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Beijing (Chinese: 北京; pinyin: Běijīng; IPA: [pei˨˩ tɕɪŋ˥˥]; ), a metropolis in northern China, is the capital of the People's Republic of China (PRC). It was formerly known in English as Peking. Beijing is one of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China.

Since its establishment in 723 B.C.E., Beijing has served as the capital of numerous dynasties and governments, and has been regarded as a prize by conquerors and revolutionaries, symbolizing dominance over all of China. In ancient history it was the heart and administrative center of China, a gathering place for scholar officials and aristocrats. In the past two decades, the rapid modernization of China's economy has brought about dramatic changes in the city, and raised challenges never faced before, such as traffic, smog and pollution. Beijing was awarded the hosting the 2008 Summer Olympics. Preparations for the 2008 Olympics forced Beijing to quickly upgrade its infrastructure and transportation system.

Beijing is also one of the four municipalities of the Peoples Republic of China, which are equivalent to provinces in China's administrative structure. Beijing Municipality borders Hebei Province to the north, west, south, and for a small section in the east, and Tianji Municipality to the southeast.

Beijing is China's second-largest city in terms of population, after Shanghai. It is a major transportation hub, with dozens of railways, roads and expressways passing through the city. It is also the main destination of many international flights to China. Beijing is recognized as the political, educational, and cultural center of the PRC, while Shanghai and Hong Kong predominate in economic fields.


Beijing (北京) literally means "northern capital," in line with the common East Asian tradition whereby capital cities are explicitly named as such. Other cities similarly named include Nanjing (南京), China, meaning "southern capital"; Tokyo (東京), Japan, and Đông Kinh (東京, known to Europeans as Tonkin; now Hanoi), Vietnam, both meaning "eastern capital"; as well as Kyoto (京都), Japan, and Gyeongseong (京城; now Seoul), Korea, both meaning simply "capital."

Peking is the name of the city according to Chinese Postal Map Romanization, and the traditional customary name for Beijing in English. The term originated with French missionaries four hundred years ago and corresponds to an older pronunciation predating a subsequent sound change in Mandarin from [kʲ] to [tɕ]. ([tɕ] is represented in pinyin as j, as in Beijing), and is still used in some languages (as in Dutch, Hungarian and Spanish).

In China, the city has had many names. Between 1368 and 1405, and again from 1928 and 1949, it was known as Beiping (北平; Pinyin: Beiping; Wade-Giles: Pei-p'ing), literally "Northern Peace." On both occasions, the name changed—with the removal of the element meaning "capital" (jing or king, 京)—to reflect the fact the national capital had changed to Nanjing, the first time under the Hongwu Emperor of the Ming Dynasty, and the second time with the Kuomintang (KMT) government of the Republic of China, so that Peking was no longer the capital of China.

The Communist Party of China reverted the name to Beijing (Peking) in 1949, again, in part, to emphasize that Beijing had returned to its role as China's capital. The government of the Republic of China on Taiwan has never formally recognized the name change, and during the 1950s and 1960s it was common in Taiwan for Beijing to be called Beiping (or Peiping), to imply the illegitimacy of the PRC. Today, almost all of Taiwan, including the ROC government, uses Beijing, although some maps of China from Taiwan still use the old name along with pre-1949 political boundaries.

Yanjing (燕京; Pinyin: Yānjīng; Wade-Giles: Yen-ching) is and has been another popular informal name for Beijing, a reference to the ancient State of Yan that existed here during the Zhou Dynasty. This name is reflected in the locally-brewed Yanjing Beer as well as Yenching University, an institution of higher learning that was merged into Peking University. During the Mongolian-dominated Yuan Dynasty, (1279-1368) Beijing was known as Khanbaliq which is the Cambuluc described in Marco Polo's accounts.

(The history section below outlines other historical names of Beijing.)


Remains of Beijing city wall, 2006

Several cities bearing various names have existed at the modern site of Beijing since 723 B.C.E. The capital of the State of Yan, one of the powers of the Warring States Period (473-221 B.C.E.), Ji (薊/蓟), was established in present-day Beijing.

After the fall of the Yan, the subsequent Qin, Han, and Jin dynasties set up local prefectures in the area. In Tang Dynasty it became the headquarters for Fanyang jiedushi, the virtual military governor of current northern Hebei area. An Lushan launched An Shi Rebellion from Beijing in 755. This rebellion is often regarded as a turning point of the Tang dynasty, as the central government began to lose control of the whole country.

In 936, the Later Jin Dynasty (936-947) of northern China ceded a large part of its northern frontier, including modern Beijing, to the Khitan Liao Dynasty. In 938, the Liao Dynasty set up a secondary capital in what is now Beijing, and called it Nanjing (the "Southern Capital"). In 1125, the Jurchen Jin Dynasty annexed Liao, and in 1153 moved its capital to Liao's Nanjing, calling it Zhongdu (中都), "the central capital." Zhongdu was situated in what is now the area centered around Tianningsi, slightly to the southwest of central Beijing.

