Sunday, October 21, 2012

The City of Ji and Yan State

Yesterday I talked a little about the state of Ji and how the city of Beijing has its roots in that ancient city-state. Today we'll take a look at Ji during its time as capital of the state which conquered and annexed Ji, Yan.

Soon after its conquest by Yan, Ji became the capital of Yan State and was known alternately as Ji or Yanjing (燕京, meaning "Yan capital") - a name for Beijing which has persisted well into the modern age. It remained northern China's regional powerhouse for many more centuries to come. As the authority of the King of Zhou waned, Yan emerged as one of China's most powerful states. Throughout the period of the Warring States (475-221 BCE), Yan remained at war with Zhao and Qi states, as well as the nomadic peoples to the north. It was invaded a number of times by all three.

For the next several hundred years, Ji remained the most powerful city in the region. It was naturally one of Yan's fortified cities. In fact, the walls that surrounded Ji and other regions of Yan state predate the Great Wall by some 1,500 years! The Lotus Pond and its location along the major north-south trade route where traders from the central states and the steppes of northern Asia stopped made Ji a strategically valuable city. Throughout most of Yan's existence during this time, Ji was not only the main capital (Yan had one other city - Xiadu - which occasionally served as Yan's capital city) of Yan, but was also a military base and the economic and political center of the state.

In 227 BC, most of the neighboring states had fallen to and were absorbed by the powerful Qin state (778-07 BCE). They started massing troops on Yan's borders to prepare for its eventual conquest. Prince Dan of Yan sent the assassin Jing Ke to assassinate the Qin king Qin Shi Huang, aka the "tiger of Qin ". His attempt failed and the king, who personally killed Jing Ke, was enraged. He ordered his army to crush Yan and make it part of Qin. A year later, Ji fell to the Qin armies after the defeat of the vast majority of the Yan army on the banks of the Yishui River. Three years later, the rest of Yan state fell to the Qin and King Xi was captured.

In recent years, remnants of the old Yan capital have been found some 30 miles (48 km) southwest of what is now downtown Beijing. At one site which was discovered near the Liuli River in Fangshan district in recent decades, remnants of the city walls, moats, Yan palaces, and various artifacts were unearthed by archaeologists. This was the location of the ancient capital of Yanjing, which had expanded well beyond the borders of the old city-state of Ji.

For more about Yanjing, check out the following link: (A very interesting interview with one of China's "veteran" archaeologists about ancient Beijing.) (Details about the Yanjing archaeological dig and a little history of the ancient Yan capital.)

(Map copyright: Philg88/Wikimedia Commons)


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