The Central Axis Past and Present: Why Beijing Became Beijing

  "China News Weekly" reporter Zhang Xinyu

  Published in the 1063rd issue of "China News Weekly" magazine on October 3, 2022

  Tracing back to how the central axis of Beijing came into being and how it changed, is actually to find the answer to the question of "why did Beijing become Beijing"

  Zhu Zuxi clearly remembered the first time he saw Beijing City.

In 1955, Zhu Zuxi was admitted to the Department of Geology and Geography of Peking University as his first choice. He bid farewell to his hometown of Zhejiang and took a car and train. After several days and nights of bumps, he arrived at Qianmen Railway Station. He shook.

  From Yongdingmen and Zhengyangmen at the southern end, through the outer city, inner city, imperial city, and palace city of the ancient capital Beijing, and then north to the Bell and Drum Tower, is the central axis of Beijing with a total length of about 7.8 kilometers.

More than 60 years later, Zhu Zuxi, an expert in historical geography, began to talk about how the Beijing Central Axis came into being in various forums and lectures.

Even people who have lived in Beijing for most of their life may not be able to tell clearly what the central axis of Beijing is and what kind of history it carries.

  In Beijing, the place where the central axis can be most clearly perceived must be at the height of the old city.

Standing at the Wanchun Pavilion in Jingshan Park, you can see that the core buildings of the Forbidden City are arranged in sequence along the central axis, and the buildings on both sides are symmetrical according to the central axis.

Climbing up the 69 steps of the Drum Tower, looking southward on the second floor, you can see the Jingshan Wanchun Pavilion, which echoes in the distance, and you can clearly see that an axis is located in the center of Beijing City, and the buildings of blue bricks and gray tiles are scattered on the central axis. both sides.

  Since Liang Sicheng proposed the concept of Beijing's central axis in the 1940s, Chinese scholars have begun to explore the origin and evolution of Beijing's central axis.

Tracing back to how the central axis of Beijing came into being and how it changed, is actually to find an answer to the question of "why did Beijing become Beijing".

  The ideal mode of city construction

  Zhu Zuxi's first class at Peking University was a report on "Beijing's Origin and Changes" given to freshmen by Hou Renzhi, then head of the Department of Geology and Geography at Peking University.

When Hou Renzhi talked about Beijing's achievements in urban planning and construction, he would first mention "Zhou Li·Kaogong Ji" because it depicts the ideal model of ancient Chinese capital construction.

  The first sentence of "Zhou Li"'s opening statement is "Only the king builds the country, distinguishes the party and the position, organizes the country, sets up officials and positions, and considers the people's poles." Position, the purpose is to make the people of the world secure their positions, and to set off the gentleman's prestige.

  The plan for the layout of the capital in "Zhou Li·Kaogongji" is: "Craftsmen run the country, Fangjiuli, and three side gates. There are nine longitudes and nine latitudes in the middle school, and nine tracks of warp and painting. Zuozu and Youshe face the market outlook. "Chao Yifu" refers to the fact that the king's capital is square in plan, with three gates on each side. The city is divided into nine parts of equal area, which are respectively planned as different functional areas. As the center of the whole city planning, Miyagi is located in the city. The palace is planned according to the front and the back. The ancestral temple and the Sheji are placed symmetrically on the left and right sides of the outer court. The north-south line of the palace city is the central axis of the city. There is the palace in front of the center line and the city in the back.

  Wang Gang, librarian of the Beijing Municipal Research Institute of Culture and History and president of the Beijing Ancient Capital Society, told China News Weekly that the concept of capital city construction in "Zhou Li·Kaogongji" has always influenced the construction of ancient Chinese capitals.

In the blueprint of the ideal capital city construction, there is the existence of the central axis.

  There are different answers in the historical and archaeological circles as to what the first capital with a central axis appeared in ancient China.

Some historians believe that Yecheng in the Cao Wei period was the first capital to have a central axis, more than 1,700 years ago. At that time, a simple central axis appeared, that is, a north-south crossing avenue.