Mongol forces burned Zhongdu to the ground in 1215 and rebuilt it to the north of the Jin capital from 1260-1290. In preparation for the conquest of all of China, Yuan (Mongol) Dynasty founder Kublai Khan made present-day Beijing his capital as Dadu (大都, Chinese for "grand capital"), or Khanbaliq to the Mongols. This site is known as Cambuluc in Marco Polo's accounts. The decision of the Khan greatly enhanced the status of a city that had been situated on the northern fringe of China proper. The nucleus of present-day Beijing was the city of Khanbaliq.

After the fall of the Yuan Dynasty in 1368, the city was later rebuilt by the Han Chinese Ming Dynasty and Shuntian (順天) prefecture was established in the area around the city. In 1421, the third Ming Emperor Yongle moved the Ming capital from Nanjing (Nanking) to the renamed Beijing (Peking) (北京), the "northern capital." The capital was also known as Jingshi (京師), simply meaning "capital." During the Ming Dynasty, Beijing took its current shape, and the Ming-era city wall served as the Beijing city wall until modern times, when it was pulled down and the 2nd Ring Road was built in the 1980s over former moats that encircled the old walls.

It is believed that Beijing was the largest city in the world from 1425 to 1650 and from 1710 to 1825

The Forbidden City, home to the Emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties.

Panorama view of the Forbidden City, home to the Emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties.

The Forbidden City was constructed soon after that (1406-1420), followed by the Temple of Heaven (1420), and numerous other construction projects. Tiananmen, which has become a state symbol of the PRC and is featured on its emblem, was burned down twice during the Ming Dynasty and the final reconstruction was carried out in 1651.

In 1860 Beijing was occupied by French and British troops following the battle of Baliqiao, forcing the Chinese government to concede the Legation Quarter for foreign settlements. This cession was a contributing factor to the Boxer Rebellion(1900), in which the Legation Quarter was besieged until relieved by American, Japanese, and European troops.

The Xinhai Revolution of 1911, aimed at replacing Qing rule with a republic, originally intended to establish its capital at Nanjing. After high-ranking Qing official Yuan Shikai forced the abdication of the Qing emperor in Beijing and ensured the success of the revolution, the revolutionaries in Nanjing accepted that Yuan should be the president of the new Republic of China, and that the capital should remain at Beijing.

Yuan gradually consolidated power, culminating in his declaration of a Chinese Empire in late 1915 with himself as emperor. The move was highly unpopular, and Yuan himself died less than a year later, ending his brief reign. China then fell under the control of regional warlords, and the most powerful factions fought frequent wars (the Zhili-Anhui War, the First Zhili-Fengtian War, and the Second Zhili-Fengtian War) to take control of the capital at Beijing.

Tiananmen Square as seen from the Tian'an Gate

Following the success of the Kuomintang's Northern Expedition which pacified the warlords of the north, Nanjing was officially made the capital of the Republic of China in 1928, and Beijing was renamed Beiping (Peip'ing) (北平), "northern peace" or "north pacified," to emphasize that the warlord government in Beijing was not legitimate.

During the Second Sino-Japanese War, Beiping fell to Japan on July 29, 1937. During the occupation, the city reverted to its former name, Beijing, and made the seat of the Provisional Government of the Republic of China, a puppet state that ruled the ethnic Chinese portions of Japanese-occupied North China. It was later merged into the larger Wang Jingwei Government based in Nanjing.

With Japan's surrender in World War II, on August 15, 1945, Beijing's name was changed back to Beiping.

On January 31, 1949, during the Chinese Civil War, Communist forces entered Beijing without a fight. On October 1 of the same year, the Communist Party of China, under the leadership of Mao Zedong, announced the creation of the PRC in Tiananmen, in Beijing. Just a few days earlier, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference had decided that Beiping would be the capital of the new government, and that its name would be changed back to Beijing.

In the late twentieth century, the spread of democracy and economic reforms throughout the world became a major issue in China. In 1989 a massacre of mostly student demonstrators in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square signaled the difficulty of China’s democratic movement in the face of totalitarian authority. Not long after these tragic events, influenced by Deng Xiaoping's economic reforms, China attracted considerable foreign investment, resulting in unprecedented growth and development in Beijing.

Twentieth and twenty-first century development

At the time of the founding of the People's Republic of China (PRC), Beijing Municipality consisted of just its urban area and immediate suburbs. The urban area was divided into many small districts inside what is now the 2nd Ring Road. Since then several surrounding counties have been incorporated into the Municipality, enlarging the limits of Beijing Municipality by many times and giving it its present shape. The Beijing city wall was torn down between 1965 and 1969 to make way for the construction of the 2nd Ring Road.

Beijing's Tiananmen Square

Following the economic reforms of Deng Xiaoping, the urban area of Beijing has expanded greatly. Formerly within the confines of the 2nd Ring Road and the 3rd Ring Road, the urban area of Beijing is now pushing at the limits of the recently-constructed 5th Ring Road and 6th Ring Road (under construction), with many areas that were formerly farmland now developed residential or commercial neighborhoods. A new commercial area has developed in the Guomao area, Wangfujing and Xidan have developed into flourishing shopping districts, while Zhongguancun has become a major center of electronics in China.

