1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Peking

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PEKING, or Pekin, the capital of the Chinese Empire, situated in 39° 57′ N. and 116° 29′ E., on the northern extremity of the great alluvial delta which extends southward from its walls for 700 m. For nine centuries Peking, under various names and under the dominion of successive dynasties, has, with some short intervals, remained an imperial city. Its situation near the northern frontier recommended it to the Tatar invaders as a convenient centre for their power, and its peculiarly fortunate position as regards the supernatural terrestrial influences pertaining to it has inclined succeeding Chinese monarchs to accept it as the seat of their courts. In 986 it was taken by an invading force of Khitan Tatars, who adopted it as their headquarters and named it Nanking, or the “southern capital.” During the early part of the 12th century the Chinese recaptured it and reduced it from the rank of a metropolis to that of a provincial city of the first grade, and called it Yen-shan Fu. In 1151 it fell into the hands of the Kin Tatars, who made it a royal residence under the name of Chung tu, or “central capital”. Less than a century later it became the prize of Jenghiz Khan, who, having his main interests centred on the Mongolian steppes, declined to move his court southwards. His great successor, Kublai Khan (1280–1294), rebuilt the town, which he called Yenking, and which became known in Chinese as Ta-tu, or “great court” and in Mongolian as Khanbalik (Cambaluc), or “city of the khan.” During the reign of the first emperor of the dynasty (1368–1399) which succeeded that founded by Jenghiz Khan the court resided at the modern Nanking, but the succeeding sovereign Yung-lo (1403–1425) transferred his court to Pe-king (i.e. “north-court”), which has ever since been the seat of government. For further history see Cambaluc.

During the periods above mentioned the extent and boundaries of the city varied considerably. Under the Kin dynasty the walls extended to the south-west of the Tatar portion of the present city and the foundations of the northern ramparts of the Khan-balik of Kublai Khan are still to be traced at a distance of about 2 m. north beyond the existing walls. The modern city consists of the nei ch'êng, or inner city, commonly known to foreigners as the “Tatar city,” and the wai ch'êng, or outer city, known in the same way as the “Chinese city.” These names are somewhat misleading, as the inner city is not enclosed within the outer city, but adjoins its northern wall, which, being longer than the nei ch'êng is wide, outflanks it considerably at both ends. The outer walls of the double city contain an area of about 25 sq. m., and measure 30 m. in circumference. Unlike the walls of most Chinese cities, those of Peking are kept in perfect order. Those of the Tatar portion, which is the oldest part of the city. are 50 ft. high, with a width of 60 ft. at the base and 40 ft. at the top, while those of the Chinese city, which were built by the emperor Kia-tsing in 1543, measure 30 ft. in height, and have a width of 25 ft. at the base and 15 ft. at the top. The terre-plein is well and smoothly paved, and is defended by a crenellated parapet The outer faces of the walls are strengthened by square buttresses built out at intervals of 60 yds., and on the summits of these stand the guard-houses for the troops on duty. Each of the sixteen gates of the city is protected by a semi-circular enceinte, and is surmounted by a high tower built in galleries and provided with countless loopholes.

Peking suffered severely during the Boxer movement and the siege of the legations in the summer of 1900. Not only were most of the foreign buildings destroyed, but also a large number of important Chinese buildings in the vicinity of the foreign quarter, including the ancient Hanlin Yuen, the boards of war, rites &c. Almost the whole of the business quarter, the wealthiest part of the Chinese city, was laid in ashes (see China, History).

The population of Peking is reckoned to be about 1,000,000, a number which is out of all proportion to the immense area enclosed within its walls. This disparity is partly accounted for by the facts that large spaces, notably in the Chinese city, are not built over, and that the grounds surrounding the imperial palace, private residences and temples are very extensive. One of such enclosures constitutes the British legation, and most of the other foreign legations are similarly, though not so sumptuously, lodged. Viewed from the walls Peking looks like a city of gardens. Few crowded neighbourhoods are visible, and the characteristic features of the scene which meets the eye are the upturned roofs of temples, palaces, and mansions, gay with blue, green and yellow glazed tiles, glittering among the groves of trees with which the city abounds. It is fortunate that the city is not close-built or crowded, for since the first advent of foreigners in Peking in 1860 nothing whatever had been done until 1900 to improve the streets or the drainage. The streets as originally laid out were wide and spacious, but being unpaved and untrained they were no better than mud tracks diversified by piles of garbage and foul-smelling stagnant pools. Such drainage as had at one time existed was allowed to get choked up, giving rise to typhoid fever of a virulent type. Some attempt has been made to improve matters by macadamizing one of the principal thoroughfares, but it will be the labour of a Hercules to cleanse this vast city from the accumulated filth of ages of neglect.

