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 (to the right which is north on the map)

"Beijing" is from pinyin Běijīng, which is romanized from 北京, the Chinese name for this city. The pinyin system of transliteration was approved by the Chinese government in 1958, but little used until 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.


Portugal was the first European country to contact China in modern times. In Portuguese, the city is called Pequim. This name appeared in the letters of Francis Xavier in 1552.[2] It transferred to English as "Pekin"[3] and to French as Pékin.

Jesuit missionary Martino Martini used "Peking" in De bello Tartarico historia (The Tartary [Manchu] War) (1654) and Novus Atlas Sinensis (New Atlas of China) (1655).[4] In 1665, Martini's work was reissued as part of Atlas Maior (great atlas), a much-praised atlas by Dutch publisher Joan Blaeu.

Before 1842's Treaty of Nanking, the only Chinese port cities open for trade with western countries were Canton (廣州 Guǎngzhōu), Amoy (廈門 Xiàmén) and Chusan (舟山 Zhōushān) wherein the predominant spoken languages were Cantonese or Min Chinese. In Cantonese, 北京 (Běijīng) is bak1 ging1, and in Southern Min Chinese, Pak-kiaⁿ. As with many other long-established Chinese names and terms, "Peking" came from those languages rather than Mandarin, the native areas of which were long inaccessible to westerners.

In English, both "Pekin" and "Peking" remained common until the 1890s, when the Imperial Post Office adopted Peking.[5]

Beginning in 1979, the Chinese government encouraged use of pinyin. The New York Times adopted "Beijing" in 1986,[6] with all major American media soon following. Elsewhere in the Anglosphere, the BBC switched in 1990.[7] "Peking" is still employed in terms such as "Pekingese", "Peking duck", "Peking Man" and various others, as well as being retained in the name of Peking University.

Historical names of Beijing[edit]

Historical Names of Beijing
Year City Name Dynasty Notes
c. 1045
City of Ji 薊城 Zhou,
Warring States
[Note 1]
221 BC Qin [Note 2]
106 BC -
318 AD
City of Ji
Youzhou 幽州
Han, Wei, Western Jin (晉) [Note 3]
319 Later Zhao [Note 4]
350 Eastern Jin (晉) [Note 5]
352–57 Former Yan [Note 6]
370 Former Qin [Note 7]
385 Later Yan [Note 8]
397 Northern Dynasties [Note 9]
607 Zhuojun 涿郡 Sui [Note 10]
616 Youzhou Tang [Note 11]
742 Fanyang 范阳
759 Yanjing 燕京
765 Youzhou
907 Later Liang
911 Yan (Five Dynasties)
913 Later Liang
923 Later Tang
936 Later Jin
938 Nanjing 南京 Liao [Note 12]
1122 Northern Liao
Yanjing Jin (金)
1123 Yanshan 燕山 Song
1125 Yanjing Jin (金)
1151 Zhongdu 中都 [Note 13]
1215 Yanjing Yuan
1271 Dadu 大都
1368 Beiping 北平 Ming [Note 14]
1403 Beijing 北京
1644 Qing
1912 Republic of China
1928 Beiping
1937 Beijing Provisional Government of the Republic of China [Note 15]
1940 Beiping Republic of China
Beijing People's Republic of China
  Capital of regional dynasty or kingdom
  Capital of China
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 license plates.

In the Latin alphabet, the official abbreviation are the two initials of the region's characters: BJ.[24]

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

Similarly named cities[edit]

In addition to Nanjing, several other East Asian and Southeast 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).[25]

There were two previous Beijings: one, the northern capital of the Northern Song at modern Daming in Hebei;[26] the other, the northern capital of the Jurchen Jin located at Ningcheng in Inner Mongolia.[27]

The Nanjing of the Northern Song was located at Shangqiu in Henan.[26] The Jurchen Jin located theirs at Kaifeng,[27]) which had been the Northern Song's "Dongjing".[26] The Jurchen Jin also had a Dongjing ("Eastern Capital"), which was, however, located at Liaoyang in Liaoning.[27] Apart from these, there were two Xijings (西, "Western Capital"): one was the "Western Capital" of the Northern Song dynasty, located at Luoyang;[26] the other was held by the Liao[28] and Jurchen Jin[27] at Datong. Liaoyang was the Zhongjing (中京, "Central Capital") of the Liao dynasty[28] 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.[29]


