The earliest traces of human habitation in the Beijing municipality were found in the caves of Dragon Bone Hill near the village of Zhoukoudian in Fangshan District, where Peking Man lived. Homo erectus fossils from the caves date to 230,000 to 250,000 years ago. Paleolithic Homo sapiens also lived there more recently, about 27,000 years ago. Archaeologists have found neolithic settlements throughout the municipality, including in Wangfujing, located in downtown Beijing.
The first walled city in Beijing was Ji, a city from the 11th to 7th century BC. Within modern Beijing, Ji was located south of the present Beijing West Railway Station. This settlement was later conquered by the state of Yan and made its capital under the name Yanjing.
Early Imperial China
After the First Emperor unified China, Beijing became a prefectural capital for the region. During the Three Kingdoms period, it was held by Gongsun Zan and Yuan Shao before falling to Cao Cao’s Wei Kingdom. The AD 3rd-century Western Jin demoted the town, placing the prefectural seat in neighbouring Zhuozhou.
During the Sixteen Kingdoms period when northern China was conquered and divided by the Wu Hu, Beijing, as Jicheng, was briefly the capital of the Xianbei Former Yan Kingdom.
After China was reunified during the Sui Dynasty, Beijing, known as Zhuojun, became the northern terminus of the Grand Canal. Under the Tang Dynasty, Beijing as Fanyang, served as a military frontier command centre. During the An-Shi Rebellion and again amidst the turmoil of the late Tang, local military commanders founded their own short-lived Yan Dynasties and called the city Yanjing, or the “Yan Capital.” In 938, after the fall of the Tang, the Later Jin ceded the entire northern frontier to the Khitan Liao Dynasty, which renamed the city Nanjing, or the “Southern Capital”, one of four secondary capitals to complement its “Supreme Capital”, Shangjing (modern Baarin Left Banner in Inner Mongolia). Some of the oldest surviving structures in Beijing date to the Liao period, including the Tianning Pagoda which was built around 1120 (see left picture).
The Liao fell to the Jurchen Jin Dynasty in 1122, which gave the city to the Song Dynasty and then retook
it in 1125 during its conquest of northern China. In 1153, the Jurchen Jin made Beijing their “Central Capital”, called Zhongdu. The city was besieged by Genghis Khan’s invading Mongolian army in 1213 and razed to the ground two years later. Two generations later, Kublai Khan ordered the construction of Dandu (or Daidu to the Mongols, commonly known as Khanbaliq), a new capital for his Yuan Dynasty to be located adjacent to the Jurchen Jin ruins. The construction took from 1264 to 1293, but greatly enhanced the status of a city on the northern fringe of China proper. The city was centred on the Drum Tower slightly to the north of modern Beijing and stretched from the present-day Chang’an Avenue to the Line 10 subway. Remnants of the Yuan rammed earth wall still stand and are known as the Tucheng. (Right picture is Longevity Hill in Beijing where Kublai Khan wrote his poem.)
In 1368, soon after declaring the new Hongwu era of the Ming dynasty, the rebel leader Zhu Yuanzhang sent an army to Khanbaliq and conquered
it. Since the Yuan continued to occupy Shangdu and Mongolia, however, a new town was established to supply the military garrisons in the area. This was called Beiping and under the Hongwu Emperor’s feudal policies it was given to Zhu Di, one of his sons, who was created ” Prince of Yan”.
The early death of Zhu Yuanzhang’s heir led to a succession struggle on his death, one that ended with the victory of Zhu Di and the declaration of the new Yongle era. Since his harsh treatment of the Ming capital Yingtian (modern Nanjing) alienated many there, he established his fief as a new co-capital. The city of Beiping became Shuntian in 1403. The construction of the new imperial residence, the Forbidden City, took from 1406 to 1420; this period was also responsible for several other of the modern city’s major attractions, such as the Temple of Heaven and Tian’anmen (although the square facing it was not cleared until 1651). On 28 October 1420, the city was officially designated the capital of the Ming Dynasty in the same year that the Forbidden City was completed. Beijing became the empire’s primary capital (Jingshi) and Yingtian – or called Nanjing – became the co-capital. (A 1425 order by Zhu Di’s son, the Hongxi Emperor, to return the capital to Nanjing was never carried out: he died, probably of a heart attack, the next month. He was buried, like almost every Ming emperor to follow him, in an elaborate necropolis to Beijing’s north.)
