The history of Beijing is punctuated by greatness, turmoil, power and intrigue. Located neither by an ocean, not by a great river, the original city was strategically placed at a major divide between nomadic herding lands to the north and agricultural lands to the south. These two opposing forces have shaped much of the city’s history.
Beijing Cave Man
It is believed that the first human settlement in Beijing goes back to as far as 780,000 years ago, perhaps even earlier.
The oldest fossil records of "Peking Man" were found in the Zhoukoudian, Fangshan district, in the city's southwestern suburbs in the 1920s. These dated to about 500,000 years ago. More recent finds are dated back to between 18,000 and 11,000 BC.
During construction of the Oriental Plaza in Central Beijing's Wanfujing area in 1999, a Palaeolithic (early Stone Age) settlement was discovered.
Figures on Beijing Cave Man
Average life span: No more than 30 years of age
Average height: 156 cm (male), 144 cm (female)
Brain capacity: 1,088 milliliters, 80 percent of modern humans
1.Zhoukoudian Relics Museum
Address: 1 Zhoukoudian Dajie, Fangshan district
Tel: +86 10 6930 1278/1080
Traffic: Take bus No. 917 to Liangxiangximen, and transfer to bus No. 38
Open: 8:30 am-4:30 pm
2.Palaeoanthropology Cultural Relics Museum
Address: Oriental Plaza, Dong Chang'an Jie, Dongcheng district
Tel: + 86 10 8518 6306
Traffic: Take bus Nos 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 37 or 728; or Subway Line 1.
Open: 10:00 am-4:00 pm
Yanjing—the most important city of the Yan
Records concerning Beijing's existence date to 11th century BC.
After the Zhou Dynasty (11th century-771 BC) forces moved eastward from Shanxi province (contemporary) and conquered the Shang, the emperor of Zhou distributed lands to the dukes. Two of the feudal territories were located in what is now modern-day Beijing: Ji in today's Xicheng district and Yan in Fangshan district.
During the tumultuous Spring and Autumn period (771-476 BC) and much of the Warring States period (475-221 BC), conflicts resulted in the Yan expanding its empire, swallowing up much of the surrounding land and installing the City of Ji as its new capital. Its emergence as a power for the ages was short-lived, after a failed assassination attempt on the rival king of Qin.
In 226 BC, Qin forces conquered Yan; five years later, Qin defeated its remaining rivals and unified the country for the first time under its namesake, the Qin Dynasty (221-207 BC).
The City of Ji was chosen as the administrative center of Guangyang Prefecture, one of 36 prefectures in the country’s first feudal empire.
Conflict and Change
Over the next 1,200 years, there were numerous conflicts and name changes.
The city emerged as a frontier garrison, serving as a staging base for campaigns against the empire's nomadic enemies to the north. During the glorious Tang Dynasty (AD 618- 907), Beijing was known as Youzhou. However, rebellions, uprisings and invasions ended in the nation's political disintegration, constantly changing the status of the city up until its installation as the capital of the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234) in 1153, when it was named Zhongdu (Middle Capital).
In 1215, Mongols, led by Genghis Khan, invaded the city, but it was left to Genghis' grandson, Kublai Khan, to conquer the whole of China, establishing the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) with Beijing as its capital. The city, known as Dadu (Great Capital), was laid out with a grid plan that characterizes the city today. As the capital city of the Yuan Dynasty, Dadu enjoyed worldwide fame in the 13th century. Envoys and traders from Europe, Asia and Africa, who paid visits to China, were astounded by the splendor of the city.
After the fall of the Mongol empire in 1368, early Ming emperors settled in Nanjing; they renamed the old Yuan capital Beiping (Northern Peace). However, after usurping the throne from his nephew in 1403, Zhu Di, also known as the Emperor Yongle, started building the grand Forbidden City. In 1421, he relocated to what was now known as Beijing (Northern Capital). Great historical monuments seen in today's Beijing find their roots in this period. The Forbidden City was constructed from 1407-20, followed by the Temple of Heaven (1420) and numerous other major projects.
After a lengthy rule, the Ming Dynasty fell into decline. Peasants had risen up and took over the city in April 1644. By June that year a federation of Manchurian tribes from the north, after being given free passage through the Great Wall by a disaffected general, had conquered the city and established the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The Forbidden City was expanded, and communications with other countries increased.
A republican revolution in October 1911 closed the curtain on the dynastic tradition. But, by 1919, disaffection was running high in response to the treatment of China by allied powers during negotiations of the Treaty of Versailles. The May Fourth Movement and the Communist Party of China had captured greater influence during a time when communist forces at times allied with, and at times battled against Kuomintang (Nationalist) forces.
After China's occupation by Japanese forces and the War Against Japanese Invasion, a full-scale revolutionary war broke out pitting Communists against Kuomintang forces. On January 31, 1949, the People's Liberation Army peacefully entered and liberated Beijing. The People's Republic of China was born on October 1, 1949, when Chairman Mao Zedong uttered the words, "The People's Republic of China has been founded; from this time forward, the Chinese people have stood up," while addressing the Chinese people via the radio from the rostrum on Tian'anmen Square.
The subsequent 61 years have seen turbulent times, construction, destruction, reform and rebirth; great events have taken place, such as the 2008 Olympic and Paralympic Games and the Celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the Founding of the People's Republic. "Change is normal for Beijingers.” Indeed, after the turmoil of the past 3,000 years, the modern city finds itself at the center of one of the biggest, most peaceful socioeconomic transformations the world has ever witnessed.