Jin Move Their Capital to Beijing

The Jurchens, during the Jin Dynasty, located their capital in Beijing, bringing the city into prominence as the center of Chinese culture.

Summary of Event

The history of China during the Song Dynasty Song Dynasty (Sung; 960-1276) is intertwined with the Khitan Liao Khitan Liao Dynasty (907-1125), Jin (Chin; 1115-1234), and Yuan Yuan Dynasty Dynasties (1279-1368), which originated from the inner Asian steppes, commonly referred to as Manchuria and Mongolia today. Since the dawn of Chinese history, these alien ethnic groups posed a significant threat to Chinese rulers who tried hard to resist militarily or, as during the Han Dynasty (206 b.c.e.-220 c.e.), to maintain peace by offering Chinese princesses to the khans as brides and sending annual tributes. These methods of pacifying China’s border enemies were followed by the Song court, which made yearly tributes amounting to 200,000 taels of silver and 300,000 bolts of silk. Still, this was not enough for the ambitious Jurchens of the Jin Dynasty. [kw]Jin Move Their Capital to Beijing (1153)
[kw]Beijing, Jin Move Their Capital to (1153)
Jin Dynasty
China;1153: Jin Move Their Capital to Beijing[1970]
Expansion and land acquisition;1153: Jin Move Their Capital to Beijing[1970]
Government and politics;1153: Jin Move Their Capital to Beijing[1970]

The Jurchens, led by Aguda (A-ku-ta, r. 1115-1123), became so powerful that they first allied with the Chinese to conquer the Khitans of Liao, driving them away from Chinese territory. After that, the Jurchens refused to leave, choosing to remain in China by force. The beleaguered Song government fled to the south and set up its capital in Hangzhou. The Jurchens, who had kidnapped the Song emperor Huizong Huizong (Song emperor) (Hui-tsung; r. 1101-1125), occupied Kaifeng, the old capital of the Song administration in 1127, waiting for a chance to advance farther.

Both the Khitans and the Jurchens became sinicized. The dynastic title of Jin came from the Chinese word for “gold,” which happened to be the name of a river in the Jurchens’s homeland. The Jin administration encouraged translations from Confucian Confucianism;Jurchens classics, such as Confucius’s Lunyu (late sixth-early fifth centuries b.c.e.; The Analects, 1861), Mencius’s Mengzi (early third century b.c.e.; The Works of Mencius, 1861; commonly known as Mengzi), and Xiaojing (fifth century b.c.e.; The Classic of Filial Piety, 1899). Together with Chinese historical writings such as Chunqiu (fifth century b.c.e.; The Ch’un Ts’ew with the Tso Chuen, 1872; commonly known as Spring and Autumn Annals), Sima Qian’s Shiji (first century b.c.e.; Records of the Grand Historian, 1960), and the Han Shu (also known as Qian Han Shu, completed first century c.e.; The History of the Former Han Dynasty, 1938-1955), they formed the corpus of state examinations Examinations, Chinese civil service;Jin Dynasty for the Jin. Chinese language was also used as a means of communication in the Jin court. The Jin state obviously wanted its intellectuals and officials to be familiar with Chinese thought and culture.

On January 9, 1150, Digunai Digunai , whose Chinese name was Wanyan Liang, murdered his cousin, the Jin emperor Xizong Xizong (Jin emperor) (Hsi-tsung; r. 1135-1150), who was a hard drinker devoted to sensual pleasures. The new emperor, who was referred to in the Jin shu (thirteenth century; history of Jin) as the king of Hailing (Hailing wang) rather than as the emperor of Jin, revealed himself as a fierce, ruthless, and bloodthirsty man. Not only did he murder his political opponents from the imperial clan, but he also transferred the wives and concubines of his murdered cousin to his own palace. The king (or prince) of Hailing was exceptionally fond of Chinese culture and traditions and was well acquainted with the Chinese classics and history; he fought against the old tribal and feudal ways of the Jin. He brought about reforms in fiscal policy and administration in the Jin state. In his palace, he practiced the Chinese customs of chess playing and tea drinking.

The king of Hailing believed that if the Jin were to rule the Chinese, they themselves must be more Chinese. His biggest attempt at sinicizing the dynasty was his decision to move the Jin capital to Beijing. In 1152, the king took up residence in this city and constructed new palaces. The year after, he renamed the city, calling it Zhongdu, or the “central capital.” There he received Song envoys and visitors who were astounded by the magnificence of his Chinese-style palaces. According to Fan Zhengda (Fan Cheng-ta), a statesman from the Southern Song court, as many as 800,000 laborers and 400,000 soldiers were employed in building the fine palaces, which were filled with precious ornaments and treasures looted from the Song during the war. In 1157, the king of Hailing, satisfied with his decision to move to Zhongdu, ordered the old Jurchen capital at Huining, Manchuria, burned and destroyed. To display his power, a new imperial residence was constructed at Kaifeng, the former Song capital, which he now referred to as his southern capital. All in all, the king of Hailing wanted to be a Chinese ruler, not a Jurchen leader. He saw himself as a legitimate overlord of China. Architecture;China