In recent years, the expansion of Beijing has also brought to the forefront some problems of urbanization, such as heavy traffic, poor air quality, the loss of historic neighborhoods, and significant influx of migrants from poorer regions of the country, especially rural areas.

Early 2005 saw the approval by government of a plan to finally stop the sprawling development of Beijing in all directions. Development of the Chinese capital will now proceed in two semicircular bands just outside of the city center (both west and east) instead of being in concentric rings.


A simulated-color image of Beijing, taken by NASA's Landsat 7.

Beijing is situated at the northern tip of the roughly triangular North China Plain which opens to the south and east of the city. Mountains to the north, northwest and west shield the city and northern China's agricultural heartland from the encroaching desert steppes. The northwestern part of the municipality, especially Yanqing County and Huairou District, are dominated by the Jundu Mountains, while the western part of the municipality is framed by the Xishan Mountains. The Great Wall of China, which stretches across the northern part of Beijing Municipality, made use of this rugged topography to defend against nomadic incursions from the steppes. Mount Dongling in the Xishan ranges and on the border with Hebei is the municipality's highest point, with an altitude of 7,555 ft (2,303 m). Major rivers flowing through the municipality include the Yongding River and the Chaobai River, part of the Hai River system, and flowing in a southerly direction. Beijing is also the northern terminus of the Grand Canal of China which was built across the North China Plain to Hangzhou. Miyun Reservoir, built on the upper reaches of the Chaobai River, is Beijing's largest reservoir, and crucial to its water supply.


The Beijing CBD area around Dawangqiao and Dabeiyao, as seen from the Jingtong Expressway.

Dawangqiao area around Beijing CBD

In 2005, Beijing's nominal GDP was 681.45 billion RMB (about 84 billion USD), a year-on-year growth of 11, .1 percent from the previous year. Its GDP per capita was 44,969 RMB, an increase of 8.1 percent from the previous year and nearly twice as much as in 2000. Beijing's primary, secondary, and tertiary industries were worth 9.77 billion RMB, 210.05 billion RMB, and 461.63 billion RMB. Urban disposable income per capita was 17,653 yuan, a real increase of 12.9 percent from the previous year. Per capita pure income of rural residents was 7,860 RMB, a real increase of 9.6 percent. Per capita disposable income of the 20 percent low-income residents increased 16.7 percent, 11.4 percentage points higher than the growth rate of the 20 percent high-income residents. The Engel's coefficient of Beijing's urban residents reached 31.8 percent in 2005 and that of the rural residents was 32.8 percent, declining 4.5 percentage points and 3.9 percentage points, respectively, compared with 2000.

Beijing's real estate and automotive sectors have continued to bloom in recent years. In 2005, a total of 28.032 million square metres of housing real estate was sold, for a total of 175.88 billion RMB. The total number of automobiles registered in Beijing in 2004 was 2,146,000, of which 1,540,000 were privately-owned; this represents a one year increase of 18.7 percent.

The Beijing Central Business District (CBD), centered at the Guomao area, has been identified as the city's new central business district, and is home to a variety of corporate regional headquarters, shopping malls and high-end housing. The Beijing Financial Street, in the Fuxingmen and Fuchengmen area, is a traditional financial center. The Wangfujing and Xidan areas are major shopping districts. Zhongguancun, dubbed "China's Silicon Valley," continues to be a major center in electronics and computer-related industries, as well as pharmaceuticals-related research. Meanwhile, Yizhuang, located to the southeast of the urban area, is becoming a new center in pharmaceuticals, IT, and materials engineering. Urban Beijing is also known for being a center of pirated goods and anything from the latest designer clothing to the latest DVDs can be found in markets all over the city, often marketed to expatriates and international visitors.

Major industrial areas include Shijingshan, located on the western outskirts of the city. Agriculture is carried on outside the urban area of Beijing, with wheat and maize (corn) being the main crops. Vegetables are also grown in the regions closer to the urban area in order to supply the city.

Beijing is increasingly becoming known for its innovative entrepreneurs and high-growth start-ups. This culture is backed by a large community of both Chinese and foreign venture capital firms, such as Sequoia Capital, whose head office in China resides in Chaoyang, Beijing. Though Shanghai is seen as the ec\onomic center of China, this is typically based on the numerous large corporations based there, rather than as a center for Chinese entrepreneurs. Beijing is also a world leader in the production and distribution of melamine and melamine-related compounds, (ammeline, ammelide and cyanuric acid).

The development of Beijing continues to proceed at a rapid pace, and the vast expansion of the city has created a multitude of problems. Beijing is known for its smog as well as the frequent "power-saving" programs instituted by the government. Citizens of Beijing as well as tourists frequently complain about the quality of the water supply and the cost of basic services such as electricity and natural gas. The major industrial areas outside of Beijing were ordered to clean their operations or leave the Beijing area in an effort to alleviate the smog that covers the city. Most factories, unable to update, have moved and relocated to other cities such as Xi'an, China.

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