In the book "Viewing China from Archaeology", which includes articles by many famous archaeologists and scholars, archaeologist Wang Wei said that archaeological excavations and research have proved that the summer palace more than 4,000 years ago was not only in the middle of the capital, but also in the middle of the capital. In addition, the pattern of many palaces in the inner city has shown a pattern of "prominent central axis and symmetrical wings", with several courtyards in front and back arranged neatly.

This means that the central axis may appear earlier in the construction of the Chinese capital.

  In any case, the urban planning concept of the central axis has appeared in the ancient Chinese capital thousands of years ago, and there is no objection.

  Luoyang, the capital of the Wei, Jin, Southern and Northern Dynasties, has a clear central axis.

During the Sui and Tang Dynasties, the planning of the central axis of the capital had begun to have a conscious awareness. The Zhuque Street, which was about 150 meters wide, was the central axis of Chang'an City, and the layout of the central part of the city was also based on the principle of left-right symmetry.

In Tokyo in the Northern Song Dynasty, although the layout of the east and west wings is asymmetrical, this "Royal Street" is obviously the middle of the city, from the Yide Gate in the inner city to the Suzaku Gate in the inner city, and then to the Nanxun Gate in the outer city. Axis, and when Tokyo City is expanding, it also strives to form an urban axis.

  After the fall of the Northern Song Dynasty, the Jin Dynasty occupied most of the area north of the Yangtze River and began to take various measures to consolidate this territory, including the establishment of a capital system.

After King Hailing won the imperial power, he moved the capital to Yanjing and renamed it Zhongdu, making Beijing the capital of a generation of dynasties, which lasted until the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties.

  The newly built Jinzhongducheng by King Hailing also appeared the first central axis in the history of Beijing's capital city. This central axis starts from Fengyimen, the south gate of Jinzhongducheng in the south, and ends at Tongxuanmen, the north gate of Jinzhongducheng in the north. , with a total length of about 9 miles, the middle of which runs through the various groups of palaces in the entire imperial city.

  Now, only some incomplete ruins are left on the central axis of Jinzhongducheng.

In July 2002, on the eve of the 850th anniversary of the establishment of the capital of Jinzhongdu, the government of Xuanwu District, Beijing at that time built a memorial tower for the establishment of the capital of Beijing at the site of the Daandian Hall of Jinzhongdu in the south of Baizhifang Bridge on the West Second Ring Road.

  From the "central axis of the summer palace protruding and the two wings symmetrical" pattern of the summer palace thousands of years ago, to the central axis of the Jinzhongdu, the ancient capital of China has been constantly approaching the ideal of capital planning in "Zhou Li·Kaogongji".

  Origin Yuan Dadu

  Around 2014, the Beijing Institute of Literature and History decided to publish a set of books that systematically introduced the central axis of Beijing, and Wang Gang became the editor-in-chief of the set.

In 2017, the "Central Axis of Ancient Capital Beijing", divided into two volumes, was officially published. Among them, the change process of the central axis of Beijing from the Jin Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty accounted for a considerable length of this book.

  Wang Gang said that the first central axis of Beijing appeared in Jinzhongducheng, the current central axis of Beijing, and its location was determined during the Yuan Dynasty.

After the Yuan eradication of Jin, it gave up the use of Jin Zhongducheng, but chose a new site in the northeast to build the Yuan Daducheng.

  "Zuo Zu right society, facing the future market", this model mentioned in "Zhou Li·Kaogong Ji" appeared very early, "But to embody this ideal in a capital rising from the ground, it is very important Difficulty.” In Wang Gang’s view, it was not until the capital of the Yuan Dynasty that the ruler turned this ideal model into reality for the first time, and built an unprecedented central axis of the capital.

According to Hou Renzhi's point of view, the planning thought of "Zhou Li·Kaogongji" is most thoroughly reflected in the capital city of the Yuan Dynasty.

  In the construction of the Yuan Dynasty, the bell and the drum tower were placed in the center of the city, which was never seen in the previous capital model.

"Since the Han Dynasty, the design and construction of the ancient capital has undergone a process of change." Wang Gang said, from the Han Dynasty to the Tang Dynasty, the northernmost position was always considered to be the most important position, so the northernmost position of the whole city was reserved for the imperial city. .

