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  • 930-1122 A provincial town roughly on the site of modern Beijing becomes the southern capital of the Khitan Mongol Liao dynasty, thousands of kilometers from the ancient centers of early Han Chinese empires.
  • 1122-1215 The city is taken over by the Jurchen Tartar Jin dynasty, first as Southern Capital, then Central Capital, as its empire expands.
  • 1267-1367 The Mongol Yuan dynasty, having conquered most of Asia and eastern Europe, rebuilds the city on the modern site as the capital Khanbalik; Da Du (Great Capital) in Mandarin; Cambulac in Marco Polo's account of the city.
  • 1273-92 Marco Polo, his father, and his uncle are in China, much of the time in Khanbalik. Polo's ghostwritten account of the capital captures the imagination of European readers for several centuries afterward.
  • 1368 The Ming dynasty, having driven out the Mongols, establishes its capital at Nanjing. Da Du becomes Beiping (The Pacified North).
  • 1420 The Yongle emperor, third of the Ming, returns the city to capital status, the better to repel attacks by the Mongols from the north. He becomes the first Chinese emperor to reign from Beijing, and the first to give it that name: "Northern Capital." Ming dynasty Beijing is overlaid on the Yuan foundations, and the Forbidden City and Temple of Heaven are constructed.
  • 1549 Mongol horsemen fire a message-bearing arrow into a Chinese general's camp saying that they will attack Beijing the following year. Despite this advance announcement, they duly make their way up to the city walls as promised. So much for the Great Wall.
  • 1550 In response to Mongol attacks, a lower southern extension to the city wall is begun, eventually enclosing the commercial district, the important ceremonial sites of the Temple (Altar) of Heaven and Altar of Agriculture, and a broad swath of countryside (which remains free of buildings well into the 20th c.). The whole system of walls is clad in brick. Beijing remains largely the same for the next 400 years, when casual and organized destruction begins with the Republic and is hastened under the People's Republic.
  • 1601-10 After years of campaigning, Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci finally receives permission to reside in Beijing and stays until his death, founding an influential Jesuit presence that survives well into the Qing dynasty.
  • 1644-1911 As peasant rebels overrun the capital, the last Ming emperor is driven to suicide by hanging himself from a tree in what is now Jing Shan Park, behind the Forbidden City. Shortly afterward, the rebels are driven out by invading Manchu forces, whose Qing dynasty transfers its capital from Manchuria to Beijing, absorbing China into its own empire. Chinese are expelled from the northern section of the city, which becomes the home of Manchu military and courtiers. The southern section becomes the Chinese quarter of Beijing.
  • 1793-94 George III's emissary to the Qianlong emperor visits China and passes through Beijing, staying outside the city at a vast area of parks and palaces. His requests for increased trade and for a permanent trade representative in Beijing are turned down in a patronizing edict written even before he arrives. China has no inkling that Great Britain, and not itself, will soon be the superpower of the day. When the Qianlong emperor dies in 1799, the government is terminally corrupt and in decline.
  • 1858 The Second Opium War sees the Qing and their Chinese subjects capitulating in the face of the superior military technology of "barbarians" (principally the British) for the second time in 16 years. Under the terms of the Treaty of Nanjing, China is forced to permit the permanent residence of foreign diplomats and trade representatives in the capital.
  • 1860 The Qing imprison and murder foreign representatives sent for the treaty's ratification. British and French rescue forces occupy Beijing and destroy a vast area of parks and palaces to the northwest, some of the remnants of which form the modern Summer Palace. The Chinese loot what little the foreigners leave and put most of the area back under the plow. Foreign powers begin to construct diplomatic legation buildings just inside the Tartar City's wall east of the Qian Men.
  • 1900 The Harmonious Fists, nicknamed the Boxers, a superstitious anti-foreign peasant movement, besieges the foreign residents of the Legation Quarter, with the initially covert and finally open assistance of imperial troops. The siege begins on June 19 and is only lifted, after extensive destruction and many deaths, by the forces of Eight Allied Powers (several European nations, Japanese, and Americans) on August 14. Boxers, imperial troops, Chinese, foreign survivors, and allied soldiers take to looting the city. Payments on a vast indemnity take the Qing a further 39 years to pay in full, although the British and Americans use much of the income to help found Yan-ching (now Peking) University and other institutions, and to pay for young Chinese to study overseas.
  • 1911 The Qing dynasty's downfall is brought about by an almost accidental revolution, and betrayal by Yuan Shikai, the man the Qing trusted to crush it. He negotiates with both sides and extracts an abdication agreement from the infant emperor's regent and an agreement from the rebels that he will become the first president of the new republic.
  • 1915 Yuan Shikai revives annual ceremonies at the Temple of Heaven, and prepares to install himself as first emperor of a new dynasty, but widespread demonstrations and the fomenting of a new rebellion in the south lead him to cancel his plans. He dies the following year.
