Discovering Beijing through Books
There is a big difference between imagining what a city might look like after reading something about it and exploring the city when walking along its roads or touching a brick of its city walls. But most of the time, we have to accept the fact that we are not in that city and, moreover, we can’t just be there right away. It is regrettable that we can’t visit a city’s past because time travel is impossible. Time is objective but people often think or act subjectively.
In regard to reading about a city—in particular the city of Beijing—there is one group of people who are always grateful to their readers: Those who have written books about the city because they were drawn by its charm or driven by a sense of public mission. From their words, one can learn about the city’s history and development.
Beijingers are proud of the city’s history of over 3,000 years and of its more than 800 years as China’s capital in different eras. According to Youzhou fu (“a poetic essay on Youzhou [Beijing]”) written in the Song Dynasty (AD 960–1279), “Youzhou, the land of abundance, reaches to the vast sea to its left, the Taihang Mountains to its right, Juyong Pass to its north and the Yellow River to its south.” Xiong Mengxiang, a government official of the Yuan Dynasty (AD 1271–1368) was considered the first writer to have compiled detailed annal about Beijing, which was called Dadu, the capital of the Yuan Dynasty and one of the great metropolises in the world at that time. From Xiong’s work, entitled Xijin zhi (“annals of Beijing”), people can read about Beijing’s layout, streets, neighbourhoods, temples, people, customs and schools during that period.
After Xiong’s Xijin zhi was published, other scholars became keen on compiling books about the history and geography of Beijing. In the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), there were Dijing jingwulüe (“a brief introduction to the scenery in the imperial capital”) by Liu Tong and Yu Yizheng, and Chang’an kehua (“customers’ comments on Beijing”) by Jiang Yikui. In the late Ming and early Qing Dynasty (1644–1911), Tianfu guangji (“an extensive record of Beijing”) and Chunming mengyulu (“record of a remembered dream of the capital”) by Sun Chengze was published. Then later in the Qing Dynasty, several books came out: Chengyuan shilüe (“a brief introduction of Beijing’s city walls”) by Wu Changyuan, Rixia jiuwen (“old news of Beijing”) by Zhu Yizun, and Rixia jiuwen kao (“a study of old news of Beijing”) by Yu Minzhong. These are precious written records for people to learn about Beijing’s history and urban development.
Some of these authors spent most of their lives compiling these books, partly because they had deep feelings for the city. Moreover, there were other people who came from different places and had various reasons for settling down and seeking a livelihood here. They loved this place, and their love was a pure and simple feeling of affection toward their land and homes.
Some of them were great masters, such as Lao She (1899–1966) who was a key figure among Beijing-style novelists; Liang Shiqiu (1903–1987), who had a thorough knowledge of both Western and traditional Chinese culture, and wrote many articles about Beijing delicacies; Lin Yutang (1895–1976), who was a pioneer in showcasing the beauty of Beijing to the Western world. Their writings have become “basic textbooks” for people who are curious about Beijing, and are reference materials for people to explore the city.
Beijing is advancing. Everyone who loves the city may record it by using his or her own favourite ways, such as in writing, photography or film. We at Beijing magazine are the same. This magazine is our platform to showcase the city’s history, traditional culture, and today’s social and economic development.
We hope this special issue of Beijing magazine will be your companion during the golden fall season and the National Day holiday, and will provide an opportunity for new readers to learn about our magazine. (