In the Song Dynasty, what was advocated was "Zhong", and the position of the center was considered the most important, so the imperial city and the palace city were moved from the northernmost part of the city to the central position. In the center of the city, the bell and the drum tower are placed in the center, the most important place in the city.”

  The bell and the drum tower are places where people understand the laws of the sun, moon and stars. The twelve months of the year and the twelve hours of each day are displayed by beating drums and ringing bells.

Placing the bell and drum tower in the center of the city means that the planners of the Yuan Dynasty put the activities of the universe, or the laws of the operation of all things, in the most important position.

  In the capital city of Yuan Dynasty, the imperial city was placed in the south of the bell and drum towers, in the center of the south of the whole city.

The Taimiao Temple was placed on the east side of the imperial city, which was in line with the "left" position in "Zuozu Youshe".

The commercial market is distributed in the center of the capital, around the bell and the drum tower, as well as near the streets and city gates of various transportation hubs.

  The process by which the builders of the capital city of the Yuan Dynasty realized the ideal model in "Zhou Li·Kaogong Ji" was also a process for the rulers of the country to continuously consolidate political legitimacy and highlight the supremacy of imperial power.

  After Emperor Yongle of the Ming Dynasty moved the capital to Beijing, the city of Beijing moved to the south as a whole compared with the capital of the Yuan Dynasty. The Taimiao Temple and Sheji Altar were moved from both sides of the imperial city to the front of the imperial city, but the design of the central axis was still strictly preserved, forming a symmetrical central axis. The architectural layout pattern highlights the core position of the Forbidden City.

Most of the buildings on the central axis of Beijing that people see today were basically built in the Ming Dynasty.

  Zhu Zuxi remembers that when Hou Renzhi gave a lecture to the Department of Geography and History of Peking University, when he mentioned the political theme of Beijing City, he would tell the story of a county magistrate.

In the Ming Dynasty, a county magistrate was summoned by the emperor to enter the imperial city. He first entered the Daming Gate and walked through the thousand-step corridor of more than 500 meters with sincerity. When he saw the Jinshui Bridge, his vision opened up. The county magistrate thought that after crossing the Jinshui Bridge, After entering Chengtianmen, you can see the emperor.

Unexpectedly, after entering Chengtianmen, I have to walk more than 180 meters to Duanmen, and then walk more than 380 meters to Meridian Gate.

After entering the Meridian Gate, the vision becomes wider again, and you can see the Neijinshui Bridge and Fengtian Gate in front, and you have to walk more than 180 meters.

After passing through Fengtian Gate, the county magistrate finally saw Fengtian Hall, and he could see the emperor when he walked over, but after walking on the central axis, one long and one short, and one short and one long, the county magistrate could not bear the great spirit. Pressure, collapsed in Fengtianmen.

  Zhu Zuxi told China News Weekly that this shows that the city planners have noticed that changes in the environment, space and walking distance will cause psychological pressure on people, and have integrated the reverence for the emperor into the planning of the capital.

  The Qing Dynasty inherited and continued the overall spatial pattern of Beijing's central axis.

During the Shunzhi period and the Kangxi period, large-scale repairs and reconstructions were carried out on the palaces, temples and other state ritual buildings in the central axis area.

During the Yongzheng period, the renovation of Jingshan Shouhuang Palace was mainly completed. During the Qianlong period, the renovation and new construction of many palaces such as the Chonghua Palace were completed, and the altar and temple ritual buildings such as the Temple of Heaven were expanded and repaired.

This is also the last large-scale construction phase of Beijing's central axis.

  But the central axis of Beijing does not only exist as a symbol of the supremacy of imperial power.

Painted in the 32nd year of Qianlong's reign, "The Intentions of the Spring Poems of Teachers and Students in the Capital" started from Zhengyangmen Street and went from south to north to Jingshan, depicting the appearance of the central axis of the capital after the snow.

In the painting, there are emperors visiting the queen mother, courtiers and officials entering the palace to pay homage, and there is a lot of traffic on Qianmen Street. Citizens are lined up in Zhonghai.

