Learn Chinese -The Origin and Evolution of Beijing- Chinese Online Class

Basing on the written historical records available now, Beijing city was founded about 3040years ago, when it was called Ji, the capital of a feoff in Zhou Dynasty. In Sui Dynasty, the local government of Zhuo Shire was seated in Ji, which was renamed to Youzhou in Tang Dynasty. In Liao Dynasty, Ji became a secondary capital and was renamed to Yanjing. Afterwards, Jin Dynasty officially moved its capital here and named it as Zhongdu – the central capital of the kingdom. When the Mongolians came, they built a new city outside of Zhongdu with the name of Dadu, When Ming Dynasty was founded, and the Chinese rebuilt Dadu again and first named itBeijing. When Qing Dynasty was founded, the Manchurians continued to take Beijing as the national capital for the last feudal kingdom in Chinese history.

The evolution of Ji

The term of Ji first appeared in Record of Music, an article of Book of Rites, which reads, “After defeated Yin, King Wu ordered to return back to Shang. Before his carriage moved away, he feoffed Ji to the descendants of Yellow Emperor”. This record indicates that after King Wu of the West Zhou Dynasty had wiped out the old forces of Shang Dynasty, he immediately set his hands on feoffing Ji to the descendants of Yellow Emperor. Ji is the name of a north vassal state affiliated to West Zhou Dynasty, and is also the site of the capital for the vassal state. Therefore, at least as early as in the beginning of West Zhou Dynasty, there was a city called Ji near the present Beijing city.

Yan and Ji

In the early years of West Zhou Dynasty, when King Wu rewarded out Ji, there was another vassal state in the north – Yan. The records of Annals of Yan Zhaogong, one section of Shiji, says, “After King Wu overthrew King Zhou of Shang Dynasty, he conferred north Yan on Duke Zhao”. North Yan mentioned here is the Yan State that we often talk about in Chinese history. Thus, at the beginning of West Zhou Dynasty, there were actually two vassal states in and around Beijing city – one is Ji state, the other one next to it is Yan.

Then comes a question – where was the original feoff of Yan state bestowed by King Wu of the West Zhou Dynasty? For many years, historians restlessly argued about it, but in vain to come to a final conclusion. Later on, one ancient city site and graves in large scale of the West Zhou Dynasty were found in Liuli River Fangshan District in southwest of Beijing, and enough burial items were unearthed to suggest a happy answer to the pending issue on where the original Yan feoff was really located. When time walked to East Zhou Dynasty, the political situation around Beijingwitnessed drastic changes, as the Yan state to the south of Ji rose in power and gradually merged Ji. Afterwards, Yan moved its capital to the city of Ji, and henceforth the term City of Ji – Capital of Yan came into being. Thousands of years later, Beijing was also called Yanjing which could trace its very source from this story.

The chariot and horse pit of a Yan state tomb unearthed in Liuli River, Fangshan District.

To us, the most interesting would be the exact location of Ji city, namely where was it actually in the present Beijing city? Are there any remains from ancient Ji city buried somewhere in Beijing? Li Daoyuan, the great geographer of North Wei Dynasty (386- AD543) provided some trustworthy notes on the origin of Ji city in his famous book Shuijing Zhu, a commentary on waterways classic. He also elaborated on the relationship between Ji city and Ji mound. Li Daoyuan says, “In the ancient times, King Wu of Zhou Dynasty granted Ji to the descendants of Yao the great, and now in the northwest inside the city there is a place called Ji mound, after which the city is named, just as the cases for Qufu in Lu state and Yingqiu in Qi state, both of which got their names because the cities are next to a distinct local landscape – an earth mound rising on the ground”.


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