Perhaps no other nation on earth has moved its capital as frequently, and as far, as China. Nine cities have served as capitals throughout China’s 5000 year history. However, four of these cities distinguish themselves by being considered the Four Ancient Capitals of China.
In Mandarin Chinese, they are referred to as Zhongguo Si Da Gu Du (中国四大古都). These four cities are Beijing, Xi’an, Nanjing, and Luoyang.
Mao Zedong proclaims the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949. Beijing has been the capital of China ever since.
The bustling city of Beijing has been China's capital for nearly six hundred years (besides one brief exception). The Ming Dynasty declared Beijing its capital city in 1421. It remained the capital throughout the duration of the Ming Dynasty and subsequent Qing Dynasty. In 1912, Sun Yat-Sen's nationalist forces overthrew the emperor, established the Republic of China, and placed the capital in Nanjing (where it had been previously). There the capital stayed until 1949, when Mao Ze-Dong defeated the Nationalists and proclaimed Beijing as the capital of the People's Republic of China. Since that time, Beijing has remained the center of Chinese politics.
Image: Part-Time Traveler
Boasting 3,100 years of history, Xi’an ranks as one of the oldest cities in China. Originally called, Chang’an (meaning Perpetual Peace), Xi’an served as the capital to 13 dynasties. Emperor Qin, the first leader to unify China, cemented Xi’an’s place in history by naming it the capital in 221 BC. Today, tourists flock to Xi’an to see the Terracotta Warriors, the ancient city wall, and the mausoleum of Emperor Qin.
Its name literally meaning “Southern Capital”, Nanjing first became China’s in 1368, at the beginning of the Ming Dynasty. The founder of the Ming Dynasty, Emperor Hongwu, renamed the city Yingtianfu, which means “Responding to Heaven”. Nanjing became one of the world’s most thriving and populated cities. The famed Chinese admiral Zheng He used Nanjing as a base for his explorations. Nanjing remained China’s capital only until 1421, when Emperor Zhu Di moved the capital to Beijing.
Image: BYU Kennedy Center
Perhaps the lesser known of these four ancient capitals is Luoyang. Today it is an industrial city located in the west of Henan province, but before it thrived as the capital to multiple dynasties. Luoyang first became China’s capital in 770 BCE. During this time, Luoyang became the center of Buddhist life in China. One of the most famous tourist sites in Luoyang are the Longmen Caves, which house tens of thousands of Buddhist statues. The city often competed with nearby Xi’an, and the two cities often swapped the title as China’s capital.