The spelling Beijing was adopted for use within the People's Republic of China upon the approval of Hanyu Pinyin on February 11, 1958, during the Fifth Session of the 1st National People's Congress. It became obligatory for all foreign publications issued by the People's Republic on 1 January 1979. It was gradually adopted by various news organizations, governments, and international agencies over the next decade.
"Peking" is a spelling created by French missionaries of the 17th and 18th centuries. In De Christiana expeditione apud Sinas (1615), Matteo Ricci calls the city Pechinum. (The English translation gives Pequin.) "Peking" appears in A Description of the Empire of China (1735) by Jean-Baptiste Du Halde. These early spellings may represent pronunciation in the Nanjing dialect, which was used as a lingua franca at this time, or the various other southern Chinese languages (e.g., Cantonese, Hokkien and Hakka) used by the traders of the port cities visited by early European traders. Peking was the English name of the city until the adoption of pinyin. However, it is still employed adjectivally in terms such as "Pekingese", "Peking duck", "Peking Man" and various others. The name is retained at Peking University as well. The name remains in common and official use in many other languages.
Entrance to the Beiping Municipal Government office, 1935
The city has had many other names. The chronological list below sets out both the names of the city itself, and, in earlier times, the names of the administrative entities covering the city today.
Ji: The first major known settlement was the eponymous capital of the ancient Ji state between the 11th and 7th centuries BC. The settlement was also known as Jicheng. It was located in the current city's Guang'anmen neighborhood south of the Beijing West railway station.
Yan: Ji was conquered by Yan around the 7th century BC but was employed as its conqueror's new capital. Although the official name remained as Ji, the city also became known as Yan and Yanjing ("Capital of Yan"). The name was employed in the titles of An Lushan (as Emperor of Yan), Liu Rengong (as King of Yan), and the Princes of Yan. The Khitans of the 10th- to 12th-century Liao Dynasty fully restored the name Yanjing and it remains a name for Beijing in literary usage today, as reflected in the locally brewed Yanjing Beer and the former Yenching University (since merged into Peking University).
Khanbaliq: The MongolianYuan Dynasty originally restored the name Yanjing before constructing a new capital adjacent to the former settlement. This settlement was called Dadu in Chinese and Daidu in Mongolian. (As Khanbaliq, it was noted as Cambuluc by Marco Polo.) This city gradually absorbed the former settlements around the area.
Beiping: Under the Ming Dynasty, the city itself was initially known as Beiping. The name reads literally as "Northern Peace", although its usage and connotations are closer to the idea of "Northern Plains".
Shuntian: When the usurping Yongle Emperor established his base of Beiping as a secondary capital in 1403, he renamed the town Shuntian and the province surrounding it Beizhili to mimic the names of Yingtian (modern Nanjing) and the province of Zhili that surrounds it.
Jingshi and Beijing: When the palace was finally completed in 1420, the Yongle Emperor moved the majority of his court north. The name Jingshi ceased to be used for Yingtian and was now employed for Shuntian. The area around Yingtian became known as Nanjing while Beijing was used to describe the area directly administered by the capital (generally modern Hebei).
Beiping, in both its connotations, was restored as the name in 1928 by the Republic of China following its reconquest of Beijing from the warlords during the Northern Expedition. The occupying Japanese in 1937 imposed the name Peking (Beijing), then with their surrender in 1945, the Nationalist Government restored "Beiping". In 1949, the official name again reverted to "Peking" (the Postal Romanization) when the Communists conquered the capital during the Chinese Civil War and founded the People's Republic of China. As noted above, the pinyin romanization, "Beijing", was adopted for use within the country in 1958, and for international use in 1979. The American government continued to follow the Nationalist government in using "Beiping" until the late 1960s.
The Nanjing of the Northern Song was located at Shangqiu in Henan. The Jurchen Jin located theirs at Kaifeng,) which had been the Northern Song's "Dongjing". The Jurchen Jin also had a Dongjing ("Eastern Capital"), which was, however, located at Liaoyang in Liaoning. Apart from these, there were two Xijings (??, "Western Capital"): one was the "Western Capital" of the Northern Song dynasty, located at Luoyang; the other was held by the Liao and Jurchen Jin at Datong. Liaoyang was the Zhongjing (, "Central Capital") of the Liao dynasty and, finally, another Zhongdu ("Central Capital") was planned but never completed. It was the proposed capital of the Ming Dynasty mooted by the Hongwu Emperor in the 14th century, to be located on the site of his destroyed childhood village of Zhongli (), now Fengyang in Anhui.
^During the Qin dynasty, the City of Ji served as the regional capital of the Guangyang Commandery ().
^During the Eastern Han dynasty, Youzhou, as one of 12 prefectures, contained a dozen subordinate commanderies, including the Guangyang Commandery. In 24 AD, Liu Xiu moved Youzhou's prefectural seat from Ji County (in modern-day Tianjin) to the City of Ji (in modern-day Beijing). In 96 AD, the City of Ji served as the seat of both the Guangyang Commandery and Youzhou. The Wei Kingdom reorganized and decentralized the governance of commanderies under Youzhou. Guangyang Commandery became the State of Yan (), which had four counties: Ji County, Changping, Jundu and Guangyang County, and was governed from the City of Ji. Fanyang Commandery was governed from Zhuo County. Yuyang Commandery was governed from Yuyuang (in modern-day Huairou District of Beijing), Shanggu Commandery was governed from Juyong (in modern-day Yanqing County of Beijing).
^During the Tang dynasty, the seat of the government of Youzhou remained in place but took on slightly different names. In 616, the government was called Youzhou Zongguanfu (); in 622, Youzhou Dazongguanfu (); in 624, Youzhou Dadudufu () and in 626, Youzhou Dudufu (). From 710, the head of the government in Youzhou became a jiedushi, a military regional commander. In 742, Youzhou was renamed Fanyang Commandery (). In 759, during the An-Shi Rebellion, Shi Siming declared himself emperor of the Great Yan dynasty and made Fanyang, Yanjing or "the Yan Capital." After the rebellion was suppressed, the seat of government became Youzhou Lulong Dudufu (?).
^The seat of government in Nanjing was known as Youdufu () until 1012, when the name was changed to Xijinfu ().
^After 1151, the capital of the Jin dynasty from Shangjing to Yanjing, which was renamed Zhongdu. Zhongdu refers to the Zhongdulu (), an administrative unit which governed about 12 surrounding prefectures and 39 counties. The governing seat of Zhongdulu was Daxingfu ().
^The seat of government in Beiping, later Beijing, was called Shuntianfu ().
^*A discourse of the Kingdome of China, taken out of Ricius and Trigautius, containing the countrey, people, government, religion, rites, sects, characters, studies, arts, acts ; and a Map of China added, drawne out of one there made with Annotations for the understanding thereof, and A continuation of the Jesuites Acts and observations in China till Ricius his death and some yeers after. Of Hanceu or Quinsay. (excerpts from De Christiana expeditione, in English translation) in Purchas his Pilgrimes, Volume XII (1625), Chapters VII and VIII. The two preceding chapters, V and VI, also contain related Jesuit accounts. Can be found in the full text of "Hakluytus posthumus" on archive.org.