Names of Beijing

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A 1584 map of China by Abraham Ortelius (based on a manuscript map by Luiz Jorge de Barbuda (Ludovicus Georgius), with Beijing marked as C[ivitas] Paquin

"Beijing" is the atonal pinyin romanisation of the Mandarin pronunciation of the Chinese characters 北京, the Chinese name of the capital of the People's Republic of China.

The spelling Beijing was adopted for use within China upon the approval of Hanyu Pinyin on February 11, 1958, during the Fifth Session of the 1st National People's Congress. It became obligatory for all foreign publications issued by the People's Republic on 1 January 1979. It was gradually adopted by various news organizations, governments, and international agencies over the next decade.[1]


The Chinese characters ("north") and ("capital") together mean the "Northern Capital". The name was first used during the reign of the Ming dynasty's Yongle Emperor, who made his northern fief a second capital along with Nanjing (南京, the "Southern Capital") in 1403 after successfully dethroning his nephew during the Jingnan Campaign. The name was restored in 1949 at the founding of the People's Republic of China.


"Peking" is a spelling created by French missionaries of the 17th and 18th centuries. In De Christiana expeditione apud Sinas (1615), Matteo Ricci calls the city Pechinum.[2] (The English translation gives Pequin.[3]) "Peking" appears in A Description of the Empire of China (1735) by Jean-Baptiste Du Halde.[4][5] These early spellings may represent pronunciation in the Nanjing dialect, which was used as a lingua franca at this time,[6][7] or the various other southern Chinese languages (e.g., Cantonese, Hokkien and Hakka) used by the traders of the port cities visited by early European traders. Peking was the English name of the city until the adoption of pinyin. However, it is still employed adjectivally in terms such as "Pekingese", "Peking duck", "Peking Man" and various others. The name is retained at Peking University as well. The name remains in common and official use in many other languages.

Historical names of Beijing[edit]

Entrance to the Beiping Municipal Government office, 1935

The city has had many other names. The chronological list below sets out both the names of the city itself, and, in earlier times, the names of the administrative entities covering the city today.


In Chinese, the abbreviation of Beijing is its second character ("Capital"). This is employed, for example, as the prefix on all Beijing-issued licence plates.

In the Latin alphabet, the official abbreviation are the two initials of the region's characters: BJ.[12]

Beijing Capital International Airport's IATA code is PEK, based on the former spelling Peking.

Similarly named cities[edit]

In addition to Nanjing, several other East Asian cities have similar names in Chinese characters despite appearing dissimilar in English transliteration. The most prominent is Tokyo, Japan, whose Han script name is written 東京 (Dongjing, or "Eastern Capital"). 東京 was also a former name of Hanoi (as Đông Kinh or "Tonkin") in Vietnam during the Later Lê Dynasty. A former name of Seoul in South Korea was Gyeongseong, written in Han script as 京城 or "Capital City". Kyoto in Japan still bears the similar-meaning characters 京都: the character "都", du in Chinese, can also mean "capital".

The history of China since the Tang dynasty has also been full of secondary capitals with directional names. Under the Tang, these were Beidu ("north capital", at Taiyuan in Shanxi); Nandu ("south capital", first, Chengdu in Sichuan and, later, Jiangling in Hubei); Dongdu ("east capital", Luoyang in Henan); and Xidu ("west capital", Fengxiang in Shaanxi).[13]

There were two previous Beijings: one, the northern capital of the Northern Song at modern Daming in Hebei;[14] the other, the northern capital of the Jurchen Jin located at Ningcheng in Inner Mongolia.[15]

The Nanjing of the Northern Song was located at Shangqiu in Henan.[14] The Jurchen Jin located theirs at Kaifeng,[15]) which had been the Northern Song's "Dongjing".[14] The Jurchen Jin also had a Dongjing ("Eastern Capital"), which was, however, located at Liaoyang in Liaoning.[15] Apart from these, there were two Xijings (西, "Western Capital"): one was the "Western Capital" of the Northern Song dynasty, located at Luoyang;[14] the other was held by the Liao[16] and Jurchen Jin[15] at Datong. Liaoyang was the Zhongjing (中京, "Central Capital") of the Liao dynasty[16] and, finally, another Zhongdu ("Central Capital") was planned but never completed. It was the proposed capital of the Ming Dynasty mooted by the Hongwu Emperor in the 14th century, to be located on the site of his destroyed childhood village of Zhongli (鍾離), now Fengyang in Anhui.[17]


  1. ^ Lost Laowai. "From Peking to Beijing: A Long and Bumpy Trip". Accessed 21 Oct 2012.
  2. ^ De Christiana expeditione apud Sinas, pp. x, 321, 378
  3. ^ *A discourse of the Kingdome of China, taken out of Ricius and Trigautius, containing the countrey, people, government, religion, rites, sects, characters, studies, arts, acts ; and a Map of China added, drawne out of one there made with Annotations for the understanding thereof, and A continuation of the Jesuites Acts and observations in China till Ricius his death and some yeers after. Of Hanceu or Quinsay. (excerpts from De Christiana expeditione, in English translation) in Purchas his Pilgrimes, Volume XII (1625), Chapters VII and VIII. The two preceding chapters, V and VI, also contain related Jesuit accounts. Can be found in the full text of "Hakluytus posthumus" on
  4. ^ Du Halde, Jean-Baptiste, Description of the Empire of China (1735)
  5. ^ Lane Harris, "A 'Lasting Boon to All': A Note on the Postal Romanization of Place Names, 1896–1949". Twentieth Century China 34.1 (2008): 99 [1]
  6. ^ Coblin, W. South (2000a), "A brief history of Mandarin", Journal of the American Oriental Society, 120 (4): 537–552, doi:10.2307/606615, JSTOR 606615.
  7. ^ Liberman, Mark (18 August 2008). "How they say "Beijing" in Beijing". Language Log. Retrieved 10 May 2011.
  8. ^ Li, Dray-Novey & Kong 2007, p. 7
  9. ^ Denis Twitchett, Herbert Franke, John K. Fairbank, in The Cambridge History of China: Volume 6, Alien Regimes and Border States (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), p 454.
  10. ^ a b c "Beijing". The Columbia Encyclopedia (6th ed.). 2008.
  11. ^ a b Hucker, Charles O. "Governmental Organization of The Ming Dynasty", p. 5–6. Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, Vol. 21 (Dec. 1958). Harvard-Yenching Institute. Accessed 20 Oct 2012.
  12. ^ Standardization Administration of China (SAC). "GB/T-2260: Codes for the administrative divisions of the People's Republic of China".
  13. ^ Theobald, Ulrich. China Knowledge. "Chinese History - Tang Dynasty 唐 (618-907): Map and Geography". Accessed 19 Oct 2012.
  14. ^ a b c d Theobald, Ulrich. China Knowledge. "Chinese History - Song Dynasty 宋 (960-1279): Map and Geography". Accessed 19 Oct 2012.
  15. ^ a b c d Theobald, Ulrich. China Knowledge. "Chinese History - Jin dynasty 金 (1115–1234): Map and Geography". Accessed 19 Oct 2012.
  16. ^ a b Theobald, Ulrich. China Knowledge. "Chinese History - Liao Dynasty 遼 (907-1125): Map and Geography". Accessed 19 Oct 2012.
  17. ^ Eric N. Danielson, "The Ming Ancestor Tomb Archived 2013-09-27 at the Wayback Machine". China Heritage Quarterly, No. 16, December 2008.