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History of Beijing

The earliest record of Beijing identifies the city as "Ji", which means "thistle",a weedy plant with prickly leaves and purplish flowers. In the 11th century B.C. Ji was a vassal state of the Western Zhou Dynasty (c.11th century-771 B.C.). In the ensuing period known as Spring and Autumn(770-476 B.C.), Ji was annexed by its formidable neighbour, Yan,another vassal state of Western Zhou located to the southwest of Ji.The city of Ji served as the capital for the state of Yan until 226 B.C., when Yan was conquered by the powerful state of Qin which unified the whole of China five years later. Archaeologists point out that the site of the ancient city of Ji lies most probably in the southwest suburbs of present-day Beijing.

For over 1,000 years, the city of Ji remained an important military stronghold and trade centre in North China in spite of more than a dozen dynastic changes. This was the situation from 221 B.C., the year of the founding of Qin, the first feudal empire with centralized power in China's history, to the 10th century. During this period, the city was known as Zhuojun or Youzhou at different times, depending on the name of the region for which it served as the capital city.

In 938 the city of Ji was made the secondary capital of the Liao Dynasty founded by the khitan people, an ethnic minority which had built up its power in Northeast China. It was also called the Southern Capital because of its location in the southern part of Liao territory. Under the Liao, the city acquired for the first time the name of Yanjing, which is still being used in the names of many commercial and other establishments in Beijing today.

More than a century later, the Jurchens, another ethnic minority in China, founded the Jin Dynasty, vanquished Liao, moved their capital to Yanjing in 1153, and renamed it Middle Capital. In 1214, under the attacks of the powerful Mongol army, the rulers of Jin moved their capital to Bianjing, i.e., kaifeng in present-day Henan. The next year the Middle Capital of the Jin Dynasty fell under the iron hoofs of the Mongol cavalry.

In 1267 the Mongol ruler, Kublai Khan, gave orders for the construction of a new city to the northeast of the middle Capital of the Jin Dynasty. Four years later, he ascended the throne and founded the Yuan Dynasty(1271-1368)in the new capital which was still under construction. The project was completed in 1285. Given the name of Dadu (Great Capital), the city was described as "matchless in the world" by Marco Polo in his travels. By then Beijing had replaced the other historical capital cities, including Chang'an, Luoyang and Bianliang, as China's political centre, a position it retained through two more dynasties, the Ming (1368-1644) and the Qing(1644-1911).

A republican revolution broke out on October 10, 1911, forcing the Qing emperor to abdicate in February the next year. This marked the collapse of the last feudal dynasty in China and also the end of Beijing's history as the imperial capital. The next thirty years and more witnessed the city's ordeal ©¤harassment in the incessant wars among warlords, eight years of Japanese occupation from 1937 to 1945, and a return to Kuomintang rule in 1945.

On January 31, 1949, the peaceful liberation of the city was achieved by the People's Liberation Army through negotiations with the Kuomintang garrison authorities. On October 1 the same year, the founding of the People's Republic of China was announced from the gatetower of Tiananmen(the Gate of Heavenly Peace), and Beijing became its capital.

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