In 1267, Kublai Khan (1215–1294) ordered Liu Bingzhong (1216–1274, a politician and litterateur) to build Dadu (literally “great capital”) centring on the Daning Palace (today’s Qionghua Island in Beihai Park) of the Jin Dynasty (1115–1234). Liu, a devout follower of Confucianism and general designer of the project, figured out planning for the capital according to principles elaborated in Chinese classics— Kaogong Ji (‘‘records of examination of craftsman’’) in Zhouli ( Rites of Zhou) and Zhouyi ( Book of Changes). Liu spent 26 years completing the new capital for the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368).
Facing south, Dadu (also known as Yuan Dadu) featured three “square cities”: the imperial palace, imperial city and outer city. The capital resembled a north–south rectangle with a 30-kilometre perimeter. Clearly demarcated streets and blocks took on the shape of a chessboard, which can still be glimpsed from streets and hutong (alleys) in today’s Beijing. Dadu, one of the most famous cities in the world at that time, had magnificent palaces, elegant gardens and parks, and well-arranged streets, with exquisite stone carvings and frescoes.
Dadu’s layout was orderly and symmetrical, outperforming that of any other capital in the Chinese history. Despite the collapse of the Yuan Dynasty, Dadu’s influence continued. Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) rulers reconstructed the capital, and Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) rulers continued with this reconstruction, bringing about great changes. However, the capital’s basic outline and structure was maintained.