis Khan invaded Beijing forcing the Jin ruler to move his capital to Kaifeng in 1215. His grandson Kublai Khan during a visit to the city in 1261 planned to rebuild the ruined royal palace and made the city the future center of his power. On his orders, construction of a new capital began three years later and in 1271, the Khan assumed the throne at the new capital now called Dadu or the grand capital of the Yuan empire. It took five more years to finish the construction of the city that was described as one among the grandest cities by visiting Italian traveler Marco Polo.

Modern History of Beijing
In 1368, the Ming dynasty overthrew the Mongols and occupied the city. Third Ming ruler Zhu Di renamed Dadu to Beijing and moved the capital from Nanjing to the city. The Forbidden City (see photo) was constructed three years later. When the Manchu-led Qing rulers acquired the throne, they continued to rule from the city and added to its palaces and buildings until their rule ended in 1911 with the Xinhai Revolution led by Sun Yat-Sen. Joint colonial military expedition led by the English and French captured the city briefly in 1860 and again in 1900.

Japanese took over the city during the Sino-Japanese war and their puppet regimes ruled over Beijing until October 10, 1945, when Chiang Kai-shek-led Nationalist forces occupied it. In October 1949, the Communists defeated the Nationalists and entered Beijing. The city was declared the political capital of the People’s Republic of China ending an eventful years of history and setting the tone for the beginning of a new phase.

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