In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Architecture of Beijing

  • Introduction
  • Historical Sources
  • General Overview
  • City Planning
  • Historical Preservation
  • Imperial Palaces and Mausoleums
  • Religious Architecture
  • Garden and Residential Architecture
  • Chang’an Avenue and Tiananmen Square
  • Late Qing to the Republic Period
  • PRC Period
  • Other Specialized Studies

Architecture Planning and Preservation Architecture of Beijing
Shuishan Yu
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 February 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 February 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190922467-0067


Beijing (also known as Peking in older romanization of Mandarin Chinese) is the current capital city of the People’s Republic of China. It is one of the six great ancient capitals of China, the other five being Xi’an, Luoyang, Kaifeng, Nanjing, and Hangzhou. Given the long Chinese history and compared to other ancient capitals, Beijing is relatively young. It served as the capitals for the last three imperial dynasties, the Yuan (1279–1368), the Ming (1368–1644), and the Qing (1644–1911), as well as the Beiyang period of the Republic China (1912–1927). During the 10th to 13th centuries when the north and south were split, it served as capital for the northern regimes of the Liao and Jin empires, both of which were founded by non-Chinese-speaking peoples, the Khitan and the Jurchen respectively. Before the unification of China by the First Emperor of Qin in 221 BCE, the capital for the Yan state of the Spring and Autumn period (771–476 BCE) and the Warring States period (476–221 BCE) was also located in the Beijing area. During the period from the Qin dynasty to the Five dynasties (3rd century BCE to 10th century CE), the area hosted the seats for prefecture-level local government under various names. Beijing means the Northern Capital. The current Beijing city was developed from the Ming-Qing imperial capital of the same name. The city was known by many different names in different historical periods. According to the Nine Provinces (Jiuzhou) division of the Xia and Shang dynasties (21st–11th centuries BCE) in the Book of Documents (Shangshu), one of the Confucian classics that contains some of the oldest historical records of ancient China, Beijing belonged to the province of Youzhou. During the Zhou periods (11th–3rd centuries BCE), it was known as Ji or Yandu, the Capital of the Yan State. As a prefecture-level city, it was known as Ji in the Qin dynasty (221–206 BCE), Guangyang in the Han dynasty (202 BCE–220 CE), and Yan during the Western Jin and the Age of Disunion period (220–589). The area became the Zhuo county during the Sui dynasty (581–618) and the You prefecture during the Tang dynasty (618–906). It was called Nanjing, or the Southern Capital, in the Liao dynasty (907–1125), and Zhongdu, or the Middle Capital, in the Jin dynasty (1115–1234). Under the Mongol rule of the Yuan dynasty, the city, called Dadu, the Great Capital, became the capital of an enormous empire unifying the north and the south for the first time. During the early years of the Ming dynasty from 1368 to 1402 and during the late years of the Republic period from 1928 to 1949 when the city was not the national capital, it was called Beiping. Like the name, the specific location of the city also kept changing in history. The current location of the central city was anchored during the Yuan dynasty with a minor shift to the south during the Ming reconstruction. The history of architecture in Beijing can be traced back to the prehistoric time. Archaeologists have discovered tombs and remains of dwellings from about ten thousand years ago. Extant buildings in the Beijing area, however, are no earlier than the Liao dynasty. Literatures on architecture of Beijing are mostly dispersed in books on Chinese architecture in general or of a specific dynasty, period, regime, type, or religious tradition, which are not included in this bibliography. Books written specifically on the architecture of Beijing concentrate on the late imperial to the modern period. Some of them are typologically focused, for instance, on Buddhist temples; others are case studies on significant buildings, complexes, or urban elements, for instance, the Forbidden City, Chang’an Avenue, Tiananmen Square, etc. Some historical documents, for instance the local gazetteers, contain important information on the architecture and urban space of Beijing, which are also included in the following lists. Some specialized studies on the folkways and traditional urban life of Beijing are closely related to architecture and the urban space, for instance the traditional theater and the hutong life, which are classified under the last category.

Historical Sources

Listed here are the most comprehensive and widely used historical documents on the city and architecture of Beijing. There are more on the suburbs, districts, and counties currently under the municipal administration of Beijing. Many of them can be found in such encyclopedic works as Siku quanshu (Complete library in four branches of literature) and the Zhongguo difangzhi jicheng (Collection of local gazetteers of China). I limited the scope of the historical documents here to literature before the founding of the Republic of China in 1912. Primary sources produced during the modern periods are listed under categorized topics.

  • Beijingshi gudai jianzhu yanjiusuo and Beijing shi wenwu shiye guanliju ziliao zhongxin, eds. Jiamo Qianlong jingcheng quantu. Beijing: Yanshan chubanshe, 1996.

    (English translation: Retraced map of the capital city of the Qianlong era.) Map originally made in 1750, recording the details of the 18th-century imperial capital down to every alley and courtyard within the city walls.

  • Jiang Yikui (active late 16th–early 17th centuries). Chang’an kehua. Beijing: Beijing guji chubanshe, 1980.

    (English translation: Anecdotes of Chang’an.) An eight-volume collation of writings on the historical development of the imperial capital (Chang’an) Beijing, including the suburb counties, and its famous landmarks, written in the Ming dynasty.

  • Liu Tong and Yu Yizheng (Ming dynasty). Dijing jingwu lue. Beijing: Zhongguo shudian, 2014.

    (English translation: Sceneries and monuments of the imperial capital.) An eight-volume compilation of records on famous landmarks, historic sites, and popular places in the 17th-century Beijing, accompanied by collections of poems associated with them. Originally published in 1635.

  • Sun Chengze (b. 1593–d. 1676). Tianfu guangji. Beijing: Beijing guji chubanshe, 1983.

    (English translation: Broadened records of the Heavenly Prefecture.) A forty-four-volume gazetteer of the capital city compiled by a Ming dynasty scholar; rich in history of Beijing, imperial administrative organizations, and the locations and details of significant palatial, governmental, ritual, and religious complexes.

  • Tan Liefei. Beijing fangzhi tiyao. Beijing: Zhongguo shudian chubanshe, 2006.

    (English translation: Summaries of Beijing gazetteers.) Summaries of local gazetteers of the Beijing area from the Yuan dynasty to the modern period.

  • Xiong Mengxiang (Yuan dynasty). Xijinzhi jiyi. Beijing: Beijing guji chubanshe, 1983.

    (English translation: Fragments of the Xijin Gazetteer.) A collection of the extant parts of the first gazetteer of Beijing, recording a period when the city served as the capital of the Xijin prefecture during the Liao and Jin dynasties.

  • Zhu Yizun (b. 1629–d. 1709), Ying Lian (b. 1707–d. 1783), Yu Minzhong (b. 1714–d. 1780), et al., eds. Rixia jiuwen kao. Beijing: Zhongguo shudian, 2014.

    (English translation: Annotations on the old stories of the city under the sun.) A large accumulative compilation of 160 volumes of records on the history, anecdotes, documentations, landmarks, city construction, imperial monuments, etc., of Beijing up to the Qianlong era of the Qing dynasty. Originally published in 1788.

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