  1. ^ The City of Ji was the capital of the States of Ji and Yan.
  2. ^ During the Qin dynasty, the City of Ji served as the regional capital of the Guangyang Commandery (广阳郡).[8][9]
  3. ^ During the Eastern Han dynasty, Youzhou, as one of 12 prefectures, contained a dozen subordinate commanderies, including the Guangyang Commandery. In 24 AD, Liu Xiu moved Youzhou's prefectural seat from Ji County (in modern-day Tianjin) to the City of Ji (in modern-day Beijing). In 96 AD, the City of Ji served as the seat of both the Guangyang Commandery and Youzhou.[10] The Wei Kingdom reorganized and decentralized the governance of commanderies under Youzhou. Guangyang Commandery became the State of Yan (燕国), which had four counties: Ji County, Changping, Jundu and Guangyang County, and was governed from the City of Ji. Fanyang Commandery was governed from Zhuo County. Yuyang Commandery was governed from Yuyuang (in modern-day Huairou District of Beijing), Shanggu Commandery was governed from Juyong (in modern-day Yanqing County of Beijing).[11]
  4. ^ In 319, Shi Le captured Youzhou from Duan Pidi
  5. ^ In 350, Murong Jun captured Youzhou in the name of restoring northern China to Jin rule.
  6. ^ From 352 to 357, the Former Yan made the city of Ji its capital.[12]
  7. ^ In 319, Shi Le captured Youzhou from Duan Pidi
  8. ^ In the second lunar month of 385, Murong Chui seized Youzhou from Former Qin.[13]
  9. ^ In 397 AD, the Northern Wei captured Ji from the Later Yan and went on to establish the first of the Northern Dynasties.[14]
  10. ^ During the Sui dynasty, Youzhou became Zhuojun or Zhuo Commandery.[15]
  11. ^ During the Tang dynasty, the seat of the government of Youzhou remained in place but took on slightly different names. In 616, the government was called Youzhou Zongguanfu (幽州总管府); in 622, Youzhou Dazongguanfu (幽州大总管府); in 624, Youzhou Dadudufu (幽州大都督府) and in 626, Youzhou Dudufu (幽州都督府). From 710, the head of the government in Youzhou became a jiedushi, a military regional commander. In 742, Youzhou was renamed Fanyang Commandery (范阳郡). In 759, during the An-Shi Rebellion, Shi Siming declared himself emperor of the Great Yan dynasty and made Fanyang, Yanjing or "the Yan Capital." After the rebellion was suppressed, the seat of government became Youzhou Lulong Dudufu (幽州卢龙都督府).[16]
  12. ^ The seat of government in Nanjing was known as Youdufu (幽都府) until 1012, when the name was changed to Xijinfu (析津府).
  13. ^ After 1151, the capital of the Jin dynasty from Shangjing to Yanjing, which was renamed Zhongdu. Zhongdu refers to the Zhongdulu (中都路), an administrative unit which governed about 12 surrounding prefectures and 39 counties. The governing seat of Zhongdulu was Daxingfu (大兴府).[17]
  14. ^ The seat of government in Beiping, later Beijing, was called Shuntianfu (顺天府).
  15. ^ From 1938 to 1945 the city was renamed Beijing by the Provisional Government of the Republic of China, a puppet regime backed by the Japanese occupation. The city's name reverted to Beiping after the Japanese surrender by 1 September 1945.


