Beijing, the former capital of the Chinese empire, then of the Chinese Republic, suffered a double loss of prestige and influence after 1911. First the imperial dynasty ran its course and eventually abdicated under the pressure from the revolutionaries and its own military supporters. The fall of the Qing dynasty had a profound impact on the capital, both because the court stopped playing the crucial economic and social role it had played in the past and because a large part of the population – the banner population – depended fully on the court for its livelihood. The abdication of the dynasty meant the complete stoppage of purchases by the court and its administration, while an increasingly impoverished banner population, mostly Manchus, offered little prospect of an economic recovery. Second, the victorious nationalists decided in 1928 to move the capital from Beijing to Nanjing. Coming less than 15 years after the fall of the dynasty, the removal of administrations and civil servants en masse from the city further depleted the economic and human resources in Beijing. This difficult context created the conditions for rising tensions and escalating social disorder in the city.

Beijing has attracted the interest of historians of modern China only in the last decade [1]. If we set aside the spate of books generated by the Olympic games [2], few studies have addressed the social history of Beijing and, among them, few have actually devoted much attention to the spatial dimension as part of the historical analysis [3]. The only work that considers and integrates the spatial dimension in his reflection is Luca Gabbiani’s recent monograph on late Qing Beijing [4]. Through this digital platform, we plan to explore further the social history of Beijing and to address its historical trajectory through case studies based on textual, visual, and spatial data.


1. Except for David Strand’s path-breaking study, Rickshaw Beijing: City and Politics in the 1920s (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1989), scholarly works have appeared only after 2000. See Dong, Yue Madeleine, Republican Beijing: The City and Its Histories, 1911-1937 (Berkeley, University of California Press, 2003); Richard D., Belsky, Localities at the center: native place, space, and power in late imperial Beijing (Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Asia Center, 2005); Vincent Goossaert, The Taoists of Peking, 1800-1949: a social history of urban clerics (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Asia Center, 2007); Xu, Yamin, "Wicked Citizens and the Social Origins of China's Modern Authoritarian State: Civil Strife and Political Control in Republican Beiping, 1928-1937" (Doctoral dissertation, U. of California, Berkeley, 2002).
2. Michael Robert Dutton; Hsiu-ju Stacy Lo; Dong Dong Wu, Beijing Time (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2008); Stephen G Haw, Beijing: a concise history (London ; New York: Routledge, 2007); Lillian M Li; Alison J Dray-Novey; Haili Kong, Beijing: from imperial capital to Olympic city (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).
3. Jianfei Zhu, Chinese spatial strategies: imperial Beijing, 1420-1911 (New York: Routledge/Curzon, 2004); Wu Hung, Remaking Beijing : Tiananmen Square and the creation of a political space (Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 2005); M A Aldrich, The search for a vanishing Beijing: a guide to China's capital through the ages (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2006).
4. Gabbiani, Luca,  Pékin à l’ombre du Mandat Céleste. Vie quotidienne et gouvernement urbain sous la dynastie Qing (1644-1911) (EHESS, coll. « En temps & lieux », 2011).


Last update on Wednesday 14 September 2011 (17:40) by  C. Henriot

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