Reigns of Ming and Qing Emperors

MING DYNA5TY (1368-1644)
Hongwu 1368-1398
Jianwen 1399-1402
Yongle 1403-1424
Hongxi 1425
Xuande 1426-1435
Zhengtong 1436-1449
Jingtai 1450-1456
Tianshun 1457-1464
Chenghua 1465-1487
Hongzhi 1488-1505
Zhengde 1506-1521
Jiajing 1522-1566
Longqing 1567-1572
Wanli 1573-1620
Taichang 1620
Tianqi 1621-1627
Chongzhen 1628-1644

QING DYNASTY (1644-1911)
Shunzhi 1644-1661
Kangxi 1661-1722
Yongzheng 1723-1735
Qianlong 1736-1795
Jiaqing 1796-1820
Daoguang 1821-1850
Xianfeng 1851-18 61
Tongzhi 1862-1874
Cuangxu 1875-1908
Xuantong 1909-1912

Northwest of the junction of jianguomen and the Second Ring Road, in the vicinity of the present Chinese Social Sciences Institute, is the site of the Ming and Qing Examination Hall (Gongyuan). Nothing is left of it now; its existence is recalled only by the streets-Gongyuan Dong Jie and Gongyuan Xijie-and a few hutongs named after it.
The system of imperial examinations, by which candidates were recruited into the ranks of the civil service, had its origins in the Han dynasty (206 BC-AD 220).As the government of a united and increasingly less feudal China grew more complex, an established, non-hereditary, corps of officials and administrators gradually became the accepted basis of political organization.

The competitive examinations originally tested competence in a broad range of subjects-economics, philosophy, administration-but by the Ming these had narrowed to a highly formalized syllabus based on interpretations of the Confucian classics. The increasingly orthodox responses demanded by examiners culminated in the very stylized ‘eight-legged essay’ (ba gu wen), a rigid literary form later critics condemned for its tendency LO inhibit originality and creative writing.

During the Ming and Qing, examinations were held not only in the capital but also in provincial centers during the autumn. By March, thousands of hopeful candidates would be assembling for the triennial examination in Beijing. For nine days they would be confined in row upon row of tiny cells, being fed meagre meals brought in from outside and closely guarded by invigilators, to scribble away at their ‘eight-legged essays’ in the hopes of dazzling rewards. Success meant being received by the emperor in one of the sumptuous halls of the Forbidden City and the privilege of joining the ruling elite. Indeed, by 1400, the examination was the only guaranteed means of entry into the imperial service. While the system was not immune to corruption-invigilators were bribed, cribs were smuggled in, sometimes in the form of minute embroidery on the cuffs of a robe-it did furnish scores of talented sons of peasant families with brilliant careers and political advancement.

The ideal of the loyal scholar-official has remained a figure of awe to the Chinese to this day. Stories of their erudition and civilizing influence on warrior-emperors abound. They tell of dutiful ministers who expounded the moral precepts and historical precedents set clown by ancient sages, and related them to the political issues of the day. By gentle reminders that an emperor’s mandate to rule depended on ‘government by righteousness,’ they curbed the worst excesses of their arrogant sovereigns.
This system of competitive entry to the civil service came to be adopted by countries outside of China but, by the late 19Lh century, profound scholarship was no longer an adequate qualification for statesmanship. The debacle of the Boxer Rebellion in 1900 forced Empress Dowager Cixi to initiate a number of reforms. These included abolishing the imperial examinations in 1905.

When his Majesty holds a grand and public court, those who attend it are seated in the following order. The table of the sovereign is placed on an elevation, and he takes his seat on the northern side, with his face turned towards the south; and next to him, on his left hand, sits the Empress. On his right hand are placed his sons, grandsons, and other persons connected with him by blood, upon seats somewhat tower, so that their heads are on a level with the Emperor’s feet. The other princes and the nobility have their places at still lower tables; and the same rules are observed with respect to the females, the wives of the sons, grandsons, and other relatives of the Great Khan being seated on the left hand, at tables in like manner gradually lower; then follow the wives of the nobility and military officers: so that all are seated according to their respective ranks and dignities, in the places assigned to them, and to which they are entitled.

