1. 500,000 BC: Peking Man Hunts and Gathers

Unearthed in the 1920s from a cave at Zhoukoudian, 30 miles (45 km) southwest of Beijing, 40-odd fossilized bones and primitive implements were identified as the remains of Peking Man (Homo erectus Pekinensis), who lived in the vicinity over 500,000 years ago.

2. 1215: Genghis Khan Sacks Zhongdu

The future Beijing was developed as an auxiliary capital under the Liao (907–1125) and Jin (1115–1234) dynasties, at which time it was known as Zhongdu. In 1215 it was invaded and razed by a Mongol army led by the fearsome Genghis Khan.

3. Late 13th Century: Marco Polo Visits

Under the Mongol Yuan dynasty’s first emperor, Kublai Khan (r. 1260–94), the city became known as Khanbalik, and was one of twin capitals – the other was Yuanshangdu, or Xanadu – of the largest empire ever known. The Venetian traveler Marco Polo was dazzled by the imperial palace:“No man on earth could design anything superior to it.”


Kublai Khan, of the Mongol Yuan dynasty

4. 1403–20: Construction of the Forbidden City

The Ming emperor Yongle (r. 1403–24) destroyed the palaces of his Mongol predecessors in order to rebuild the city, which he renamed Beijing (Northern Capital). He is credited with laying the foundations for the city as it is today, and the Forbidden City and Temple of Heaven began to take shape during his reign.

5. 1900: Boxer Rebellion

Western powers, frustrated by the reluctance of the Chinese to open up to foreign trade, put the imperial court under pressure, eventually going to war to protect their trade in opium. In 1900, championed by the Empress Cixi, a band of rebels known as the Boxers attacked Beijing’s Foreign Legation Quarter. A joint eight-nation army had to be sent to lift the siege.


Violent clashes during the Boxer Rebellion of 1900

6. 1912: The End of Empire

The last emperor, Pu Yi, was only three years old when he ascended the throne. Four years later, in February 1912, he was forced to abdicate by general Yuan Shikai’s new National Assembly.

7. 1949: Founding of the People’s Republic of China

In January 1949, Communist forces led by Mao Zedong seized Beijing. On October 1, Mao proclaimed the People’s Republic of China from the gallery of the Tian’an Men.

8. 1965: Launch of the Cultural Revolution

Having socialized industry and agriculture, Mao called on the masses to transform society itself. All distinctions between manual and intellectual work were to be abolished and the class system was to be eradicated. The revolution reached its violent peak in 1967, with the Red Guards spreading fear and havoc.


Mao’s 1965 Cultural Revolution

9. 1976: The Death of Mao

On September 9, 1976 Mao died. His long-time opponent Deng Xiaoping became leader, implementing reforms that encouraged greater economic freedom.

10. 2008: Beijing Hosts the Olympics

In 2008, Beijing hosted the Olympic Games. The city revamped its infrastructures, and some of the most striking and innovative buildings were created to house the various competitions (see The Olympic Legacy).


1. Magnetic compass

Developed from an instrument used for feng shui and geomancy, it helped the Chinese explore the world.


Chinese magnetic compass

2. Printing

In the 11th century, the Chinese carved individual characters on pieces of clay, inventing movable block type.

3. Paper money

This was developed by Chinese merchants as certificates of exchange. Lighter than coins, bills were soon adopted by the government.

4. Gunpowder

Stumbled on by Daoist alchemists seeking the elixir of life.

5. Seismometer

A ball fell from one of four dragons’ mouths to indicate the direction of the earthquake.

6. Abacus

Invented during the Yuan dynasty and still in use throughout China today.

7. Porcelain

The Chinese invented porcelain 1,000 years before Europe caught on – and kept production methods secret to protect their competitive advantage.

8. Paper

A prototype paper was made from mulberry bark, although bamboo, hemp, linen, and silk were also used to write on.

9. Crossbow

Better range, accuracy, and penetration than the standard bow.

10. Decimal system

Developed alongside the writing system, the decimal system led to mathematical advances.

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