PEKING or Pekin, the capital of the Chinese empire, is situated in 39° 54′ 36″N. lat. and 116° 27′E. long., and stands on the northern extremity of the great alluvialdelta which extends southwards from its walls for 700 miles. For the last nine centuries Peking, under various names and under the dominion of successive dynasties, has, with some short intervals, remained an imperialcity. 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 Chinesemonarchs to accept it as the seat of their courts. In 986 it was taken by an invading force of KhitanTatars, 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 provincialcity of the first grade, and called it Yen-shan Foo. 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 Mongoliansteppes, declined to move his court southwards. To his great successor Kublai Khan (1280–1294), however, the establishment of a capital within the frontiers of China became a necessity, and, following the example set him by preceding sovereigns, he made choice of Yenking, as he rechristened the city. With his usual magnificence, he rebuilt the town, which became known in Chinese as Ta-tu, or “great capital,” and in Mongolian as Khanbalik, 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 in the eyes of the succeeding sovereign Yung-lo (1403–1425) the political advantages of a northern residence appeared so obvious that he transferred his court to Peking (i.e., the northern capital), which has ever since been the seat of government.
Plan of Peking. (Scale, one mile and a half to an inch.)
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 miles in a northerly direction beyond the existing walls. The modern city consists of two parts, the nui ch’ing, or inner city, commonly known to foreigners as the “Tatarcity,” and the wai ch’ing, or outer city, known in the same way as the “Chinesecity.” 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 nui ch’ing is wide, outflanks it considerably at both ends, as may be seen in the accompanying plan. The outer walls of the double city contain an area of about 25square miles, and measure 30miles in circumference. Unlike the walls of most Chinesecities, those of Peking are kept in perfect order. Those of the Tatar portion, which is the oldest part of the city, are 50feet high, with a width of 60feet at the base and 40feet at the top, while those of the Chinesecity, which were built by the emperorKea-tsing in 1543, measure 30feet in height, and have a width of 25feet at the base and 15feet at the top. The terre-plein is well and smoothly paved, and is defended by a crenellatedparapet. The outer faces of the walls are strengthened by square buttresses built out at intervals of 60yards, 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 semicircular enceinte, and is surmounted with a high tower built in galleries and provided with countless loopholes.
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 Chinesecity, are not built over, and that the grounds surrounding the imperialpalace, private residences, and temples are very extensive. 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 glazedtiles, glittering among the groves of trees with which the city abounds. Enclosed within the Tatarcity is the Hwang ch’ing, or “Imperialcity,” which in its turn encloses the Tsze-kin ch’ing, or “Purple Forbidden city,” in which stands the emperor's palace. On the north of the Tsze-kin ch’ing, 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 150feet 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 Se yuen, 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 marblebridge which crosses it from east to west. Directly northwards from Prospect Hill stand the residence of the Titu, or “governor of the city,” and the Bell and the DrumTowers, 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 14feet high, 34feet in circumference at the rim, and is 9inches 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 DrumTowerincense-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 Buddhisttemple outside the north-west angle of the citywall, 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 again come to the Purple Forbidden city, the central portion of which forms the imperialpalace, 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, gives audience to ambassadors from tributarystates, and receives the congratulations of his ministers at the annual seasons of rejoicing. 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 “yamun” of one of these boards—the Le 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 Europeanplenipotentiary ever entered Peking accompanied by all the pomp and circumstance of his rank.
Outside the Purple Forbidden city the most noteworthy building is the Temple of Heaven, which stands in the outer or Chinesecity. Here at early morn on the 22d 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 circularmarble terrace, 210feet 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, “surrounded first by the circles of the terraces and their enclosing walls, and then by the circle of the horizon.” In the same temple stands the altar of prayer for good harvests, which is surmounted by a triple-roofedcircular structure 99feet in height. The tiles of these roofs are of glazedporcelain of the most exquisite deep-blue colour, and add a conspicuous element of splendour to the shrine, which even without their aid would inspire admiration by the grace of the design and the rare beauty of the materials employed in its construction.