National Geographic : 1933 Jun
THE GLORY THAT WAS IMPERIAL PEKING BY W. ROBERT MOORE AUTHOR oF "ALONG THE OLD MANDARIN ROAD IN INDO-CHINA," COSMOPOLITANN SHANGHAI, KEY SEAPORT OF CHINA," "MOTOR TRAILS IN JAPAN," ETC., IN THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE UST hovers over Peiping.* When a dust storm is on, half of the Gobi seems to hang over the city. Great clouds of it come rolling up from the west, the blue sky becomes jaundiced, and, as the pall thickens, the sunlight fades and is lost. Dust comes sifting through every crack and crevice and even mounds up on the sills inside tightly closed win dows and doors. Resting coolies turn their backs to the wind, people ride with scarfs over their faces, and everyone who returns from out door errands is heavily powdered with the wind-driven yellow-gray loess. With luck it blows over or settles in a few hours or-a couple of days. Ordinarily, however, Peiping's dust is but that thick layer of gray earth of the street, powdered to infinite fineness by plodding camel trains, loaded "Peking carts," and the tread of countless thou sands of feet. It is whisked thither by the winds that sweep along the broad avenues and eddy up and down between the walls that bracket the labyrinth of narrow, twist ing residential thoroughfares. More striking than these outward physi cal aspects is that perpetual dust layer of spent grandeur which haunts one of the glory that was Imperial Peking. CAPITAL SITE FOR FORTY CENTURIES Long before the hard-riding, conquer ing Mongol, Kublai Khan, with his vic torious followers established Khanbaligh (Cambaluc, also Taitu) as winter capital here, the site had already supported earlier capitals. Ancient Chi, Yu Chou, Yenching (also called Nanching), and Chung Tu had been built, expanded, and razed-piles of dust. Chinese chronicles record a span of nearly forty centuries. But who knows ? Perhaps when the famous "Peking man" (whose skull I saw being studied in the Peking Union Medical College) was roaming these lands, some sort of communal center existed here. * The name of the former capital of China was officially changed in 1928 to Peiping. Drama has continued to march in cycles since Marco Polo visited the capital of the Khans and brought back to unbelieving Venice tales of its incredible magnificence. The city recently gave way again to Nanking's predominance as China's politi cal center, and has reassumed the name Peiping, which it possessed in the sad days before the later Mings and Manchus ruled from the Dragon Throne. But Peking (or Pei Ching, if one takes the northern pronunciation), meaning "Northern Capital," it will continue long to be called, even though the turn of politi cal events has robbed it of that rank and has reduced it to the City of the Northern Plains. CITIES WITHIN A CITY To see the city best is to gain first a view of its entirety. An excellent vantage point is one of the high towers of the massive city wall, or "Coal Hill," a mound back of the Forbidden City-a panorama once de nied lest one happen to peep at the Imperial palaces (see Plate VI). Better yet, see it from the air. After a bumpy and dust-choking motor ride out to the airdrome one afternoon, we are soon skimming northward toward the city on the wings of a Junkers plane. Away to the west and north stretch the faint purple ridges of the Western Hills. Within a few moments Peiping begins to resolve itself from the ground-dust haze and to take on rare symmetry. First emerged two mighty rectangles in juxtaposition to each other and inclosed in heavy fortifying walls, rectangles splotched with blues, greens, reds, yellows, and grays. Then other divisions became visible. A city beside a city and cities within a city-such is Peiping. As one approaches from the south, the Chinese section is in the foreground, and stretching back from it is the old Manchu or Tatar district, within the center of which is the Imperial City. Pinkish-red walls, yellow tiled on top, in turn set apart the yellow-roofed "Purple Forbidden City" in the heart of the moated Imperial inclosure.