Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The End of Ji and the Birth of Beijing

Today's blog entry is the final entry in my series of blog posts about Ji City and the birth of modern Beijing.

A Qing-era illustration depicting Gongsun Zan and the famed general Zhao Yun. (Wikimedia Commons)

In 193, the Han Dynasty was dying and various warlords were vying for power across China. Ji City - or Fanyang as it was still officially known - was the scene of a dramatic showdown between Yizhou commander Liu Yu and one of his officers, Gongsun Zan, who accused him of trying to seize power in China. Gongsun Zan murdered Liu Yu on this pretext and took command of Fanyang, making it the center of his own power until he was killed six years later.

After the end of the Han Dynasty, Ji changed hands a number of times under a number of different dynasties and regimes.

During the Western Jin Dynasty (265-316 AD), Ji lost its status as a capital city and was simply a county seat. When the Northern Wei (386-535 AD) came to power, Ji was restored as the capital of Youzhou. However, the Chinese city of Tianjin was renamed Ji and the authorities established a Ji County in the vicinity of Tianjin. That county still bears the name Ji to this very day!

Ji remained an important military and commercial hub throughout the rule of the Sui (589-618 AD) and Tang Dynasties (618-907 AD). It was an important military garrison and launchpoint for military operations against the neighboring Korean superpower of Goguryeo. In the 8th century AD, it was made the headquarters for the Fanyang Jiedushi (节度使), which was a military governor appointed by the Tang authorities to defend the country's regions against external threats. The Jiedushi were given a massive amount of power and their authority eventually superceded Imperial rule.

This set the stage for the rebellion of the Fanyang jiedushi An Lushan against the Tang Dynasty. In 755, An Lushan proclaimed himself Emperor of a rival Yan Dynasty, which was based in the former state of Yan. He launched his rebellion from Fanyang and swept southward throughout China. The rebellion - which is one of the bloodiest events ever recorded in world history - officially ended in 763, but the jiedushi system which spawned An Lushan's rebellion remained intact. The Tang Dynasty collapsed in 907, largely as a result from this.

The former city of Ji became a capital once more when in 936 the former Tang governor Shi Jingtang ceded the region to the Khitans from the north in exchange for support for the relatively weak and short-lived Later Jin Dynasty (936-947 AD). The Khitans made it one of the capitals of the Liao Dynasty (907-1125 AD). During Khitan rule, the city was named Yanjing once again, as well as Nanjing. It was the southernmost capital of Liao during this time.

After the rise of the Jin, or Jurchen Dynasty (1115-1234), Yanjing was rechristened Zhongdu and made Jin's central capital. When it was the city of Zhongdu, the Jin rebuilt the city on a grandiose scale. They built a number of palaces and other ambitious urban projects such as a watercourse.

The siege of Zhongdu, 1213-14 as depicted by Persian historian Rashad al-Din. (Wikimedia Commons)

However, all of these projects were soon to become history when the Mongol hordes under the leadership of Genghis Khan invaded and conquered northern China. In 1213, Genghis Khan laid siege to Zhongdu and after two bloody sieges, Zhongdu capitulated in 1215. Genghis and his hordes pillaged and burned the city to the ground after its fall. Afterwards, they renamed the city Yanjing and it laid in ruins until 1264, when Khubilai Khan ordered a new capital named Dadu, or Khanbaliq, to be created adjacent to what was Ji. This new capital city soon incorporated the old Ji city within its limits. Dadu would be a center of culture and authority, and one of the greatest cosmopolitan cities the world at that time had ever known. Some of Beijing's great landmarks such as the Drum Tower, the Beijing Ancient Observatory, the Miaoying, or White Stupa Temple, and many of the city's lakes and old neighborhoods (or 'hutong') were built by the Mongols during this period.

Over the centuries, this enormous new city became the city of Beijing we all know today. The ancient city of Ji may only be a small part of the city now, but it is forever etched into the history of China and is still very much an integral part of 21st century Beijing!

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