Seven hundred yeas ago, amazed by his unbelievable description of China, people asked Marco Polo whether his stories were true. He answered: What I have told you was not even half of what I saw.
Beijing was known to westerners for many years as Peking. So when you read Peking Duck on a menu, you should think of Beijing. Researching the history of Beijing brought to light interesting facts. One item I found interesting is the Peking Man, which is described in the bottom of this posting. If you are not interested in anthropology, skip that part. We are on the overnight train from Shanghai to Beijing, and should arrive tomorrow morning. We have no plans yet, but have arranged for a private English speaking guide rather than take group tours. We will be staying in a hotel called Michael's House of Beijing, located at S.Yard, 1 Zhiqiang Garden N., Haidian District. This small hotel was rated #1 by Tripadvisor. The hotel was kind enough to provide us with directions written in Chinese characters for the taxi from the train station to the hotel. The hotel also obtained train tickets for us for our transport back to Kowloon next week. A fantastic service that is required for those of us who do not read or speak Chinese. Can you imagine trying to buy train tickets by yourself in a station where there are no English printed words or even Arabic numbers printed as we westerners know them? Worth every cent of that 15% service charge by the hotel!
Beijing is one of the four ancient cities of China (together with Xian, Luoyang, Nanjing). Beijing the best preserved and famous around the world. Beijing is also known as a cradle of humanity. As far back as 700,000 years ago, the primitive tribe of ‘Peking Man’ was dwelling in Beijing’s Zhoukoudian area (southwest of Beijing city today). Africa has Lucy; China has Peiking Man. Beijing (originally named Ji of Jin) has been established as a city for more than 3,000 years. From 221 B.C., Beijing was a city of military importance in Northern China. From 938 A.D., Beijing took on the role of the capital of Peidu, Jinshangdu, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties.
Beijing first served as the capital of a united China in 1264 when Kubla Khan’s victorious Mongol forces set up what they named the Great Capital to rule their new empire from a northern location closer to the Mongol homelands. After the fall of the Yuan Dynasty in 1368, the capital was moved back to Nanjing until 1403. (Nanjing is commonly known as Nanking to westerners.) In 1403 Zhu Di, the 3rd emperor of the Ming Dynasty, moved the capital back to the North again and gave the city the name of Beijing. The city held onto the capital role through the Qing Dynasty and into the revolutionary ferment of the early 1900s. After the Kuomintang government moved the national capital to Nanjing, Beijing became Beiping, to emphasize that it was no longer a capital. However, the Kuomintang were defeated by the Communist forces; and in late Jan 1949, Beijing gracefully surrendered to the Communist regime to become the capital city of New China.
Here is a timeline snapshot for the city of Beijing:
Time Used Name Event
(Western Zhou) Jin City Pioneer city of China
(Qin Dynasty) Jin City Emperor Qin attacked Jin successfully
(Sui Dynasty) Zhuo Shire Population over 130,000
(Tang Dynasty) Youzhou Military center and business center
(Liao Dynasty) Nanjing As accompanying capital (now in Xicheng District)
(Jin Dynasty) Zhongdu Occupied by a minority group in northeast China
(Yuan Dynasty) Yanjing Occupied by Mongolia leader Genghis khan
(Yuan Dynasty) Dadu As capital city of a united country for the 1st time
(Ming Dynasty) Beiping Ming Dynasty established
(Ming Dynasty) Beijing Emperor Yongle changed the name to Beijing
(Ming Dynasty) Beijing Began to build Forbidden City
(Ming Dynasty) Beijing Move to new site (now in Beijing City center)
(Ming Dynasty) Beijing Central part of Beijing city now has formed
(Qing Dynasty) Beijing Qing Dynasty established
(Qing Dynasty) Beijing Yuanmingyuan was burned down by invaders
(Qing Dynasty) Beijing Eight-nation Allied Forces occupied Beijing
(Qing Dynasty) Beijing Last emperor Puyi was forced to abdicate the crown
1937 Beijing War of Resistance against Japan broke out
1945 Beiping Civil war between two fictions broke out
1949 Beijing The People's Republic of China was founded
The population of Beijing today is anybody's guess. The China Daily news states that as of 2010 the population of the city has now reached 22 million, which would make it the most heavily populated city on the planet. Other sources place the figure at 16 million to 17.5 million in year 2010.
Beijing was the site of the 2008 Olympic Games. We missed that because of our lack of a television, but supposedly it was spectacular. The facilities built for the Olympics are supposed to be tourist attractions, but we are not interested. We want to see the Forbidden City, The Great Wall and Tiananmen Square, and possibly the Ming Tombs. There are 45 places listed as being of interest to tourists. Don't think we will attempt to cram that many places into only 6 days. And we will skip the famous terracotta warriors in Xian because we have seen the life-size replicas in Houston.
If you don't share my interest in anthropology, stop reading now.
Peking Man: The Peking Man remains were found in the caves of Dragon Bone Hill near the village of Zhoukoudian southwest of Beijing between 1927 and 1937 by a number of Western and Chinese scientists. The remains were measured, described, and photographed. Accurate plaster casts and drawings were made. The Peking remains, now technically referred to as Homo erectus, are clearly human, but primitive. These people walked upright, made stone tools, and were hunters of large game animals. They differed from modern humans in that they had smaller brains, larger brow ridges, and large teeth. Both culturally as well as biologically, they bridge the gap between early and late human fossils.
Because of the outbreak of World War II, the physical remains themselves were lost. However, casts, photographs, measurements and other descriptive material survived the war and can be studied today. Creationists claim that the original remains were those of monkeys, not people. Creationists claim that the casts, photographs, measurements and other data are all manufactured to look more human than were the actual remains.
The creationist claim is untenable. First, Chinese scholars in recent years have excavated at the original Peking Man site, as well as in other places in China; and have uncovered new remains that look just like the older finds. In fact, two skull pieces found in 1966 fit exactly onto two pieces found in the 1930s and all are clearly part of a single skull. Why should modern Chinese scientists go to considerable trouble to continue a fraud perpetrated 50 years ago by western scientists? There is no reason to doubt the recent Chinese finds are genuine. Also, remains of Homo erectus have been found in many parts of Eurasia and Africa by scientists of many different nationalities.