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Names of Beijing

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Names of Beijing

"Beijing" is the atonal pinyin romanization of the Mandarin pronunciation of the Chinese characters 北京, the Chinese name of the capital of the People's Republic of China.

The spelling Beijing was adopted for use within China upon the approval of [1]


The Chinese characters ("north") and ("capital") together mean the "Northern Capital". The name was first used during the reign of the Ming Dynasty's Yongle Emperor, who made his northern fief a second capital along with Nanjing (南京, the "Southern Capital") in 1403 after successfully dethroning his nephew during the Jingnan Campaign. The name was restored in 1949 at the founding of the People's Republic of China.


A 1584 map of China by Luiz Jorge de Barbuda (Ludovicus Georgius), with Beijing marked as C[ivitas] Paquin

Peking is the Chinese Postal Map Romanization of the same characters 北京. The postal romanization, which began to be formed in the late nineteenth century, took over and incorporated the already established spelling "Peking", which was based on southern Mandarin pronunciation.[2] It was the English name of Beijing for much of the 19th and 20th centuries and is still employed adjectivally in terms such as "Pekingese", "Peking duck" and "Peking Man". The name remains in common and official use in many other languages.

The name Peking (along with the similar "Nanking" for Nanjing) originated with Western missionaries four hundred years ago (e.g. Latin: Pechinum used in Matteo Ricci's De Christiana expeditione apud Sinas,[3] and Pequin in its English translation in Purchas his Pilgrimes[4]). The name corresponds to the Middle Chinese pronunciation kjaeng[5] prior to a phonetic shift from [kʲ] to [tɕ][6] (the sound represented by the pinyin letter j) and preserved among the southern dialects (e.g., Cantonese, Amoy, Min Nan, and Hakka) used by the traders of the port cities visited by early European traders.[7]

Historical names of Beijing

The city has held many other names. The chronological list below sets out both the names of the city itself, and, in earlier times, the names of the administrative entities which today fall within the boundaries of the city.

  • Ji and Jicheng: The first major known settlement was the eponymous capital of the ancient Ji (t , s , p Jì, w Chi) state between the 11th and 7th centuries BC. The settlement was also known as Jicheng (t 薊城, p Jìchéng, w Chi-cheng, "Ji City"). It was located in the current city's Guang'anmen neighborhood south of the modern Beijing West Railway Station.
  • Guangyang: Upon its conquest by Qin, Ji was made the capital of the Guangyang Commandery (t 廣陽郡, s 广阳郡, p Guǎngyángjùn, w Kuang-yang Chün).
  • Fanyang and Yuyang: During the Han Dynasty, the commandery was renamed Yuyang (t 漁陽郡, s 渔阳郡, p Yúyángjùn, w Yü-yang Chün) and the city itself renamed Fanyang (t 范陽, s 范阳, p Fànyáng, w Fan-yang).
  • Jixian: From the 1st century BC until at least the AD 4th-century Western Jin Dynasty, Jixian (t 薊縣, s 蓟县, p Jìxiàn, w Chi-hsien) served as the capital of Youzhou province.
  • Nanjing: In the 10th and 12th centuries, the northerly Liao Dynasty restored the name Yanjing. They also (ironically) knew the city as Nanjing (南京, p Nánjīng, w Nan-ching) as it was the southernmost of their secondary capitals.
  • Zhongdu: During the 12th-century Later Jin Dynasty, it was known as Zhongdu (中都, "Central Capital").
  • Khanbaliq: The Mongolian Yuan Dynasty originally restored the name Yanjing before constructing a new capital adjacent to the former settlement. This settlement was called Dadu (大都, "Great Capital")[8] in Chinese and Daidu in Mongolian.[9] (As Khanbaliq, it was noted as Cambuluc[10] by Marco Polo.) This city gradually absorbed the former settlements around the area.
  • Beiping: Under the Ming Dynasty, the city itself was initially known as Beiping (北平, p Běipíng, w Pei-p'ing). The name reads literally as "Northern Peace", although its usage and connotations are closer to the idea of "Northern Plains".
  • Shuntian and Beizhili: When the usurping Yongle Emperor established his base of Beiping as a secondary capital in 1403, he renamed the town Shuntian (t 順天, s 顺天, p Shùntiān, w Shün-t'ien, lit. "Obedient to Heaven") and the province-level region surrounding it Beizhili (t 北直隸, s 北直隶, p Běizhílì, w Pei-chih-li) to mimic the names of Yingtian (modern Nanjing) and the province of Zhili that surrounds it.[11]
  • Jingshi and Beijing: When the palace was finally completed in 1420, the Yongle Emperor moved the majority of his court north. The name Jingshi (t 京師, s 京师, p Jīngshī, w Ching-shih, lit. "Capital") ceased to be used for Yingtian and was now employed for Shuntian. The area around Yingtian became known as Nanjing while Beijing was used to describe the area directly administered by the capital (generally modern Hebei).[11]
  • Peiping (北平, "Beiping" in modern pinyin), in both its connotations, was restored as the name in 1928 by the Republic of China following its reconquest of Beijing from the warlords during the Northern Expedition.[10] The occupying Japanese in 1937 imposed the name Peking (Beijing), then with their surrender in 1945, the Nationalist Government restored "Beiping". In 1949, the official name again reverted to "Peking" (the Postal Romanization) when the Communists conquered the capital during the Chinese Civil War and founded the People's Republic of China. As noted above, the pinyin romanization, "Beijing", was adopted for use within the country in 1958, and for international use in 1979. The American government continued to follow the Nationalist government in using "Beiping" until the late 1960s.[10]


In Chinese, the abbreviation of Beijing is its second character ("Capital"). This is employed, for example, as the prefix on all Beijing-issued licence plates.