The tables are arranged in such a manner that the Great khan, sitting on his elevated throne, can overlook the whole. It is not, however, to be understood that all who assemble on such occasions can be accommodated at tables. The greater part of the officers, and even of the nobles, on the contrary, eat, sitting upon carpets, in the halls; and on the outside stand a great multitude of persons who come from different countries, and bring with them many rare curiosities.
In the middle of the hall, where the Great Khan sits at a table, there is a magnificent piece of furniture, made in the form of a square coffer, each side of which is three paces in length, exquisitely carved in figures of animals, and gilt. 1t is hollow within, for the purpose of receiving a capacious vase, of pure gold, calculated to hold many gallons. On each of its four sides stands a smaller vessel, containing about a hogshead, one of which is filled with mare’s milk, another with that of the camel, and so of the others, according to the hinds of beverage in use. Within this buffet are also the cups or flagons belonging to his Majesty, for serving the liquors. Some of them are of beautiful gilt plate. Their size is such that, when filled with wine or other liquor, the quantity would be sufficient for eight or ten men.
Before every two persons who have seats at the tables, one of these flagons is placed, together with a kind of ladle, in the form of a cup with a handle, also of plate; to be used not only for taking the wine out of the flagon, but for lifting it to the head. This is observed as well with respect to the women as the men. The quantity and richness of the plate belonging to his Majesty is quite incredible.

At each door of the grand hall, or of whatever part the Great Khan happens to be in, stand two officers, o f a gigantic figure, one on each side, with staves in their hands, for the purpose of preventing persons from touching the threshold with their feet, and obliging them to step beyond it. If by chance any one is guilty of this offence, these janitors take from him his garment, which he must redeem for money; or, when they do not take the garment, they inflict on him such number of Wows as they have authority for doing. But, as strangers may be unacquainted with the prohibition, officiers are appointed to introduce and warn them.
The numerous persons who attend at the sideboard of his Majesty, and who serve him with victuals and drink, are all obliged to cover their noses and mouths with handsome veils or cloths of worked silk, in order that his victuals or his wine may not be affected by their breath. When drink is called for by him, and the page in waiting has presented it, he retires three paces and kneels clown, upon which the courtiers, and all who are present, in 1ike manner make their prostration. At the same moment all the musical instruments, of which there is a numerous band, begin to play, and continue to do so until he has ceased drinking, when all the company recover their posture. This reverential salutation is made as often as his Majesty drinks. It is unnecessary to say anything of the victuals, because it may well be imagined that their abundance is excessive.

Nothing remains from the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234) capital, Zhongdu. Besieged by the invading Mongols for six years, it was finally razed to the ground for the building of Genghis Khan’s Dadu. Remains of the Yuan dynasty city wall, which had impressed Marco Polo, can be seen between the northern legs of the third and fourth ring roads. Buildings, monuments and relics from the Ming arid Qing capital of Beijing, being more recent, are relatively abundant.

Yet in today’s sprawling Beijing the past is well hidden by the present and future. Cranes and scaffolding are never far, and arriving at the city’s airport, or the new monolithic West Railway station, and making the trip into town, it is difficult to see anything of antiquity. Guide books, tour brochures and the foreign press tend to portray an image of a benighted populace, dressed in green Mao suits and caps, living in the shadows of quaint pagodas and eaved pavillions. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Be prepared to see huge billboards advertising Hitachi, Motorola and Hennessy Cognac, smoke-glass fronted skyscrapers, real estate developments, 4-lane expressways and ring roads jammed with traffic. See women flaunting femininity, with the aid of make up, mousse and designer fashions which were frowned upon for decades; see men flashing their fortunes by posing with mobile phones. This is Deng Xiaoping’s legacy of reform and opening.

It’s all the more remarkable when you realize that many of the other great sites of the city are reminiscent of times when reactionary politics, isolationism and, seemingly, xenophobia were in command.

Mao’s portrait still adorns Tiananmen, the Gate of Heavenly Peace, from where he proclaimed the foundation of the People’s Republic on 1st October 1949 with a speech and raising of a new flag. Later, in l966, he received millions of fanatical Red Guards in the square below at the height of his cult status. Fittingly, or unfittingly, depending on one’s judgement of history, the late chairman still presides over the raising of the Chinese flag every day. The ‘Sentry of the Motherland’ march out through the archway under his portrait at dawn, hall the traffic and raise the flag. And 400 meters south is Mao’s mausoleum where his remains are on show in a crystal sarcophagus.

Tiananmen is an architectural, and therefore historical interface. Austere, Stalinesque buildings rim the square Lo the east and west, while to the north lies the largest collection of ancient palacial buildings in the world: the Forbidden City.
The maze of golden-roofed buildings and courtyards was home to every Ming and Qing emperor from 1420 until Pu Yi, the last emperor, left in 1924. In this citadel isolated by a moat and high perimeter walls that no ordinary person saw behind, some 23 emperors, their families, ministers, eunuchs and concubines lived in a world apart from the masses, with emperors believing themselves to possess the mandate of heaven for ruling the vast Middle Kingdom outside.
As if a mile were a foot, Ming emperors regarded their huge empire just like a palace ground which needed a boundary wall for security, and with millions of subjects under their direction ordered the construction of the strongest Great Wall in history through the Yanshan mountains co the north of Beijing. US President Richard Nixon, walking on the Wall in 1972, summed up its magnificence with masterly understatement: ‘Yes, it really is a great wall.’

