Since 723 B.C. several cities, bearing various names, have existed at this site. The nucleus of the present city was Kublai Khan's capital, Cambuluc (constructed 1260–90). Under the name Beijing [Chin., = northern capital] the city was the capital of China from 1421 until 1911. The gateway to Mongolia and Manchuria, it was often the prize of contending armies.
In 1860, Great Britain and France captured it after the battle of Baliqiao and forced the Chinese government to concede the Legation Quarter for foreign settlements. This cession was among the factors responsible for the Boxer Uprising (1900), in which the foreign colony was besieged until relieved by a combined expeditionary force of American, Japanese, and European troops. The foreign powers exacted a treaty that provided for the permanent garrisoning of foreign troops in Beijing.
The city changed hands repeatedly during the civil wars that followed the establishment of the Chinese Republic in 1911–12. From 1912 to 1927, Beijing, Guangzhou, and Hankou alternated as centers of government. In 1928, when the seat of government was transferred to Nanjing [Chin., = southern capital], the name Beiping (Pei-p'ing) [Chin., = northern peace] was adopted. Japan occupied the city after the famous Marco Polo Bridge incident in 1937 (see Sino-Japanese War, Second). The Japanese made the city the capital of a puppet state (Dec., 1937).
With the end of World War II and the abolition of the last foreign concessions (1946), the city was entirely restored to Chinese sovereignty. In Jan., 1949, it fell to the Communists, who later that year designated it the capital of the newly founded People's Republic of China and restored the name Beijing. Since 1949 Beijing has spread well beyond its two core cities, and newer buildings, hotels, and cultural centers are now common in the city and its suburbs. From the 1950s through the 1970s many of the inner city's beautiful and historical buildings and gates were destroyed as Mao decreed that large new government structures be built. A subway was completed in 1969 and since has been extended. More recently, the government has attempted to restore and preserve many of the country's important artistic and architectural works, many of which are in Beijing, but modern construction in the city also has increased since the 1990s, resulting in the loss of most of the traditional neighborhoods ( hutongs, alleys lined with courtyard houses), that once dominated Beijing. Many of the city's outstanding new buildings have been designed by prominent Western architects, e.g., Sir Norman Foster, Herzog and de Meuron, Rem Koolhaas, I. M. Pei Associates, and Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. Beijing hosted the 2008 summer Olympics. The city has experienced enormous population growth in the early 21st cent., mainly as a result of the influx of Chinese from rural areas.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.