Home : City Guide: Beijing

City Layout

In the past emperors devoted particular care to geomantic omen, Feng Shui in Chinese. They would sit in the north and face the south and believed that they and their descendants would be the emperors for ever.

After the Liberation in 1949, the walls have gone; the restricted zone functions no longer; some gates are being used as museums opening to the public; some gates have been pulled down and their remaining names mean the area around the place where the gates used to stand. Especially in recent years, new roads and buildings have been coming up continuously, so the setup of the city which has the south to north central axis and buildings in the east and west standing symmetrically has been broken. But generally speaking, the basic layout of the ancient city still exists.

Ming Tombs, Beijing, China

The structure of the city today is basically the original one of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)and Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). During that time, the city was walled on all sides and generally made up of the inner city and the outer city.

Basically, the inner city is square in shape and the outer city is rectangle in shape. The outer one surrounded the southern side of the inner one; the inner one surrounded the Imperial City; the Imperial City surrounded the Forbidden City and each one was embraced by a deep and wide city moat. So the Forbidden City became the center of the whole city, being guarded tightly.

A central axis, which is about 7.5 kilometers long, running through the middle of the Forbidden City from Yongdingmen in the south to the Bell Tower in the north and cutting it into two parts: the eastern one and the western one. From Zhengyangmen in the south to Di'anmen in the north formed a restricted zone and no one was allowed to go from east to west crossing this area. The main and grand gates and palaces in it all stood on this axis. All of the other ones were arranged along it according to the rule of bilateral symmetry.

The design and geographical layout of the city were all for serving the feudal emperors. The walls and city moats were built for their security; all of the palaces, temples and their positions were all for showing the crowning majesty of each emperor.

During the Ming and Qing Dynasties, the outer city had seven gates; the inner city had nine and the Imperial City had four. Gates are called 'men' in Chinese. So Yongdingmen I mentioned above means Yongding gate, which belongs to the outer city. All these gates stood either on the central axis or bilateral symmetrically so the main streets in both inner and outer cities seemed to form a big chessboard in appearance from a bird's-eye view. Most of the streets ran from north to south and hutongs mostly ran from east to west. All of the streets had fixed size: big ones were twenty four-pace-wide; small ones were twelve-pace-wide. Quite narrow ones were called hutong.


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