  • 1917 In July a pro-monarchist warlord puts Puyi back on the throne, but he is driven out by another who drops three bombs on the Forbidden City, only one of which actually explodes on target. The imperial restoration lasts exactly 12 days.
  • 1919 Students and citizens gather on May 4 in Tian'an Men Square to protest the government's agreement that Chinese territory formerly under German control be handed to the Japanese.
  • 1924 The "Articles Providing for the Favourable Treatment of the Great Ch'ing [Qing] Emperor after his Abdication" provide for the emperor to continue to live in the Forbidden City pending an eventual move to the Summer Palace. But in November he is removed by a hostile warlord and put under house arrest, later escaping to the Legation Quarter with the help of his Scottish former tutor.
  • 1928 Despite fighting among warlords, many of whom are only nominally loyal to the Republic, the Nationalist Party forces in the south declare Nanjing the capital, and Beijing reverts to the name of Beiping. In the following years many ancient buildings are vandalized or covered in political slogans.
  • 1933 With Japanese armies seemingly poised to occupy Beiping, the most important pieces of the imperial collection of antiquities in the Forbidden City are packed into 19,557 crates and moved to Shanghai. They move again when the Japanese take Shanghai in 1937, and after an incredible journey around the country in the thick of civil war, 13,484 crates end up with the Nationalist government in Taiwan in 1949.
  • 1937 Japanese forces, long in occupation of Manchuria and patrolling far beyond what the treaty permits them, pretend to have come under attack near the Marco Polo Bridge, occupy Beiping, and stay until the end of World War II ("The War Against Japanese Aggression" to the Chinese).
  • 1949 Mao Zedong proclaims the creation of the People's Republic of China from atop the Tian'an Men on October 1. A vast flood of refugees from the countryside takes over the courtyard houses commandeered from their owners, and those houses which once held a single family now house a dozen. Temples are turned into army barracks, storehouses, and light industrial units.
  • 1958-59 In a series of major projects to mark 10 years of Communist rule, the old ministries lining what will be Tian'an Men Square and its surrounding walls are all flattened for the construction of the Great Hall of the People and the vast museums opposite. These and Beijing Railway Station are built with Soviet help, which shows in the design. The city walls, which have survived for 400 years, are pulled down by "volunteers," to be replaced with a metro line and a ring road for an almost completely carless society. The stone from the walls goes to line a system of tunnels into which the entire city population can supposedly be evacuated in case of attack.
  • 1966-76 The destruction of old things reaches its peak as bands of Red Guards, fanatically loyal to Mao, roam around fighting each other, ransacking ancient buildings, burning books, and smashing art. Even the tree from which the last Ming emperor supposedly hanged himself is cut down. Intellectuals are bullied, imprisoned, tortured, and murdered, as is anyone with a history of links to foreigners. Scores are settled, and millions die. The education system largely comes to a halt. Many antiquities impounded from their owners are sold to foreign dealers by weight to provide funds for the government, which later decries foreign theft of Chinese antiquities.
  • 1976 The death of Zhou Enlai, who is credited with mitigating some of the worst excesses of the Cultural Revolution, leads to over 100,000 demonstrating against the government in Tian'an Men Square. The demonstrations are labeled counterrevolutionary, and hundreds are arrested. The death of Mao Zedong, himself thought to be responsible for an estimated 38 million deaths, effectively brings the Cultural Revolution to an end. Blame for the Cultural Revolution is put on the "Gang of Four" -- Mao's wife and three other hard-line officials, who are arrested. The 450-year-old Da Ming Men in the center of Tian'an Men Square is pulled down to make way for Mao's mausoleum. Leaders put their backing behind Deng Xiaoping, who returns from disgrace to take power and launch a program of openness and economic reform. His own toleration for public criticism also turns out to be zero, however.
  • 1989 The death of the moderate but disgraced official Hu Yaobang causes public displays of mourning in Tian'an Men Square, which turn into a mass occupation of the square protesting government corruption. Its hands initially tied by the presence on a state visit of the Soviet Union's Mikhail Gorbachev, the Party sends in the tanks live on TV on the night of June 3. Estimates of the number of deaths vary wildly, but the number is thought to run to several hundred unarmed students and their supporters.
  • 2001 Beijing is awarded the 2008 Summer Olympics, and as a result the destruction and complete redevelopment of the city accelerates, to the immense personal profit of the developers. That some are related to the top members of the administration is common knowledge.
  • 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) strikes Beijing, with more than 1,000 infected and around 100 dead. Millions of Beijingers stay indoors, while thousands of others are involuntarily quarantined in hospitals and dorm rooms. The epidemic subsides in July, and the government and the tourism industry complain of overblown media attention to the disease.
  • 2008 Beijing hosts the Olympic Games. The months leading up to the big event are marred with protests during international legs of the Olympic torch relay, and incredibly high pollution levels in Beijing. The Games themselves are well organized and go off with few hitches. Although Beijing officials designated legal protesting zones throughout the city during the Olympics, many who submitted applications to protest were punished and several disappeared, at least for the duration of the Games.
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