China has changed beyond recognition since that Ping-Pong diplomacy brokered between Beijing and Washington in the early 1970s. Perhaps the most remarkable transformation has been in the people. They are one, or rather many, of the great sights of China.
In Beijing’s downtown areas a foreign face hardly causes a head to turn, except from those brothers and sisters from outside, the term for migrant workers from labor-exporting provinces such as Sichuan, Anhui and Henan, who flock to the capital to work as construction workers and domestics.

Individualism is the backlash to enforced collectivism that was imposed for so long. More people want Lo be different, crave to be successful and show it off. The country has suddenly become a land of businessmen, and Beijing has its unfair share. Kickbacks are essential operating costs to grease the palms of obstructive bureaucrats into giving their permission to make things happen.
The economy rinds itself somewhere between a semi-dismantled, centrally-planned system and a semi-constructed, market economy. Many Beijing families are microcosms of the national situation: typically, one spouse sticks with the state employer for the socialist life preserver of an apartment and eligibility to a host of state benefits, while the other will xiahai, or plunge into the commercial sea, and try to make a fortune. But another plunge, xia gang, into unemployment, is now being inflicted on surplus staff by the restructuring of state enterprises.
Money is the hottest topic of conversation. At the advent of Deng’s economic reforms in the early 1980s, it was stressed that a good communist did not have to be poor, and LO get rich was glorious. Wealth seeking suddenly became politically correct. On the streets these maxims were popularly summarized as xiang qian kan, looking ahead and looking at money, quoted in a recent social survey of Beijing urbanites as being the philosophy which best describes their aim in life.
The 90s also saw zhao le, or having fun and pleasure seeking, gathering momentum. Now restaurants are everywhere. A walk down a Beijing street is akin to a culinary tour of China. And there are some foreign concessions worth visiting. McDonald’s and KFC burst at weekends as Beijing’s parents cater to their little emperors’ needs, while granny looks on dotingly. Nights are livelier, too. While most of Beijing becomes increasingly addicted to TV, the young, beautiful, rich, curious and bad go out to play. Entertainments range from rock and roll Lo jazz gigs, from karaoke to song-and-dance-hall action. Some establishments are more than just venues for social intercourse, a chat and a tipple.

Vices which Mao fought ruthlessly for so long to eradicate are now rampant again. Deng opened China’s door co the world and gave the people more than they ever had. Now departed, the side-effects of his reforms-money worship, hedonism, rising corruption and crime-have been targeted by campaigns to put the good heart back in the nation.

But for all these problems, China to clay is much more human and relaxed than it was, even a decade ago. As any visitor to Beijing will quickly find out, most Chinese are Friendly, flexible and fun loving. And their- likes are making China less or a People’s and more of a people’s republic with each passing day.

Beijing is a hot town? In fact it is, although it’s easy to forgive first-time Western visitors their reluctance to dispute that claim. Given the tone of the popular media coverage in the West, it’s hardly the impression one might form. For many, Beijing still conjures up powerful and painful images from the not-too-distant past. Even for those aware of China’s rapidly rising economic might, conceptions still often focus on political and cultural repression. Sadly, visitors to Beijing who don’t take the time to explore beyond “must-see” attractions like the Great Wall and che Forbidden City often come away with the impression of a sprawling city built on an inhuman scale, its imposingly broad boulevards laid out in soulless rectilinear efficiency. The reality is far more complex, and more observant first-time visitors are invariably surprised by the level of sophistication, cosmopolitanism and openness they find. Over the last decade, Beijing has emerged as the unrivaled center of contemporary culture in Greater China, and may well be the most culturally dynamic and creative city in East Asia. The capital is the firmament in which new movements are born. It is home to the most prestigious academies, the best studios, the hippest venues, the most influential media and critics-and to the commercial apparatus chat ultimately sustains culture. Anyone who spends Lime in China comes quickly to the realization that it’s not freewheeling, fashionable Shanghai that dominates the Chinese culture scene, but rather gray, dusty Beijing. Proximity to the political center has done more to stimulate than stymie the development of contemporary culture. The weight of authority has emboldened more creative individuals than it has broken.

