The earliest known period Beijing history brings us back to a period of about 500,000 years ago when the North China Plain, today’s Beijing area, was covered with semi-tropical forests and was dotted with lakes. In the research that was conducted in 1929 in a cave near the village of Beijing (Zhoukoudian), a certain archeological evidence of the presence of Lantian and Peking Man even 600,000 years ago was found. It was also revealed that this area was inhabited by the ancestors of today’s man who knew how to use fire and tools made of stone. These were the remains of bones of Homo erectus that were old around 230,000 and 235,000 years and named Beijing Man. At the mentioned area, 27,000 years ago, there also lived Homo sapiens. However, the earliest settlement that was recorded in this place, actually, the southwest of Beijing, brings us back to 1045 BC, after which the first ancient dynasties in China appeared.
The history of dynasties in China started long ago, in the 11th century BC, with Western Zhou Dynasty, when Beijing was known as Jin City, and it was a pioneer city of China. During the reign of the Zhou Dynasty, the administrative and military center was established near the present-day Beijing, in order to protect the North Eastern border of China and to monitor trade between the Chinese peasants and nomadic ancestors of today’s Mongolians and Koreans. These steps that were taken, as well as the construction of the Great Wall which occurred in the fourth century BC, were not enough for long-lasting defense against attacks from the North who had not decreased by time. On the contrary, the history of Beijing is mainly marked by the attacks from that side of the world. Qin Dynasty started ruling in 226 BC, and their biggest contribution was the unification of China, and their influence is rather discussed in terms of the whole China, rather than just when it comes to this city.
Sui Dynasty that started ruling in the 6th century ruled over the city which name was Zhuo Shire then and its population was over 130 000. Tang Dynasty that came in the beginning of the 7th century made the area of today’s Beijing as the main military and business center, which had a name Youzhou. The two Emperors from the previously mentioned dynasties, the Emperor Yang of the Sui Dynasty and Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty were of a huge importance in relation to the history of Beijing. They both used it for military purposes, where Emperor Yang conducted some of the main expeditions against Korea. The Emperor Taizong, on the other side, built the Temple for Compassion, which is dedicated to troops who died in battle. This temple was the precursor of the Temple of the Origin of the Dharma located outside the old walls of the city.
Later on, a tribe from the Mongolian steppes called Qidan came to the north of China and established a dynasty of Liao and even the capital of Yanjing, which is, in fact, today’s Beijing. Liao dynasty was destroyed in 1125 by the invaders from Juchen, and the new capital occurred on the grounds of Yanjing by the Jin dynasty named Zhongdu which had over one million inhabitants. Unfortunately, almost nothing is left of this city because it was completely burned by the army of Genghis Khan in 1215. After that, Kublai Khan, a grandson of Genghis Khan, completed the conquest of the whole China and declared himself the ruler in 1260. In the year of 1271, he built the new capital on the ruins of Zhongdu, gave it the name Dadu and out of it for the first time ruled the entire territory of China. The next three dynasties brought crucial changes and influenced today’s position of Beijing completely. Under the rule of the Yuan Dynasty, Dadu was one of the most famous cities in the 13th-century world. It attracted numerous traders from Europe, Asia, and Africa who visited China merely to admire the beauty and magnificence of Dadu. It was more than 30 kilometers in circumference, and around 500,000 people lived there.
When Ming Dynasty took over the city and came to rule in 1368, they renamed the city into Beiping, which means “Northern peace”. Still, it was one of the most influential and the most prolific cities, though the first Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang did not make it a capital city, and that title belonged to Nanjing. Not before the third Emperor Yongle in 1421 the capital was formally transferred from Nanjing to Beiping and the name of it was officially changed into Beijing, which means “Northern Capital”. He re-built the city using the scheme of a chessboard which is obvious even today. At this time, masterpieces of architecture such as the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven were constructed, and still there are some buildings and streets from the Ming and Qing dynasties and many important historical monuments. Qing Dynasty took over the rule in 1644, and by looking from this point today, we can freely say that their contribution to today’s appearance of Beijing was mostly in the botanical sense. During this period, the botanical garden was constructed, and well as The Summer Palace, Old Summer Palace, and many other botanical gardens. The Summer Palace, with breathtaking rivers and lakes around, has retained its appearance and it is one of the most visited places in Beijing. This dynasty ruled until 1911, and at the same time, it was the last Chinese feudal dynasty. With the end of it, the end of Beijing as the imperial capital happened as well.
