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Outline of Beijing's History

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Outline of Beijing's History

Early history

The earliest remnants of human habitation in the Beijing municipality are found in the caves of Dragon Bone Hill near the village of Zhoukoudian in Fangshan District, where the Peking Man lived. Homo erectus fossils from the caves date to 230,000 to 250,000 years ago. Paleolithic homo sapiens also lived there about 27,000 years ago. There were cities in the vicinities of Beijing by the 1st millennium BC, and the capital of the State of Yan, one of the powers of the Warring States Period (473-221 BC), Ji (薊/蓟), was established in present-day Beijing.

After the fall of the Yan, the subsequent Qin (221-207 BC), Han (206BC-220), and Jin (265-420) dynasties set up local prefectures in the area. In Tang Dynasty (618-907) it became headquarter for Fanyang Jiedushi, the virtual military governor of current northern Hebei area. An Lushan launched An Shi Rebellion from here in 755 AD.

Medieval period

In 936, the Later Jin Dynasty (936-947) of northern China ceded a large part of its northern frontier, including modern Beijing, to the Khitan Liao Dynasty. In 938, the Liao Dynasty set up a secondary capital in what is now Beijing, and called it Nanjing (the "Southern Capital"). In 1125, the Jurchen Jin Dynasty conquered Liao, and in 1153 moved its capital to Liao's Nanjing, calling it Zhongdu (中都), "the central capital." Zhongdu was situated in what is now the area centered around Tianningsi, slightly to the southwest of central Beijing. Some of the oldest existing relics in Beijing including the Niujie Mosque and the Tianning Temple date to the Liao era.

Mongol forces burned Zhongdu to the ground in 1215 and rebuilt it to the north of the Jin capital in 1267. In preparation for the conquest of all of China, Yuan (Mongol) Dynasty founder Kublai Khan made this his capital as Dadu (大都, Chinese for "great capital"), or Khanbaliq to the Mongols, otherwise spelled as Cambuluc in Marco Polo's accounts. Construction of Dadu finished in 1293. The decision of the Khan greatly enhanced the status of a city that had been situated on the northern fringe of China proper. Dadu was situated north of modern central Beijing. It centered on what is now the northern stretch of the 2nd Ring Road, and stretched northwards to between the 3rd and 4th Ring Roads. There are remnants of Yuan-era wall still standing and are known as the Tucheng (土城 literally, the “earth wall”).

Ming and Qing period

After the fall of the Yuan Dynasty in 1368, the city was later rebuilt by the Ming Dynasty and Shuntian (順天) prefecture was established in the area around the city. In 1403, the third Ming Emperor Yongle moved the Ming capital south to Nanjing (Nanking) from the renamed Beiping (北平), or "northern peace". During the Ming Dynasty, Beijing took its current shape, and the Ming-era city wall served as the Beijing city wall until modern times, when it was pulled down and the 2nd Ring Road was built in its place. It is believed that Beijing was the largest city in the world from 1425 to 1650 and from 1710 to 1825. It is now the 17th largest city in the world.

Panorama view of the Forbidden City, home to the Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911).The Forbidden City was constructed soon after that (1406-1420), followed by the Temple of Heaven (1420), and numerous other construction projects. Tiananmen, which has become a state symbol of the People's Republic of China and is featured on its emblem, was burned down twice during the Ming Dynasty and the final reconstruction was carried out in 1651. Yongle moved the Ming capital back north to Beiping in 1421 as a measure to guard the empire against the Mongols and control the northern armies; he also renamed Beiping to Beijing (北京), or "northern capital". Jesuits finished building the first Beijing-area Roman Catholic church in 1652 at the Xuanwu Gate, where Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci lived; the modern Nantang (南堂, Southern Cathedral) has been built over the original cathedral.

For 40 days in 1644, Li Zicheng led a peasant uprising against the Ming regime. Following the end of Li's control of the city, the Manchus captured Beijing. After the Manchus overthrew the Ming Dynasty and established the Qing Dynasty in its place, Beijing remained China's capital throughout the Qing period. Just like during the preceding dynasty, Beijing was also known as Jingshi, which corresponded to the Manchu Gemun Hecen with the same meaning. It was the scene of the siege of the foreign legations during the Boxer Rebellion in the 1900.

Republican era

The Xinhai Revolution of 1911, aimed at replacing Qing rule with a republic, originally intended to establish its capital at Nanjing. After high-ranking Qing official Yuan Shikai forced the abdication of the Qing emperor in Beijing and ensured the success of the revolution, the revolutionaries in Nanjing accepted that Yuan should be the president of the new Republic of China, and that the capital should remain at Beijing.

Yuan gradually consolidated power, culminating in his declaration of a Chinese Empire in late 1915 with himself as emperor. The move was highly unpopular, and Yuan himself died less than a year later, ending his brief reign. China then fell under the control of regional warlords, and the most powerful factions fought frequent wars to take control of the capital at Beijing.

Student protests in Tiananmen Square in Beijing during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1919. Following the success of the Kuomintang (KMT)'s Northern Expedition which pacified the warlords of the north, Nanjing was officially made the capital of the Republic of China in 1928, and Beijing was renamed Beiping (Peiping) (北平) on June 28 that year, in English meaning "northern peace" or "north pacified".

During the Second Sino-Japanese War, Beiping fell to Japan on 29 July 1937. During the occupation, the city was reverted to its former name, Beijing, and made the seat of the Provisional Government of the Republic of China, a puppet state that ruled the ethnic Chinese portions of Japanese-occupied northern China. It was later merged into the larger Wang Jingwei Government based in Nanjing.

With Japan's surrender in World War II, on 15 August 1945, Beijing's name was changed back to Beiping.

People's Republic

On January 31, 1949, during the Chinese Civil War, Communist forces entered Beijing without a fight. On October 1 of the same year, the Communist Party of China, under the leadership of Mao Zedong, announced in Tiananmen the creation of the People's Republic of China in Beijing. Just a few days earlier, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference had decided that Beijing would be the capital of the new government, and that its name would be changed back to Beijing.

At the time of the founding of the People's Republic, Beijing Municipality consisted of just its urban area and immediate suburbs. The urban area was divided into many small districts inside what is now the 2nd Ring Road. The Beijing city wall was torn down to make way for the construction of the 2nd Ring Road, which was finished by 1981 in accords with the 1982 city plan. That road was the first of a series of new ring roads intended for automobiles rather than for bicycles.

Following the economic reforms of Deng Xiaoping, the urban area of Beijing has expanded greatly. Formerly within the confines of the 2nd Ring Road and the 3rd Ring Road, the urban area of Beijing is now pushing at the limits of the recently-constructed 5th Ring Road and 6th Ring Road, with many areas that were formerly farmland now developed residential or commercial districts. A new commercial area has developed in the Guomao area, Wangfujing and Xidan have developed into flourishing shopping districts, while Zhongguancun has become a major centre of electronics in China.

On July 13, 2001, the International Olympic Committee selected Beijing as the host for the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Source: 2008 Eyes on Beijing
Date: 2010-11-04