It’s the profusion of culture that ultimately gives the city its sizzle, most conspicuous in Beijing’s lively nightlife scene. On any given night, there are rock concerts-Beijing is home to some 400 bands playing every conceivable genre-and art exhibitions, international DJs playing to packed clubs and discos, dance performances, film screenings, plays and fashion shows. The Sanlitun nightlife district alone boasts over a hundred pubs to suit every taste and lifestyle choice.

The Party’s town has become a real party town, and if it’s gotten less Red, it’s gotten ever more red-hot.

It is worth exploring why it is that Beijing, and not Shanghai, has become China’s unquestioned cultural hothouse. Part of this lies in the makeup of the city’s expatriate community. In the first decade of reforms, Beijing was the more open city-home then as now to far more foreigners than Shanghai, and of a type more apt to stay longer, learn Mandarin, and interact with local people. While Shanghai tended to attract foreign business people, it was students, diplomats, journalists and scholars who formed the nucleus of Beijing’s expat scene in che1980s. Through personal contact, this group was critical in exposing young Beijingers to a world of Western culture from which they had long been cu c off-the visual arts, film, literature, rock music. Today, some 200,000 foreigners reside in Beijing, and they continue to play an important role as patrons and consumers of Beijing’s cultural output.

But the expatriate presence would have made no difference were it not for amore basic affinity Beijingers have coward culture. The traditional arts-painting, calligraphy, poetry, music, drama-have always been more closely tied to officials than to merchants. Traditionally, Chinese intellectuals have regarded themselves as owing a double duty both to governance and to culture, and the modern Beijing cognoscenti still pride themselves on their awareness of culture and feel bound to participate in its creation. In imperial times, cultural sophisticates always gravitated toward the capital, just as the cream of the creative crop makes its way to Beijing today. Rare is the artist who can claim to be somebody unless he’s somebody in Beijing-the uncontested proving ground for filmmakers and painters, rock musicians and playwrights alike.

Culinary artists have migrated to Beijing as well, and what was once a gastronomically challenged city has come to eclipse Hong Kong and rival Taipei as the discerning diner’s destination of choice. With talented chefs from every far-flung corner or the country, Beijing now offers excellent eateries representing the cuisines of every region of China-Sichuan, Hunan, Canton, and dozens of other regional flavors known only co seasoned gastronomes. As Beijingers have a taste for strongly spiced food, it’s no surprise that the peppery preparations of Sichuan have been particularly well-received, and even Sichuan natives themselves admit that Beijing’s Sichuan restaurants do justice to their native cookery. Increasingly cosmopolitan tastes have helped to buoy the selection of international restaurants, too, and native Beijingers often outnumber foreigners in the city’s many non-Chinese restaurants. Nearly every world can now be sampled in Beijing, with new restaurants opening too fast to track.

Beijing is an ancient city that has served as the Middle Kingdom’s capital for over 600 years, and its ancient attractions-its palaces and temples, its labyrinthine alleyway neighborhoods and quaintly traditional courtyard homes-remain its principal draw for visitors from abroad, and rightly so. But equally compelling is the dynamism and the dizzying pace of change. Young Beijingers have proven up to the challenges that rapid modernization has brought, stepping with confident alacrity and impressive savvy into the age of wireless technology and the Internet. The stark and often startling contrasts between the very old and the futuristic are part of the quirky charm of Beijing.

Beijingers themselves are the city’s real treasure. Lazy, proud, garrulous, hopelessly addicted to politics and punditry-so the capital’s denizens are satirized elsewhere in China, and few Beijingers would really object to the essence of this caricature. The city’s full of real characters-wry and sardonic, given to spewing earthy wisdom and potty-mouthed poetry spoken in the musical torrent of gargling ‘r’ sounds that is the Beijing dialect.

With so much happening in Beijing, choices are difficult for the visitor with limited time. Fortunately, there are excellent English-language magazines offering up-to-date listings of events and venues as well as current pieces on personalities and trends in China. Check out that’s Beijing, Beijing Journal (monthly) and City Weekend (bi-weekly)-available at many bars, restaurants and hotels around town-to Find out what’s happening.

Today, with society more open than ever, Beijingers are no longer reliant on expatriates to learn about what’s happening in the world beyond. Satellite television, the Internet (to which Chinese have an ease of access that would surprise most westerners) and-for better or for worse-the ubiquity of pirated CDs and DVDs have all brought the world much closer Lo Beijing. The contemporary arts in China-visual arts, music, film, theater-are passing out of their imitative phase and into their own: finding a confident voice that can be heard loud and clear in hot, happening Beijing.

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