The central axis of Beijing and its two wings, where commercial activities and civic activities are extremely prosperous, always carry the imprint of the life of the citizens other than "under the heavens, only me alone".

  Get to know the central axis of Beijing

  Although the central axis of Beijing has existed since the Yuan Dynasty, the architect Liang Sicheng was the first to propose the concept of the central axis of Beijing.

  In Liang Sicheng's "Buddhist Temples and Palaces in the Tang Dynasty as We Know It" published in 1932, he summed up the basic principles and characteristics of Chinese architectural layout, using the term "North-South Center Line".

In the History of Chinese Architecture written by Liang Sicheng in 1942 and completed in 1944, he began to use the term "central axis" when discussing the characteristics of the layout of Chinese buildings. The Hall of Supreme Harmony, Hall of Central Harmony, and Hall of Preserving Harmony are at the center, and are also used for the imperial ceremony.”

Since then, "central axis" has become a concept commonly used by Liang Sicheng, especially when referring to Beijing's planning.

  Liang Sicheng praised the central axis with great enthusiasm, saying that the magnificent order of Beijing's unique beauty was created by the establishment of this central axis, and "the majesty of the spirit is in this scale that extends from north to south and is consistent to the end."

Liang Sicheng also said that the Beijing Central Axis "has a musical rhythm", and he described the Beijing Central Axis as a picture scroll with layers, peaks and deep interest.

  In 1950, Liang Sicheng and Chen Zhanxiang co-authored the "Proposal on the Location of the Central People's Government's Administrative Center Area" (ie, Liang Chen's plan), the concept of Beijing's central axis was brought up again.

Liang Sicheng and Chen Zhanxiang suggested avoiding large-scale demolition and relocating the central administrative center to the western suburbs.

However, Liang Chen's plan was not adopted.

  Since the 1950s, due to the needs of urbanization, Beijing's city gates and city walls have been gradually demolished.

Yongding Gate, located at the southernmost end of Beijing's central axis, is an important landmark building on the central axis.

Since 1950, Yongdingmen's Wengcheng city wall has been demolished one after another. In 1957, Yongdingmen's gate tower and arrow tower were demolished on the grounds of "obstructing traffic" and "already dangerous buildings".

After that, the central axis of Beijing lost its southern end.

  Along with the urban construction of Beijing, a series of archaeological work has also begun.

The pace of demolition of the city wall has not stopped, but these studies try to spell out a more complete understanding of Beijing city.

  In 1964, archaeologist Xu Pingfang and others identified the location of the central axis of the Yuan Dynasty by means of archaeological exploration, and confirmed that the street from the Drum Tower to Jingshan was the north-south central axis of the Yuan Dynasty, which coincided with the north-south street of Di'anmen today. It confirms the direction of the central axis of the planning and construction of the southern half-axis of the capital city of the Yuan Dynasty, and the inner city of the Yuan Dynasty is built on this central axis.

  From 1964 to 1974, the Institute of Archaeology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Beijing Municipal Cultural Relics Task Force successively surveyed the ruins of the city, streets, rivers and lakes of the Yuan Dynasty, and basically proved the shape and scope of the Guocheng outside the Yuan Dynasty, as well as the imperial city. And the scope of Miyagi, forming a series of archaeological reports.

  A series of archaeological discoveries promoted the later research on the idea of ​​building the capital of the Yuan Dynasty.

For example, on the basis of archaeological work, Professor Zhao Zhengzhi of the Department of Architecture of Tsinghua University pointed out that the central axis of the Yuan Dynasty was the central axis of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. 's confirmation.

Fu Hsinian restored the layout of the Daming Hall and Yanchun Pavilion buildings in the imperial palace of the Yuan Dynasty in the article "Research on the Restoration of the Palace of the Great Capital of the Yuan Dynasty", and in his book "Ancient Chinese Urban Planning, Building Group Layout and Architectural Design Methods" In the book "Research", the overall planning of Yuan Dadu and the layout of the buildings were discussed.

