Chinese Spatial Strategies: Imperial Beijing, 1420-1911

Chinese Spatial Strategies: Imperial Beijing, 1420-1911

Chinese Spatial Strategies: Imperial Beijing, 1420-1911

Chinese Spatial Strategies: Imperial Beijing, 1420-1911

Synopsis

Presents a study of social spaces of the capital of Ming Qing China (1420-1911). Focusing on early Ming and early and middle Qing, it explores architectural, urban and geographical space of Beijing.

Excerpt

Following the trajectory of Chinese capitals in historical progression, one finds a move towards east, and then south-east. Qin dynasty (221-207BC), unifying China for the first time, built its capital Xianyang west of North China Plain. After the short-lived Qin was a long and powerful Han dynasty. The Former Han dynasty (Western Han, 202BC-AD9) established its capital city Changan (modern-day Xian) next to the ruins of Xianyang. It used another city Luoyang to the east of Changan as a secondary capital, to secure a better control of the North China Plain. The Latter Han dynasty (Eastern Han, AD25-220) maintained the dual capital system but elevated the eastern city Luoyang to the status of principle capital, to maintain a solid power base in the North China Plain. The following two major dynasties in Chinese history, Sui (581-618) and Tang (618-906), continued to use the two sites as their dual capitals, although Changan, now a much larger and formalized city, was the primary capital, which facilitated a balanced control of eastern and western regions. By then population and centre of grain production had moved further east and south-east, a situation which compelled the Tang court later on to move its administrative centre to the eastern city Luoyang. The next Chinese dynasty, Northern Song (960-1126), used Bianliang (modern-day Kaifeng) as its capital, a city further east of Luoyang. Now, well into the North China Plain, Song emperors in Bianliang could assert a direct control over central China and defend it against ‘barbarian’ invasions from the north and, at the same time, secure a better supply of grain and material resources from China’s economic centre, the south-east, known also as the lower Yangtze region or Jiangnan (Figure 1.1).

Song China was no longer comparable to the Tang empire in military strength and territorial expanse. Being more defensive, the Song now faced ‘barbarian’ powers that, taking the advantage of the turmoil at the fall of the Tang, had made their incursions into northern regions of central China. The strongest of them was the Liao (937-1125), which rose to power from a nomadic tribe known as Khitan in Manchuria in the north-east. In the early twelfth century, another power rose to prominence from the tribes of Jurchen (later known as Manchu) in the same region. It first conquered the Liao with an alliance of the Northern Song, then turned against the Song, sacked the Song capital Bianliang, conquered much of the North China Plain in 1126, and established a Jin dynasty. The Chinese then had to retreat to the south and

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