China is a large, populous, and influential country, and there are undoubtedly many cities that could have served as capital. Of course, we know that Beijing was ultimately selected. But have you ever stopped to think about why that is? Why is Beijing the capital of China, and not another city, like Shanghai or Hong Kong?
In this post, we’ll discuss the history of China and work towards a better picture of how the capital of China was picked.
The Capital of China
The area where present-day Beijing is located was once a trade station for nomads and others who lived north of the mountains and and in the Huabei Plain. It was accessed by four roads. The first city to emerge in this area was Ji, and it cropped up about 3,000 years ago. Southwest of Ji was a city called Yan, and the two cities did not get along. At one point in time, Yan defeated Ji and took over its location. During the period of Warring States, Yan became its own kingdom.
In 221 BCE, Qin Shihuang united these various warring kingdoms, becoming the first Emperor of China. With Yan no longer in existence, the area that would become Beijing was nothing more than a waystation between the steppe and civilization—the final stop before heading into the Northern Hills and the world beyond.
In the 10th century, when the Khitan people conquered sections of Northern China, the area of Beijing was no longer an outpost. It became a capital city and was the first port from the steppe.
In 1271, Kublai Khan established the Yuan dynasty, which ruled over present-day Mongolia, China, and Korea. He assumed the title, Emperor of China, and in 1279 Beijing (then called Dadu) became capital of China. Khan would work to further develop the city, laying the groundwork for Beijing to become the city it is today.
Why is Beijing the Capital of China?
Beijing hasn’t always been the capital of China. With such a long history and areas being conquered by various groups and peoples, there have been numerous capitals throughout the country. Most of these capitals existed during the Warring States period, and it is recognized that there were “Six Ancient Capitals of China.”
But Beijing’s long history as an important city has played a large role in why it is capital today. In fact, tradition and history are probably the best explanations for why Beijing is the capital of China. Beijing has been capital of China from 1279 onward, with a couple of exceptions. It was not capital from 1368 to 1420, and from 1928 to 1949. But given this historical importance, it’s no real surprise it remains capital today.
Beijing currently sits 70 miles west of the Bohai Sea and is bordered by the Hebei Province to the north, west, south, and a small portion in the east, with Tianjin bordering it to the southeast. It has a variety of different transportation hubs, including roads, railways, and airports.
Beijing has more or less always been in this area, dating back to when it was known as Ji. That city may not have been in the exact location the city is in now, but it was pretty close. After the Mongols overtook the area and were then chased out of the country, the city of Beijing was built on those foundations.
Today, Beijing is the cultural, educational, and political center of China. The history of the country can be seen in the architecture, and some of the roads and buildings date back to the time it was occupied by the Mongols.
The Great Wall of China is in this area, built to protect the people from another Mongol invasion. And the Forbidden City is located at the heart of Beijing. The historical is mixed with the modern, and it’s possible to find skyscrapers and modern amenities in addition to historic structures in the area.
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