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Beijing Overview

Beijing is the capital of the People's Republic of China with the area of 16,410.54 square kilometres. Mountainous areas occupy 10,417.5 square kilometres, accounting for 62 percent of the city's landmass. The remaining 6,390.3 square kilometres or 38 percent of the total is flatland. The municipality governs 16 urban districts and two rural counties.

Beijing belongs to the warm temperate zone and has a semi-humid climate. It has four distinctive seasons, with a short spring and autumn and longer summers and winters. January is the coldest month and July is the hottest.

At the end of 2005, Beijing had a registered population of 15.38 million, including a transient population of about 3 million. People from each of China's 56 ethnic groups reside in Beijing, but the vast majority is Han.


Situated neither by the ocean, nor by a great river, the city is strategically located 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 colorful history.

Beijing Cave Man

It is believed that human settlement in Beijing goes back as far as 780,000 years, possibly more. The earliest fossil records of Peking man found in Zhoukou-dian, Fangshan District, in the city's southwestern suburbs in the 1920s, date to about 500,000 years. More recent finds are dated to between 18,000 BC and 11,000 BC. During construction of the Oriental Plaza in Central Beijing’s Wanfujing Area, a Paleolithic (early Stone Age) settlement was discovered.

Yanjing, the Most Important City of the Yan

Records concerning Beijing's existence date to the 11th century BC. After Zhou forces moved eastward from (contemporary) Shaanxi Province and conquered the Shang, the emperor of Zhou distributed lands to dukes. Two of these feudal territories were in what is now modern-day Beijing, Ji in today's Xuanwu 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 Yan expanding its empire, swallowing up much of the surrounding lands and installing the City of Ji as its new capital. Its emergence as a power of the age was short-lived after a failed assassination attempt on the rival king of Qin. In 226 BC, Qin forces conquered Yan; five years later, all the Warring States had been defeated, establishing the first unification of China under its namesake, the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC). The city of Ji was chosen as the administrative centre of Guangyang Prefecture, one of 36 prefectures in China'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. By the glorious Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) Beijing was known as Youzhou. However, rebellions, uprisings and invasions ended in the country'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, named Zhongdu (Middle Capital).

In 1215 the Mongols, led by Genghis Khan, invaded the city, but it was left to Genghis’s grandson, Kublai Khan, to finally conquer the whole of China, establishing the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) with Beijing as its capital. The city, known as Dadu (Great Capital), was meticulously planned around a grid plan that still 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 and magnificence of the city.

After the fall of the Mongol empire in 1368, the early Ming emperors settled in Nanjing temporarily, renaming the old Yuan capital Beiping (Northern Peace). However, after usurping the throne from his nephew in 1403, Zhu Di, also known as the Yongle Emperor, started building the grand Forbidden City. Finally, in 1421, he relocated to what is now known as Beijing (Northern Capital). The layout of what remains in today's modern Beijing finds its roots in this period. The Forbidden City was constructed from 1407 to 1420, followed by the Temple of Heaven (1420), and numerous other construction projects.

After a lengthy rule, the Ming Dynasty fell into decline. A peasant uprising took the city in April 1644. By June a federation of Manchurian tribes from the north, after being given free passage through the Great Wall by a disaffected general, finally conquered the city and established the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The Forbidden City was then enlarged, and communications with other countries were enhanced.

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, the Chinese people have stood up while addressing the Chinese people via radio from the rostrum on Tiananmen Square.

Last Updated on Monday, 02 September 2013 15:01  

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