National Geographic : 1949 Sep
Power Comes Back to Peiping BY NELSON T. JOHNSON AND W. ROBERT MOORE* THERE has been some kind of city where Peiping (Peking)t now stands for 3,000 years. Under one name or another and from time to time, this has been China's capital, even as it was when the Mongol empire stretched from Siberia to beyond Moscow and south into Mesopotamia. The Peiping we know, with its mighty walls and temples, was built as late as 1421. And, though Nanking has lately been China's seat of government, it seems now that Peiping may again become the center of power, if not of China's wealth and glory. Peiping's Face Is Still the Same News dispatches say that while the Red invasion has not changed the structure of the city and its normal way of life, its once luxurious habits are so different that Ameri cans and other foreigners who knew it in its palmy tourist times would now hardly recognize it. Such famed hotels as the Pekin and the Wagons-Lits no longer shelter foreigners. Guarded by sentries, they are reserved for Chinese Communist officers and officials. Drab uniforms are everywhere. Men in Euro pean dress are scarce. Though workers still follow their old trades when they can get work to do, the once wealthy banking and merchant classes are in eclipse. Some curio shops are closed or have gone into other lines of trade. Busiest spot seems to be the popular open-air market, a sort of hawkers' bazaar set up outside the old Legation Quarter. Americans and other foreigners, quitting North China, many via Tientsin and the sea, say Peiping is crowded now with newcomers, including hordes of country boys who ride in on their shaggy ponies. Crowds of young people frequent the bookshops, where litera ture of a new ideology is available (pages 338, 344, 364, 368). If it is true that Peking is again to be China's capital, that fact is significant, be cause Peking was always the seat of govern ments whose primary interests centered upon events occurring north of the Great Wall (map, page 341). Dominating the fertile Yellow River (Hwang Ho) plain, Peiping commands the passes to the Mongolian plateau, through which wild horsemen from the north made their raids. It was against them the Great Wall was built.§ Peiping also commands the narrow passage between mountain and sea at Shanhaikwan (Linyu) to the east; through there, from Manchuria in 1644, came the Tatars, to begin the Manchu conquest of China. One Chinese said that the Chinese Republic had done well to shift its capital from Peiping to Nanking, "for," he remarked, "the old city of Peking seemed to cast a spell over all those who went to live within its walls." Everyone who has been to Peking has felt this spell. It seems to descend on him the minute he passes through the tunnellike en trance of the Chien Men, on his first visit to the city (page 362). City Built as God-Emperor's Capital Perhaps the sense of this spell, or "atmos phere," is felt because Peking is the last great city of China to be built for the specific pur pose of accommodating the pomp, ceremony, and pageantry of a God-Emperor, Vice-regent of Heaven on Earth, mediator between seden tary farmer and omnipotent Heaven. His tem poral rule was accompanied by religious ritual meticulously observed in audience hall and at state shrines, carefully established in relation one to the other. As with Babylon and Nineveh, so with Peking; tons of books have been written about it, and here is space for only this brief sketch. As we said, it's had many names, beginning with one old city just to its north west, named Chi. Even before Marco Polo came, Genghis Khan had been to Peking. To Polo, the great Mongol capital of Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis, was known as Cambaluc, or "City of the Great Khan." Venice wouldn't believe Polo's wild tales that rocks (coal) burned here, that money was *Both authors of this article have long known China. Nelson T. Johnson went there as a State De partment language student in 1907 and later rose to the rank of ambassador. W. Robert Moore has cov ered thousands of miles in China as staff writer and photographer for the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGA ZINE. t The old name Peking (meaning "Northern Capi tal") was changed to Peiping ("Northern Peace") in 1928 by the Nationalists after the capital was moved to Nanking. $ See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE: "New Road to Asia," by Owen Lattimore, December, 1944; and "People of the Wilderness (Mongols)," May, 1921. § See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE: "A Thousand Miles Along the Great Wall of China," Feb ruary, 1923.