Enclosed within the Tatar city is the Hwang ch'êng, or “Imperial city,” which in its turn encloses the Tsze-kin ch'êng, or “Forbidden city,” in which stands the emperor's palace. On the north of the Tsze-kin ch'êng, and separated from it by a moat, is an artificial mound known as the King shan, or “Prospect Hill.” This mound, which forms a prominent object in the view over the city, is about 150 ft. high, and is topped with five summits, on each of which stands a temple. It is encircled by a wall measuring upwards of a mile in circumference, and is prettily planted with trees, on one of which the last emperor of the Ming dynasty (1644), finding escape from the Manchu invaders impossible, hanged himself. On the west of Prospect Hill is the Si yuan, or “Western Park,” which forms part of the palace grounds. This park is tastefully laid out, and is traversed by a lake, which is mainly noticeable from the remarkably handsome marble bridge which crosses it from east to west. Directly northwards from Prospect Hill stands the residence of the T'itu, or “governor of the city,” and the Bell and the Drum Towers, both of which have attained celebrity from the nature of their contents—the first from the huge bell which hangs in it, and the second from the appliances it contains for marking the time. The bell is one of five which the emperor Yung-lo ordered to be cast. In common with the others, it weighs 120,000 ℔, is 14 ft. high, 34 ft. in circumference at the rim, and 9 in. thick. It is struck by a wooden beam swung on the outside, and only at the changes of the night-watches, when its deep tone may be heard in all parts of the city. In the Drum Tower incense-sticks, specially prepared by the astronomical board, are kept burning to mark the passage of time, in which important duty their accuracy is checked by a clepsydra. Another of Yung-lo's bells is hung in a Buddhist temple outside the north-west angle of the city wall, and is covered both on the inside and outside with the Chinese texts of the Lankāvatāra Sūtra, and the Saddharma pundarika Sūtra.

Turning southwards we come again to the Forbidden City, the central portion of which forms the imperial palace, where, in halls which for the magnificence of their proportions and barbaric splendour are probably not to be surpassed anywhere, the Son of Heaven holds his court. In the eastern and western portions of this city are situated the residences of the highest dignitaries of the empire; while beyond its confines on the south stand the offices of the six official boards which direct the affairs of the eighteen provinces. It was in the “yamên” of one of these boards—the Li Pu or board of rites—that Lord Elgin signed the treaty at the conclusion of the war in 1860—an event which derives especial interest from the fact of its having been the first occasion on which a European plenipotentiary ever entered Peking accompanied by all the pomp and circumstance of his rank.

Outside the Forbidden City the most noteworthy building is the Temple of Heaven, which stands in the outer or Chinese city. Here at early morning on the 21st of December the emperor offers sacrifice on an open altar to Shang-ti, and at periods of drought or famine presents prayers for relief to the same supreme deity. The altar at which these solemn rites are performed consists of a triple circular marble terrace, 210 ft. wide at the base, 150 in the middle and 90 at the top. The uppermost surface is paved with blocks of the same material forming nine concentric circles, the innermost consisting of nine blocks, and that on the outside of eighty-one blocks. On the central stone, which is a perfect circle, the emperor kneels. In the same temple stands the altar of prayer for good harvests, which is surmounted by a triple-roofed circular structure 99 ft. in height. The tiles of these roofs are glazed porcelain of the most exquisite deep-blue colour, and add a conspicuous element of splendour to the shrine.

The other powers of nature have shrines dedicated to them in the altar: to the Earth on the north of the city, the altars to the Sun and Moon outside the north-eastern and north-western angles respectively of the Chinese city, and the altar of agriculture inside the south gate of the Chinese city. Next to these in religious importance comes the Confucian temple, known as the Kwo-tsze-kien. Here there is no splendour; everything is quite plain; and one hall contains all that is sacred in the building. There the tablets of “the soul of the most holy ancestral teacher, Confucius,” and of his ten principal disciples stand as objects of worship for their countless followers. In one courtyard of this temple are deposited the celebrated ten stone drums which bear poetical inscriptions commemorative of the hunting expeditions of King Sūan (827–781 B.C.), in whose reign they are believed, though erroneously, to have been cut; and in another stands a series of stone tablets on which are inscribed the names of all those who have obtained the highest literary degree of Tsin-shi for the last five centuries.

In the south-eastern portion of the Tatar city used to stand the observatory, which was built by order of Kublai Khan in 1296. During the period of the Jesuit ascendancy in the reign of K'ang-hi (1661–1721), the superintendence of this institution was confided to Roman Catholic missionaries, under whose guidance the bronze instruments formerly existing were constructed. The inhabitants of Peking being consumers only, and in no way producers, the trade of the city is very small, though the city is open to foreign commerce. In 1897 a railway was opened between Tientsin and Peking. This was only effected after great opposition from the ultra-Conservatives, but once accomplished the facilities were gladly accepted by all classes, and the traffic both in goods and passengers is already enormous. Out of deference to the scruples of the ultra-Conservatives, the terminus was fixed at a place called Lu-Kou-ch'iao, some 4 m. outside the walls, but this distance has since been covered by an electric tramway. The trunk line constructed by the Franco-Belgian syndicate connects Lu-Kou-ch'iao, the original terminus, with Hankow—hence the name Lu-Han by which this trunk line is generally spoken of, Lu being short for Lu-Kou-ch'iao and Han for Hankow.

Bibliography.—A Williamson, Journeys in North China, Manchuria and Eastern Mongolia (2 vols., London, 1870); S. W. Williams, The Middle Kingdom, revised ed. (New York, 1883); A. Favier, Péking, histoire et description (Peking, 1900—contains over 800 illustrations, most of them reproductions of the work of Chinese artists), N. Oliphant, A Diary of the Siege of the Legations in Peking during the Summer of 1900 (London, 1901); A. H. Smith, China in Convulsion (2 vols., Edinburgh, 1902).  (R. K. D.)