Xinhai Revolution that occurred in 1911 had the main aim to replace the Qing Dynasty, establishing the Republic of China, initially had the intention to make Nanjing as the capital. However, after the enormous success of the revolution, the revolutionaries in Nanjing accepted that Yuan Shikai who forced the abdication of the last Emperor of the Qing is the new president of the Republic of China and that Beijing remains the capital. He proclaimed himself the emperor in 1915, yet died soon a year after. After World War I, the Treaty of Versailles was signed by which Germany wanted to give all the territories in China to Japan, which provoked a lot of outcries. Because of this, students from Beijing University staged protests against imperialism, on the May 4th1919, after which political and cultural May Fourth Movement was founded. This movement led to the establishment of radical intellectuals, such as Mao Zedong, who became one of the founders of the Chinese Communist Party in 1921.Strive to mobilize peasants and workers into the party in order to gain the organizational strength became one of the main concerns. Again, the situation changed in 1928, when Nanjing was officially declared the capital of the Republic of China, and Beijing was renamed again in Beiping. In 1937, the Japanese army occupied the town and began the invasion of China. After World War II, a civil war in China took place, in which the Communist Party won.
On 31st January 1949, the People’s Liberation Army entered the city and on October 1st of the same year at the Tiananmen Square in Mao Zedong proclaimed the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. The city got the name Beijing, and it was proclaimed the capital city again. The old city walls were demolished in 1964 in order to make a railway. Tiananmen Square is drastically expanded, and on its sides modern buildings were built; the Grand National Assembly (House of Chinese Parliament), the National Museum of Chinese History and the Museum of Chinese Revolution, which merged in 2003 into the National Museum of China. Factories started appearing during the fifties, as well as apartment blocks and the first underground rail in Beijing. Economic reforms were initiated by Dang Xiaoping in 1978, and thanks to him and his followers Beijing went through a rapid economic growth. Avenues and squares expanded, highways and new residential areas built, seemingly overnight. Thanks to foreign investors and new ideas, Beijing’s economic and technological progress and remains true even today.
Beijing Present Days
Beijing is the political and cultural center of China. Its rich history is reflected in the spectacular palaces, parks and temples, and today it is a very active, international capital. The horizon is blocked by enormously huge skyscrapers, roads are full of vehicles and residential areas are also quite big. It is a densely populated territory where you can enjoy the mixture of the old and new, and the collision of the past and present. Beijing is also one of the most economically developed cities in China, where 73.2% of the products are of domestic production for the needs of the city, and 13.8% of the products are used for the whole country. The new business district of Beijing is situated in the Guomao, and the Beijing Financial Street is in the area of Fuxingmen and Fuchengmen and it is a traditional financial center of the city. Agriculture is also practiced in the urban area, and the main crop is corn. Beijing is becoming more known for large investments and risks in starting a new job, and there are large corporations, both domestic and foreign companies, but it is not the economic center of China since Shanghai keeps that position.
The development of Beijing is really incredibly fast, but the expansion of the city has created a multitude of problems in the city. Citizens complain of poor water quality and high prices of the crucial services such as gas and electricity. In order to reduce pollution, some factories got the order to reduce the transmission of harmful substances, and some were even ordered to leave the city. For example, the Beijing factory of steel had to shift most of it manufacturing power to Tangshan. Regarding the education, it is also a very prolific area, since there are several colleges and universities. It is the biggest university town and there is no city in China with such number of schools. Most appreciated among the universities is the Peking University that is the recognized internationally. Every year, numerous students from around the world come to Beijing with the desire to obtain the best education and become professionals in their willing fields.
In order to fully understand China, in its cultural, historical, political and any other sense, it is compulsory to start with Beijing as it’s core, not just because of the fact it is capital city, but because it was an integral part of China for centuries and today it contains some of the most important testimonies of the rich history.