  1. ^ Lost Laowai. "From Peking to Beijing: A Long and Bumpy Trip Archived 2022-02-18 at the Wayback Machine". Accessed 21 October 2012.
  2. ^ Xavier, Francis, Letter to Didaco Perriera, 12 Nov 1552. Epistolae S. Francisci Xaverii aliaque eius scripta Archived 2022-04-09 at the Wayback Machine, vol. 2. Xavier gives the name as "Paquim."
    For another early usage, see Gaspar da Cruz, Tractado em que se co[m]tam muito por este[n]so as cousas da China, co[n] suas particularidades, [e] assi do reyno dormuz, 1569.
  3. ^ Raleigh, Sir Walter, and Robert O. Dougan, (1596) The Discoverie of the Large, Rich, and Bewtiful Empyre of Guiana, Volumes 1-3, p. 50.
  4. ^ Martini, Martino, De bello Tartarico historia, 1654.
    Martini, Martino (1655), Novus Atlas Sinensis, "Prima Provencia Peking Sive Pecheli," p. 17.
  5. ^ Lane Harris, "A 'Lasting Boon to All': A Note on the Postal Romanization of Place Names, 1896–1949 Archived 2015-10-05 at the Wayback Machine". Twentieth Century China 34.1 (2008): 99.
  6. ^ "Editors' Note". The New York Times. 26 November 1986. p. A3. Archived from the original on 8 April 2023. Retrieved 14 July 2022.
  7. ^ "China notes". 26 September 2020. Archived from the original on 13 December 2021. Retrieved 13 December 2021.
  8. ^ "Ji, a Northern City of Military Importance in the Qin Dynasty" Beijing Municipal Administration of Cultural Heritage Archived 2012-08-25 at the Wayback Machine 2006-07-19
  9. ^ (Chinese)"北方军事重镇-汉唐经略东北的基地-秦王朝北方的燕蓟重镇" Beijing Municipal Administration of Cultural Heritage Archived 2011-09-03 at the Wayback Machine Accessed 2012-12-17
  10. ^ (Chinese)"北方军事重镇-汉唐经略东北的基地-东汉时期的幽州蓟城" Beijing Municipal Administration of Cultural Heritage Archived 2013-12-30 at the Wayback Machine 2005-09-01
  11. ^ (Chinese)"北方军事重镇-汉唐经略东北的基地-民族大融合的魏晋十六国北朝时期" Beijing Municipal Administration of Cultural Heritage Archived 2013-12-30 at the Wayback Machine 2005-09-01
  12. ^ (Chinese) "北京城市行政区划述略" 《北京地方志》 Archived 2022-02-18 at the Wayback Machine Accessed 2012-12-19
  13. ^ (Chinese) [郗志群, 歷史北京 Archived 2023-04-08 at the Wayback Machine] p. 36
  14. ^ (Chinese) 北魏太和造像 Archived 2022-02-18 at the Wayback Machine 2009-01-11
  15. ^ (Chinese)"北方军事重镇-汉唐经略东北的基地-隋朝统治下的北京" Beijing Municipal Administration of Cultural Heritage Archived 2013-12-31 at the Wayback Machine 2005-09-01
  16. ^ (Chinese) 试论北京唐代墓志的地方特色" Beijing Municipal Administration of Cultural Heritage Archived 2013-12-30 at the Wayback Machine 2005-09-01
  17. ^ (Chinese) "北半部中国的政治中心-金中都的建立" Beijing Municipal Administration of Cultural Heritage Archived 2013-12-30 at the Wayback Machine 2005-09-01
  18. ^ Li, Dray-Novey & Kong 2007, p. 7
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ a b c "Beijing". The Columbia Encyclopedia (6th ed.). 2008. Archived from the original on 2010-02-12. Retrieved 2012-01-19.
  21. ^ a b Hucker, Charles O. "Governmental Organization of The Ming Dynasty Archived 2017-01-29 at the Wayback Machine", p. 5–6. Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, Vol. 21 (December 1958). Harvard-Yenching Institute. Accessed 20 October 2012.
  22. ^ 『北京档案史料』. 2001. p. 304. Archived from the original on 2023-04-08. Retrieved 2020-10-03. 1918年1月,北洋政府正式定名北京为京都市。
  23. ^ 「近代城市史研究資料彙編 」. 北平市工務局 [Beiping City Public Works Bureau]. 1947. OCLC 320850375. Quoted in 王伟杰 [Wang Weijie] (1989). 「北京环境史话」. 地質出版社 [Dizhi Chubanshe]. ISBN 9787116003682. OCLC 24027432. Archived from the original on 2023-04-08. Retrieved 2020-08-17. 它说: "民国三年六月,设督办京都市政公所","民国七年一月(1918年1月),正式定名「京都市」","民国十七年六月月,北平特别市政府成立"。
  24. ^ Standardization Administration of China (SAC). "GB/T-2260: Codes for the administrative divisions of the People's Republic of China Archived 2017-02-22 at the Wayback Machine".
  25. ^ Theobald, Ulrich. China Knowledge. "Chinese History - Tang Dynasty 唐 (618-907): Map and Geography Archived 2012-08-13 at the Wayback Machine". Accessed 19 October 2012.
  26. ^ a b c d Theobald, Ulrich. China Knowledge. "Chinese History - Song Dynasty 宋 (960-1279): Map and Geography Archived 2012-04-26 at the Wayback Machine". Accessed 19 October 2012.
  27. ^ a b c d Theobald, Ulrich. China Knowledge. "Chinese History - Jin dynasty 金 (1115–1234): Map and Geography Archived 2012-05-25 at the Wayback Machine". Accessed 19 October 2012.
  28. ^ a b Theobald, Ulrich. China Knowledge. "Chinese History - Liao Dynasty 遼 (907-1125): Map and Geography Archived 2012-12-18 at the Wayback Machine". Accessed 19 October 2012.
  29. ^ Eric N. Danielson, "The Ming Ancestor Tomb Archived 2013-09-27 at the Wayback Machine". China Heritage Quarterly, No. 16, December 2008.