  People's cognition of Beijing's central axis has also been continuously improved by Hou Renzhi, Liu Dunzhen, Yu Zhuoyun, Fu Xinian and others from the 1960s to the end of the last century through the research on the planning ideas and architectural designs of the capital city and the Forbidden City in the Yuan Dynasty.

  In March 1999, Wang Canchi, a researcher at the Beijing Academy of Social Sciences, submitted a proposal to rebuild Yongding Gate at the second meeting of the Ninth Beijing Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

At that time, the central government has clearly proposed that the development of the capital city should pay attention to the protection of the central axis of the ancient capital, the imperial city, the cultural relics buildings, and the pattern of the ancient capital.

However, this proposal did not receive a positive response after discussions on whether Yongding Gate should be rebuilt.

  In June 2000, Wang Shiren, a member of the Beijing Municipal Cultural Relics and Monuments Protection Committee, and some experts wrote a "Proposal on the Reconstruction of Yongding Gate" to the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Cultural Relics, which wrote: "The complete central axis represents the history of Beijing. Context. The gates, bridges, fangs, and halls on the central axis are the symbols of context. Everywhere records the historical changes of the capital. Losing the historical symbols of a city means losing its memory. One does not see a city that has lost its memory."

  This "Proposal" has been instructed and valued by the city leaders. On March 10, 2004, the reconstruction project of Yongdingmen officially started.

Wang Shiren once recalled that in order to ensure the "original taste" of Yongding Gate, cultural relic experts carried out a reconstruction design based on the actual survey map of Yongding Gate in 1937, purchased 12 iron wood from Africa, and processed them into 12 meters high, The "Golden Pillar" weighing 4 tons, in addition, the two 100-meter-long imperial roads in the late Ming Dynasty have been rebuilt in the reconstruction project, and more than 100 pieces of the old city bricks of the Qing Dynasty have also returned to the Yongding Gate tower.

  In September 2004, the Yongding Gate Tower was completed and re-established at the southern end of Beijing's central axis.

When the protection of the old city of Beijing has been placed in an increasingly important position, the central axis of Beijing, which was originally out of balance in the south, has since been completed.

  "Always find the North"

  Hou Renzhi, known as "Beijing Tong", put forward the "three milestones" in Beijing's urban planning and design in 1991: "The first milestone is the Forbidden City, the central building of Beijing, which is the planning and construction of Beijing during the feudal dynasty. It is a masterpiece of art. The second milestone is the reconstruction of Tiananmen Square, which gives a new meaning to the city's central axis with a long tradition. Culturally, it shows the special significance of inheriting the past and connecting the future. The arrival of a new era. The third milestone is the construction of the Olympic Park, which highlights the new look of the capital in the 21st century and marks the arrival of the era of Beijing becoming an international metropolis.”

  The third milestone mentioned by Hou Renzhi is also the sign of the first northward extension of Beijing's central axis.

In the late 1980s, after Beijing successfully bid to host the 1990 Asian Games, in order to connect the city center and the Asian Games Village, Gulouwai Street was led out from the Gulou Bridge on the North Second Ring Road, and north to outside the Third Ring Road, it was Beichen Road.

The central axis is extended.

Since then, Beijing's bid for the Olympics has been successful, and the central axis has been extended to the north again, with the Bird's Nest and the Water Cube falling on both sides of the axis.

  In 1969, 6-year-old Zhang Jie came to Beijing with his parents. The concept of "Beijing Central Axis" never came to his mind until 1988.

When the weather was just getting hot that year, Zhang Jie knew that the courtyard at No. 21 Andri North Street, where he had witnessed his childhood and still lived, would be divided into two, because "the central axis must pass through the middle".

That year, the homes of Zhang Jie and many residents of the compound were demolished and then relocated.

  Later, recalling the summer of 1988, Zhang Jie felt regretful, "It was one of the biggest regrets in my photography career that I couldn't take pictures of the scene at that time." Zhang Jie started photography in 1981 and is now a Chinese news photographer. The director of the society and the vice chairman of the China Coal Mine Photographers Association, in recent years, he has spent almost all his spare time traveling on the central axis of Beijing. The photos taken on the central axis have accumulated a storage capacity of 8TB.

