Beijing seems to be in a constant state of flux, adapting to fit the modern world. Through the many name changes that the city has gone through, one thing has remained—Beijing has almost always been regarded as a capital city. Its rise to capital status predates its current name by thousands of years. Its story is one that interweaves history, loss, fusion, and triumph.
Roughly 600 years ago, before the name Beijing existed, the Mongols still ruled the area known as Dadu. It wasn’t until 1368, when Zhu Yuanzhang captured Dadu, that the city began to change. In the same year, Zhu Yuanzhang founded the Ming Dynasty, which would rule the land for many years to come. During this time, he chose to move the capital city from Nanjing to the Beijing area we know now. The relocation sparked renaming the city Beiping (Northern Peace), which marks the beginning of the long history of Beijing’s name.
Two years later, Zhu Yuanzhang bestowed the land capital upon his son, Zhu Di. Roughly 30 years after the city was passed on to the prince, Zhu Yuanzhang died, and the throne to the city was passed onto Zhu Di’s nephew, Zhu Yunwen. While Zhu Di’s nephew ruled over Beiping, Zhu Di took the time to build up a military. Well-trained and determined, they sought to militarize the northern capital, sparking a four-year civil war. Nephew and uncle fought until there was only one head of the city—Zhu Di won back the land his father had given him so many years before.
After regaining power, in 1403, Zhu Di renamed the city Beijing, meaning “Northern Capital.” After many years of turmoil, consistent change and many fallen empires, the Beiyang government took control of the capital not a century later, and Beijing’s name was restored to Beiping under the new rule.
Barely 50 years after the Beiyang government renamed the capital, the People’s Republic of China was born under Mao Zedong. On October 1, 1949, Mao Zedong stood at a podium in Tiananmen Square, marking the beginning of a new era, and imposed yet another name change. The city would again be called Beijing.
From its consistent name changes, to the adoption of simplified Chinese, to its many rulers, China’s capital city has been known by many aliases. Through all of the turmoil and urbanization, Beijing has become the capital we know now, and though the city itself seems to always be changing, the name remains Beijing.