In the Latin alphabet, the official abbreviation are the two initials of the region's characters: BJ.[12] However, among native English speakers, the abbreviation is less common and sometimes produces misunderstandings.[13]

Similarly-named cities

In addition to Nanjing, several other East Asian cities have similar names in Chinese characters despite appearing dissimilar in English transliteration. The most prominent is Tokyo, Japan, whose kanji name is written 東京 or "Eastern Capital". 東京 was also a former name of Hanoi (as Đông Kinh or "Tonkin") in Vietnam during the Later Lê Dynasty. A former name of Seoul in South Korea was Gyeongseong, written in hanja as 京城 or "Capital City". Kyoto in Japan still bears the similar-meaning characters 京都: the character "都", du in Chinese, can also mean "capital".

The history of China since the Tang dynasty has also been full of secondary capitals with directional names. Under the Tang, these were Beidu ("north capital", at Taiyuan in Shanxi); Nandu ("south capital", first, Chengdu in Sichuan and, later, Jiangling in Hubei); Dongdu ("east capital", Luoyang in Henan); and Xidu ("west capital", Fengxiang in Shaanxi).[14]

There were two previous Beijings: one, the northern capital of the Northern Song at modern Daming in Hebei;[15] the other, the northern capital of the Jurchen Jin located at Ningcheng in Inner Mongolia.[16]

The Nanjing of the Northern Song was located at Shangqiu in Henan.[15] The Jurchen Jin located theirs at Kaifeng,[16]) which had been the Northern Song's "Dongjing".[15] The Jurchen Jin also had a Dongjing ("Eastern Capital"), which was, however, located at Liaoyang in Liaoning.[16] Apart from these, there were two Xijings (西京, "Western Capital"): one was the "Western Capital" of the Northern Song dynasty, located at Luoyang;[15] the other was held by the Liao[17] and Jurchen Jin[16] at Datong. Liaoyang was the Zhongjing (中京, "Central Capital") of the Liao dynasty[17] and, finally, another Zhongdu ("Central Capital") was planned but never completed. It was the proposed capital of the Ming Dynasty mooted by the Hongwu Emperor in the 14th century, to be located on the site of his destroyed childhood village of Zhongli (鍾離), now Fengyang in Anhui.[18]


  1. ^ Lost Laowai. "From Peking to Beijing: A Long and Bumpy Trip". Accessed 21 Oct 2012.
  2. ^ Lane Harris, "A 'Lasting Boon to All': A Note on the Postal Romanization of Place Names, 1896–1949". Twentieth Century China 34.1 (2008): 99 [1]
  3. ^ De Christiana expeditione apud Sinas, pp. x, 321, 378
  4. ^ *A discourse of the Kingdome of China, taken out of Ricius and Trigautius, containing the countrey, people, government, religion, rites, sects, characters, studies, arts, acts ; and a Map of China added, drawne out of one there made with Annotations for the understanding thereof, and A continuation of the Jesuites Acts and observations in China till Ricius his death and some yeers after. Of Hanceu or Quinsay. (excerpts from De Christiana expeditione, in English translation) in Purchas his Pilgrimes, Volume XII (1625), Chapters VII and VIII. The two preceding chapters, V and VI, also contain related Jesuit accounts. Can be found in the full text of "Hakluytus posthumus" on
  5. ^ Baxter, Wm. H. & Sagart, Laurent. Baxter–Sagart Old Chinese Reconstruction PDF (1.93 MB), p. 63. 2011. Accessed 11 October 2011.
  6. ^ Coblin, W. South. "A Brief History of Mandarin". Journal of the American Oriental Society 120, no. 4 (2000): 537–52.
  7. ^  
  8. ^ Li, Dray-Novey & Kong 2007, p. 7
  9. ^ Denis Twitchett, Herbert Franke, John K. Fairbank, in The Cambridge History of China: Volume 6, Alien Regimes and Border States (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), p 454.
  10. ^ a b c "Beijing".  
  11. ^ a b Hucker, Charles O. "Governmental Organization of The Ming Dynasty", p. 5–6. Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, Vol. 21 (Dec. 1958). Harvard-Yenching Institute. Accessed 20 Oct 2012.
  12. ^ Standardization Administration of China (SAC). "GB/T-2260: Codes for the administrative divisions of the People's Republic of China".
  13. ^ See, e.g., Fat Keng Yu. Confused & Chinese. "BJ does not mean Beijing to Americans". 23 Aug 2008. Accessed 20 Oct 2012.
  14. ^ Theobald, Ulrich. China Knowledge. "Chinese History - Tang Dynasty 唐 (618-907): Map and Geography". Accessed 19 Oct 2012.
  15. ^ a b c d Theobald, Ulrich. China Knowledge. "Chinese History - Song Dynasty 宋 (960-1279): Map and Geography". Accessed 19 Oct 2012.
  16. ^ a b c d Theobald, Ulrich. China Knowledge. "Chinese History - Jin Dynasty 金 (1115–1234): Map and Geography". Accessed 19 Oct 2012.
  17. ^ a b Theobald, Ulrich. China Knowledge. "Chinese History - Liao Dynasty 遼 (907-1125): Map and Geography". Accessed 19 Oct 2012.
  18. ^ Eric N. Danielson, "The Ming Ancestor Tomb". China Heritage Quarterly, No. 16, December 2008.
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