Beijing: History

The Forbidden City

Beijing History

Beijing’s history dates back 500,000 years, where remnants of the ‘Peking man’ are found in the caves of Dragon Bone Hill. Cities were not founded in the area until 473 BC, when the capital of the State of Yan was established in present day Beijing. Throughout the 1st century, various dynasties took control of the area, and rebuilt the city numerous times.

In 1368, Zhu Yuanzhang, the founder of the Ming Dynasty and the future Hongwu Emperor sent an army toward the Yuan capital. The last Yuan emperor fled north and Zhu declared the founding of the Ming Dynasty. The city was renamed to Beiping or ‘northern peace’. In 1403, the third Ming Emperor – Yongle, renamed this city to Beijing.

By the 15th century, Beijing had essentially taken its current shape. 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.

In 1644 the Ming dynasty was overthrown when, for 40 days, Li Zicheng’s peasant army captured Beijing and overthrew the government. Prince Dorgon established the Oing Dynasty as a direct successor to the Ming, and Beijing remained China's capital.

At the end of Qing period, in 1900, the Boxer rebellion saw the siege of the foreign legations and some important Imperial structures in the city were destroyed during the fighting.

During the Xinhai Revolution of 1911, high-ranking Qing official Yuan Shikai forced the abdication of the Qing emperor in Beijing and ensured the success of the revolution. Yuan became the new emperor in 1915 but died less than a year into his reign.

China then fell under the control of regional warlords, and the most powerful factions fought frequent wars. Beijing was renamed Beiping but 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.

Mao Zedong proclaimed the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. On 31 January, during the Chinese Civil War, Communist forces entered Beiping without a fight. On 1 October of the same year, the Communist Party under the leadership of Mao announced the creation of the Peoples Republic of China and re-named the city Beijing.

The urban area of Beijing has expanded greatly since then, 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.

Wangfujing and Xidan have developed into flourishing shopping districts, while Zhnogguancun 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 urbanization, such as heavy traffic, poor air quality, the loss of historic neighbourhoods, and significant influx of migrants from various regions of the country, especially rural areas.

In 2008 Beijing became the first Chinese city to host the Olympic games.