How is Beijing called ?


North-eastern Chinese human settlements are very ancient and can be traced back into pre-historical times, 230.000 years ago. Beijing area,  for thousands of years,  has been an active place for commerce, agriculture and war.

Regarding Beijing city itself, the geographical site in the plain surrounded by mountains is a wise choice to settle a city, and Chinese culture has long been established there.

Anyway, Beijing city exists since a long time, but its name changed several times :  Beijing has not always been Beijing.

Here is a quick time line of Beijing’s names:





1046 BC

The beginnings are complicated.   Western Zhou dynasty is a conquering entity, and Beijing is their capital city, called Jicheng.

This Jicheng  is just the capital city of a very small state and would be where today’s West Railway station actually is. Later, things evolve, several kingdoms of Chinese culture own the city, sometimes real empires such as the Qin. Nowadays, all of those are called dynasties, with names  such as Eastern Zhou, Western Han dynasty, Eastern Han dynasty, Wei, Jin and Northern dynasties.  The truth about Beijing at that time is this it is more a military stronghold in northern China than anything like a real capital city.






581, After the unification of the Sui dynasty, the city becomes important, especially as it is a backing city for military operation in norteastern China and  Korea. For this reason, canals are dug there, water supply has been one of Beijing’s  major concern for centuries.  Beijing is called Youzhou and this name lasts during the Tang dynasty.

隋   唐   Sui  dynasty  Tang dynasty



南京     (燕京)

Nanjing  or Yanjing
938, the Khitans, steppe nomads and warriors,  unify 16 states in the north of China. To their eyes it is logical that Beijing (the Northern Capital)  should be called Nanjing (the Southern Capital), because it is at the south, you know. South of the north, that is.  This Khitan kingdom is called Liao dynasty, it is established  where are now northern China and Mongolia. Beijing is the capital city.

 辽      Liao dynasty 




1153, King Hailing of the Jin dynasty (which is another dynasty of nomadic people from the north, the Jurchens, who defeated the Khitans) moves to Beijing the capital city of its kingdom and names it Zhongdu. Beijing is a capital again,  it seems that it is the destiny of this city.

金   Jin dynasty



大都    (汗八里)

Dadu or Hanbali
1272, After the Khitans and the Jurchens peoples, there is another invader coming from the north: the Mongol Empire.   Its leader Kubilai Khan seizes Beijing and the rest of China. Under his reign the city is called Dadu or Hanbali.  Whatever the name, Beijing is still the capital city.

 元    Yuan dynasty





1368, Dadu is seized by the Ming Chinese dynasty and becomes Beiping. The city is now supporting the Ming dynasty’s armies that are fighting in northern China and Mongolia. The capital city of China is not Beijing but Nanjing in southern China.

明      Ming dynasty



北京   (顺天)

Beijing or Shuntian

The city Beiping is renamed Shuntian in 1403, Emperor Yongle leaves Nanjing and makes of Beijing the capital city of China.  In 1421, the name is changed and Shuntian is called Beijing. At last, this is beginning to make some sense…

明    Ming dynasty




京师  (北京)

Jingshi or Beijing

1644, capture of Beijing by the Qing dynasty, the city is now the sole capital of China. Large gardens are designed in the suburbs.   It can be called Jingshi or sometimes Beijing. Jingshi means there is only one possible capital, just forget about these north and south things.

请     Qing dynasty




Beijing is renamed Beiping in 1928. Things are just too complicated to be summed up in a few lines.  Beijing is not a capital city anymore. Real Beijingers understand that such a situation cannot last very long.

民国     Minguo, Republic of China



Beiping is renamed Beijing  in 1949. This is indeed the capital of the north and the capital of China.

中华人民共和国     People’s  Republic of China




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