The king of Hailing’s harshness—even to his own people—aroused anger and resentment in his court. Finally, in the winter of 1161, during one of his military campaigns against China, a group of conspirators from the conservative sect in the Jin court organized a coup, during which the king was assassinated. After the king of Hailing’s demise, a more moderate ruler, Shizong Shizong (Jin emperor) (Shi-tsung; r. 1161-1190), succeeded to the throne. Compared with the king of Hailing, Shizong was not as fond of Chinese culture or as inclined toward sinicization. Nostalgic about the old capital in Manchuria, the new emperor ordered it to be partially rebuilt, and he spent almost a year there later. Although the Chinese language was still being used in court, Shizong was very pleased when a poem in the Jurchen language was presented to him as a birthday gift. Despite Shizong’s efforts to revive Jurchen culture and traditions, during his reign, Beijing remained the capital of the Jin.


During the Zhou Dynasty (Chou; 1066-256 b.c.e.), the area that is now known as Beijing was called Ji. Later in the Warring States Period (475-221 b.c.e.), Ji became prominent and was used as a capital city by the state of Yen, which renamed it Yenjing (Yen capital). Beijing was given the name Yuzhou during the Western Jin Dynasty (Chin; 265-316), when the city was under the control of the Hu tribes. Politically speaking, the city of Beijing occupied a strategic location on the north China plain. In the north and northeast, there was a natural mountain barrier, and toward the east was the Yellow Sea. Only two passes led to the regions over the mountains beyond the Great Wall, keeping the city rather safe. After the Grand Canal Grand Canal (China) was completed in 609, Beijing became part of the main route of commerce between northern and southern China. In addition, large tax remittances in grain also traveled on the Grand Canal, adjacent to the outskirts of the city on the Beihe River, leading to the capital at Chang’an. The Sui Dynasty (581-618) named the city Zhuozhun, using it as a district administrative center.

During the Tang Dynasty (T’ang; 618-907), the city reverted to its earlier name, Yuzhou, and its political significance somewhat diminished. The government mainly used it for residences for military governors, one of whom was An Lushan An Lushan , the rebel leader who almost toppled the Tang court with a rebellion that lasted from 755 to 763. The end of the Tang Dynasty heralded in another period of political division in China during which barbarians from northern China entered the Chinese plain and co-ruled China with the Song administration. The first such major alien group was the Khitans Khitans , who occupied the northern part of China down to the Huai River in the south and set up their kingdom called Liao (907-1125). The Khitans used two names in reference to Beijing and its vicinity: Nanjing (south capital) and Yenjing. After 937, the city was mostly referred to as the southern capital of Liao, differentiating it from the main capital in Manchuria in the north. The Khitans tore down the old city of Yuzhou and built in its place a city with an enclosed imperial palace, modeled on the Tang capital city of Chang’an. This marked the debut of Beijing and its vicinity as a secondary capital city in Chinese history.

The first ruler to use Beijing as his official capital was the king of Hailing, who rebuilt the city after his victory over the Song army and named it Zhongdu. However, the city of Beijing did not assume a more prominent and lasting role as a capital city until the advent of Kublai Khan Kublai Khan (r. 1260-1294), the Mongolian leader from the Yuan Dynasty. He set up the Yuan capital at Beijing, calling it Dadu (great capital). Beijing remained the permanent home of the ruling houses during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (Ch’ing; 1644-1911) Dynasties and became the political center of modern-day China.

Further Reading

  • Cameron, Nigel, and Brian Brake. Peking: A Tale of Three Cities. Tokyo: John Weatherhill, 1965. Presents Beijing in three phases: the Mongol century, the last dynasty, and in the republic. Filled with historical photographs, maps, and charts.
  • Franke, Herbert, and Hok-lam Chan, eds. Studies on the Jurchens and the Chin Dynasty. Brookfield, Vt.: Ashgate, 1997. A collection of papers on the Jurchens and the Jin Dynasty in China. Illustrations, maps, bibliography, and index.
  • Gernet, Jacques, A History of Chinese Civilization. Translated by J. R. Foster. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982. Part 6 of chapter 6, “The Sinicized Empire,” covers the Khitan Liao Dynasty; the Xixia, the empire of cattle breeders and caravaners; and the Jurchen’s Jin Dynasty.
  • Sinor, Denis. The Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990. A good study of the different ethnic groups in Inner Asia, including the Scythians, Sarmatians, Xiongnu, Huns, Turks, Uighurs, Tibetans, Khitans, and Jurchens.
  • Tillman, Hoyt C., and Stephen H. West, eds. China Under Jurchen Rule: Essays on Chin Intellectual and Cultural History. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995. Ten essays by specialists in the field and a 22-page introduction by the editors. The essays are grouped under the headings of “Politics and Institutions,” “Religion and Thought,” and “Literature and Art.”
  • Twitchett, Denis, and Herbert Franke, eds. Alien Regimes and Border States, 907-1368. Vol. 6 in The Cambridge History of China. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Chapter 3 on the Jin Dynasty by Franke gives a comprehensive look at the sinicized Jurchens throughout their history, in terms of their founding rulers and their relationship with the Song. The second part of the chapter deals with the Jin government structure.