Beijing is both an old and a new city-old in its cultural heritage, and new as the capital of the People's Republic of China. Today, a first impression is of fast development in preference to reverence for the past. Even so, many of the buildings here are steeped in the history of China over the last 800 years and it becomes rapidly obvious to any visitor how integral the city’s development is to the rise and fall of dynasties, and indeed, to Chinese civilization itself. Beijing history has some periods as following.
The story of Beijing starts a long time before recorded history. Fragments of the bones of ‘Peking Man', dated to a period about 300,000-500,000years ago, were discovered at the village of Zhoukoudian, outside the present city (see page 208).
Capital of Conquerors
During the Zhou (1027-221BC) and subsequent dynasties, a series of large established settlements grew around Beijing. But as the area was the focus of an unsettled frontier region far from the capital-Chang'an; now Xi'an-and other centers of power further south, it suffered a turbulent history.
For part of the period dominated by the Liao Kingdom (916-1125), the city was a secondary capital enjoying the pretty name (which is still used from Lime to time) of Yanjing. In the 12th century the ‘Golden Tartars' swept down from Manchuria and wrested the city for their own, establishing the State of Jin.
When Kublai became Great Khan of the eastern part of the Mongol empire in 1260, he decided to develop Beijing as his winter capital, calling it ‘Dadu', or Great Capital, and cook up residence in a palace in what is now Beihai Park.
By the time the Venetian explorer Marco Polo reached Beijing at the end of the 13th century, it was called Khanbaliq, the City of the Khan, and was already one of the world's great metropolises. From his long detailed description of the city, it is clear that Marco Polo was utterly overwhelmed by the size and opulence of the Mongol capital.