Dis­cov­er­ing Bei­jing through Books

Beijing (English) - - EDITOR’S NOTE - Trans­lated by Wang Wei Edited by Roberta Raine)

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. (

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