  In 2018, Zhang Jie published the photo book "Bell and Drum Tower - Those Years".

As early as 2008, Zhang Jie was preparing to do a long-term filming project on the central axis of Beijing. At that time, he saw that the Bell and Drum Tower area was rated as "the most worth seeing place before disappearing" by the American "Times" magazine, and then the Bell and Drum Tower was named as "the most worth seeing place before disappearing". as the first subject to be photographed.

Zhang Jie spent his middle school days in Beijing No. 1 Middle School in the Bell and Drum Tower area. He still remembers where he was playing and sparring with his classmates in the Bell and Drum Tower area. "I have feelings for the Drum Tower. When I went to shoot, It’s also about finding childhood memories.”

  The Bell and Drum Tower area, located at the northernmost end of Beijing's traditional central axis, has always been a prosperous place for business.

Zhang Jie strung together memories of the Bell and Drum Tower area during the filming.

When I was in school, in the Zhonggulou Hutong, the neighbors were always in harmony. They knew where the keys of each other's house were kept. When they visited their classmates' homes, they were always kept for dinner by their classmates' parents.

Later, when I go there, there are various bars and coffee houses on both sides of the Bell and Drum Tower. There are also many rock and roll players. The sound is so shocking that the neighbors can't stand it.

"After 1996, the surrounding environment of the Bell and Drum Towers was controlled and entered another state. Suddenly, many foreigners, even foreigners, came to the hutongs. I felt that Beijing is worthy of being an international city. It can take everyone."

  Zhang Jie spent 8 years photographing the Bell and Drum Towers, and at the same time photographing the central axis of Beijing.

In 2021, Zhang Jie will publish a photo album "Beijing Central Axis". In the video, high-speed trains pass by Yongding Gate, thousands of citizens enjoy the view of the Forbidden City in the snow, and middle-aged men and women walk by holding umbrellas on the Sheji altar in the rain. In Yangshan, Olympic Forest Park, tourists take pictures at the "Yangshan Coordinate Point of Beijing's Central Axis".

  Citizens living in the city of Beijing participate in the changes and even the extension of the central axis of Beijing.

In the academic world, after Beijing proposed the central axis application for World Heritage in 2011, the research on the central axis of Beijing has gradually reached its peak.

  There are many topics that have received attention.

For example, what is the length of the central axis of Beijing?

The statement of 7.8 kilometers is considered by some experts and scholars to be inconsistent with the cultural connotation of the central axis. Li Xiankui, director of the Expert Committee of the China National Architecture Research Association, former director of the Science and Technology Department of the Ministry of Construction, and the Department of Foreign Affairs, believes that it should be expressed in the traditional "mile" number. It is 15 miles, and "fifteen" is a mysterious "number of heavenly secrets".

For example, is the starting point of the central axis of Beijing the Yongdingmen or the Bell and Drum Tower, and the southern end or the northern end?

Both theories are supported by scholars.

For example, the central axis of Beijing does not coincide with the meridian, but is slightly offset to the east. Therefore, many scholars have put forward their own ideas based on the literature. Wang Jun, deputy director of the Palace Museum Institute of Palace Studies, believes that the counterclockwise direction of the central axis of Beijing is slightly Rotating twice is a choice made by the ancestors with the ability to accurately measure, and has a profound connection with the Mingtang system, the belief in worshiping the heavens, and the concept of choosing a land according to the situation.

  Regarding the discussion on the historical origin and cultural connotation of Beijing's central axis, consensus has been reached on some issues, and some issues are still being debated.

But all of these debates are collectively shaping our perception of Beijing's central axis, and of the city.

  The filming in the past few years has given Zhang Jie an opportunity to re-understand the central axis. "The story of the central axis will never be finished, so let's dig it out."

Although the photo book about the Beijing Central Axis has been published, Zhang Jie is still photographing the Beijing Central Axis.

  (The writing of this article refers to the "Central Axis of Ancient Capital Beijing" edited by the Beijing Institute of Culture and History and "Yingcheng: The Magic of the Master" by Zhu Zuxi)

  "China News Weekly" 2022 Issue 37

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