The city is known as a cradle of humanity. As early as 700,000 years ago, Peking Man lived in Zhoukoudian area of this city. The UNESCO designated the Peking Man Site at Zhoukoudian a World Heritage Site in 1987. It is a treasure house for human fossils, and also a research base for palaeoanthropology, prehistoric archaeology, palaeontology, stratigraphy, and petrology.
Western Zhou Dynasty (1100 – 771 BC)
Beijing is an ancient city and it's origins can be traced back more than 3,000 years ago. Its true significance came in the early years of the Western Zhou Dynasty, during which the emperor gave his feudal lords plots of land. One of these plots of land was the Yan Kingdom, with the “City of Ji” as its capital. The “City of Ji” marked the beginning of Beijing’s long history as a city.
770 - 221 BC
The Yan Kingdom expanded its empire and swallowed up much of the surrounding land. Historical records show that the City of Ji became a famous and wealthy city.
221 BC ...
After Emperor Qin Shihuang conquered his rivals and unified China in 221 BC, the City of Ji was chosen as the administrative centre of Guangyang Prefecture, one of the key prefectures in China’s first feudal empire. Beijing became a commercial centre connecting the North and the South during peacetime and a military centre during wars. In the ensuring centuries, there were numerous conflicts and changes. The city emerged as a frontier garrison, serving as a staging base for campaigns against the empire’s nomadic enemies to the north.
Liao Dynasty (AD 916 - 1125)
During the Liao Dynasty, the city became the alternate capital of the Liao Kingdom, which was founded by the Khitan people who lived in today’s northeastern China. Because Beijing was located south of the Liao homeland, it was renamed Nanjing (in Chinese “nan” means “south”).
Jin Dynasty (AD 1115 - 1234)
During the Jin Dynasty, the city was designated the capital, renamed Zhongdu (Middle Capital). This was a turning point because Beijing has been regarded as a national political and cultural center since then.
Yuan Dynasty (AD 1279 - 1368)
In the early 13th century, the Mongols led by Genghis Khan invaded the city. But it was left to Genghis’ grandson, Kublai Khan, to finally conquer all of China and establish the Yuan Dynasty. Beijing was chosen as the capital of the Yuan Dynasty and named Dadu (Great Capital), which was meticulously laid out with the same grid plan that characterizes Beijing’s central urban area today. 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.
Ming Dynasty (AD 1368 - 1644)
After the fall of the Mongol Empire in 1368, the early Ming emperors ruled from Nanjing (today’s Jiangsu Province). The Ming troops conquered Dadu and renamed “Dadu” as “Beiping” (Northern Peace). The Ming Dynasty deprived Beijing of its capital status for half a century. After taking over the throne from his nephew in 1402, Zhu Di ordered the construction of a magnificent new palace in Beijing: an enormous maze of interlinking halls, gates, and courtyard homes, known as the Forbidden City. In 1421, Emperor Yongle relocated to what was now known as the Beijing (Northern Capital). The Ming Dynasty also contributed mightily to China's grandest public works project: the Great Wall. The Ming Great Wall linked or reinforced several existing walls, especially near the capital, and traversed seemingly impassable mountains. The majority of the most spectacular stretches of the wall that can be visited near Beijing were built during the Ming Dynasty. But wall building drained Ming coffers and, in the end, failed to prevent Manchu horsemen from taking the capital and the rest of China in 1644
Qing Dynasty (AD 1644 - 1911)
After a lengthy rule, the Ming Dynasty fell into decline. In 1644, a federation of Manchurian tribes from the north, after being given free passage through the Great Wall by a dissatified general, conquered the city and established the Qing Dynasty. This foreign dynasty, inherited the Ming palaces, built their own retreats (most notably, the "old" and "new" summer palaces), and perpetuated feudalism in China for another 267 years. In its decline, the Qing proved impotent to stop humiliating foreign encroachment.
It lost the first Opium War to Great Britain in 1842 and was forced surrender Hong Kong "in perpetuity" as a result. In 1860 a combined British and French force stormed Beijing and razed the Old Summer Palace.
Chairman Mao takes the reins
After the Qing crumbled in 1911, its successor, Sun Yat-sen's Nationalist Party, struggled to consolidate power. Beijing became a cauldron of social activism. On May 4, 1919, students marched on Tiananmen Square to protest humiliations in Versailles, where Allied commanders negotiating an end to World War I gave Germany's extra-territorial holdings in China to Japan. Patriotism intensified, and in 1937 Japanese imperial armies stormed across Beijing's Marco Polo Bridge to launch a brutal eight-year occupation. Civil war followed close on the heels of Tokyo's 1945 surrender and raged until the Communist victory.
Chairman Mao himself declared the founding of a new nation from the rostrum atop the Gate of Heavenly Peace on October 1, 1949. The People’s Republic of China was established and Beijing became the capital of new China.
Like Emperor Yongle, Mao built a capital that conformed to his own vision. Soviet-inspired structures rose up around Tiananmen Square. Beijing's historic city wall was demolished to make way for a ring road. Temples and churches were torn down, closed, or turned into factories during the brutal upheaval of the Cultural Revolution, which began in 1966 and lasted until Mao’s death, in 1976.
Beijing today, is mingled with tradition and modernism. While seeking for industrialization, the Government is also carrying out a conservation program to protect the traditional houses in the downtown area to partly maintain Beijing's original outlook. Beijing's 20 million residents enjoy a fascinating mix of old and new. Early morning tai chi enthusiasts, ballroom and disco dancers, old men with caged songbirds, and amateur Beijing opera singers frequent the city's many parks. Beijing's robust economy, now the second largest in the world, is boosted by the government’s continuing embrace of "a socialist market economy" and the massive influx of foreign investment.