By the 15th century, Beijing had essentially taken its current shape. The Ming city wall continued to serve until modern times, when it was pulled down and the 2nd Ring Road was built in its place. It is generally believed that Beijing was the largest city in the world for most of the 15th, 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. The first known church was constructed by Catholics in 1652 at the former site of Matteo Ricci’s chapel; the modern Nantang Cathedral was later built upon the same site.
The capture of Beijing by Li Zicheng’s peasant army in 1644 ended the dynasty, but he and his Shun court abandoned the city without a fight when the Manchu army of Prince Dorgon arrived 40 days later.
Dorgon established the Qing Dynasty as a direct successor of the Ming (delegitimising Li Zicheng and his followers) and Beijing became China’s sole capital.The Qing emperors made some modifications to the Imperial residence but, in large part, the Ming buildings and the general layout remained unchanged. Facilities for Manchu worship were introduced, but the Qing also continued the traditional state rituals. Signage was bilingual or Chinese. This early Qing Beijing later formed the setting for the Chinese novel Dream of the Red Chamber (hong lou meng 红楼梦) .
During the Second Opium War, Anglo-French forces captured the city, looting and burning the Old Summer Palace in 1860. Under the Convention of Peking ending that war, Western powers for the first time secured the right to establish permanent diplomatic presences within the city. In 1900, the attempt by the ” Boxers” to eradicate this presence, as well as Chinese Christian converts, led to Beijing’s reoccupation by foreign powers. During the fighting, several important structures were destroyed, including the Hanlin Academy and the (new) Summer Palace.
Republic of China
(The video displays Beijing filmed in 1937, which is very precious now!)
The fomenters of the Xinhai Revolution of 1911 sought to replace Qing rule with a republic and leaders
like Sun Yat-sen originally intended to return the capital to Nanjing. After the Qing general Yuan Shikai forced the abdication of the last Qing emperor and ensured the success of the revolution, the revolutionaries accepted him as president of the new Republic of China. Yuan maintained his capital at Beijing and quickly consolidated power, declaring himself emperor in 1915. His death less than a year later left China under the control of the warlords commanding the regional armies. Following the success of the Nationalists’ Northern Expedition, the capital was formally removed to Nanjing in 1928. On 28 June the same year, Beijing’s name was returned to Beiping (written at the time as “Peiping”).
During the Second Sino-Japanese War, Beiping fell to Japan on 29 July 1937 and was 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. This government was later merged into the larger Wang Jingwei government based in Nanjing.
People’s Republic of China
In the final phases of the Chinese Civil War, the People’s Liberation Army seized control of the city peacefully on 31 January 1949 in the course of the Pingjin Campaign. On 1 October that year, Mao Zedong announced the creation of the People’s Republic of China from atop Tian’anmen. He restored the name of the city, as the new capital, to Beijing, a decision that had been reached by the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference just a few days earlier.
In the 1950s, the city began to expand beyond the old walled city and its surrounding neighbourhoods, with heavy industries in the west and residential neighbourhoods in the north. Many areas of the Beijing city wall were torn down in the 1960s to make way for the construction of the Beijing Subway and the 2nd Ring Road.
During the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976, the Red Guard movement began in Beijing and the city’s government fell victim to one of the first purges. By the fall of 1966, all city schools were shut down and over a million Red Guards from across the country gathered in Beijing for eight rallies in Tian’anmen Square with Mao.In April 1976, a large public gathering of Beijing residents against the Gang of Four and the Cultural Revolution in Tiananmen Square was forcefully suppressed. In October 1976, the Gang was arrested in Zhongnanhai and the Cultural Revolution came to an end. In December 1978, the Third Plenum of the 11th Party Congress in Beijing under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping reversed the verdicts against victims of the Cultural Revolution and instituted the “policy of reform and opening up.”
Since the early 1980s, the urban area of Beijing has expanded greatly with the completion of the 2nd Ring Road in 1981 and the subsequent addition of the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th Ring Roads. According to one 2005 newspaper report, the size of newly developed Beijing was one-and-a-half times larger than before. Wangfujing and Xidan have developed into flourishing shopping districts,while
Zhongguancun has become a major centre of electronics in China. In recent years, the expansion of Beijing has also brought to the forefront some problems of urbanisation, such as heavy traffic, poor air quality, the loss of historic neighbourhoods, and a significant influx of migrant workers from less-developed rural areas of the country. Beijing has also been the location of many significant events in recent Chinese history, principally the Tian’anmen Square protests of 1989 and the 2008 Summer Olympics. This city was awarded to host the 2015 World Championship in Athletics.