The Four Ancient Capitals of China: Learn About Them Here!

Chinese General Ancient Capitals

A very enjoyable part of the experience of learning Mandarin Chinese in China is the opportunity to be able to see and experience new parts of the world. Sometimes, those “new” parts are actually quite old!
I’m going to introduce to you some places referred to as “中国四大古都 (Zhōngguó sì dà gǔ dū),” or the “Four Great Ancient Capitals of China”. These historic cities are:
• 北京 (Běijīng) Beijing

• 南京 (Nánjīng) Nanjing

• 洛阳 (Luòyáng) Luoyang

• 西安 (xī’ān) Xi’an (Chang’an)

Recent historical studies have updated this list of ancient capitals to be up to six or seven cities (or more!), but the “Four Great Ancient Capitals of China” that we’ll learn here about are the most significant throughout the history of what is now modern China.
First, let’s look at the two cities which include “京 (jīng) capital” in their name: Beijing and Nanjing.

北京 (Běijīng) Beijing

, literally meaning “Northern Capital” is the capital of China today and has been the most consistent seat of government for 600 years, even more if you look back to the state of Yan (11th century BC – 222 BC) in the Spring and Autumn period, when it was called 蓟 (Ji). Today, Beijing is one of the largest cities in the world and still the capital of China. It is the place that many tourists begin from when visiting China, and for good reason; you can visit the ancient “故宫 (Gùgōng) Forbidden City” and more modern “天安门广场 (Tiān’ānmén Guǎngchǎng) Tian’anmen Square”, one of the largest squares in the world.

南京 (Nánjīng) Nanjing

, meaning “Southern Capital”, the current capital of Jiangsu Province and just two hours by High-Speed Train from Shanghai, is today a large and prosperous city, even though it is no longer the capital of China or any “dynasty”. Nanjing began its status of being a capital around 200A.D. and remained the largest capital city in China until the capital was moved to Beijing in the 1400s.

洛阳 (Luòyáng) Luoyang

, today a small city in Henan Province has a history that goes back even further than Beijing and Nanjing. Luoyang was a capital of various Chinese dynasties going all the way back to 500 B.C. Luoyang has not been a capital city since around 900A.D, but that looking back in history, Luoyang is just as important of an ancient capital as Beijing, considering it’s long run in ancient times!
Looking back even further,

西安 (Xī’ān) Xi’an (formerly Chang’an)

is another large, prosperous city today and the capital of Shaanxi Province in modern China. Xi’an has a history of over 3,000 years and was a capital city for more than 1,000 years! There is an expression saying that “If you haven’t been to Xi’an, you haven’t been to China” and in many ways this is very true. Xi’an contains some of the most impressive historical locations in China, such as the “西安城墙 (Xī’ān chéngqiáng) City Wall of Xi’an” and the world-famous “兵马俑 (Bīngmăyŏng) Terracotta Warriors and Horses”.

Why would visiting “中国四大古都 (Zhōngguó sì dà gǔdū) The Four Ancient Capitals of China” benefit your Mandarin Chinese Progress?

Motivation! One of the most important factors when learning a foreign language is motivation. If you are interested in the culture of the people you are learning from, it will help drive your desire to continue with your target language.
I personally have visited the three “northern” capitals but have yet to visit Nanjing. As I walked through these historic cities and tourist sites, I could feel a connection to the country that I’ve been calling home and putting time and effort into joining. All four of these cities have “backpacker” youth hostels right in the centers where you can communicate in English and stay for a cheap price. You can also enjoy distinct and delicious “street food”, or 大排档 (dàpáidàng) to keep costs low if you are a student.
Visit, get motivated, and make cultural immersion part of your Mandarin Chinese progress!

HSK 3 quiz

1. Beijing and Nanjing both contain the Chinese word “京 (jīng)” in their modern-day names. “京 (jīng) means:
A. ancient
B. city
C. capital
D. important

―Written by Elena Trevino―

Elena Trevino is a Mandarin Chinese student in Beijing studying the language to get a head start in international trade. She is most interested in seeing how Mandarin is affecting the fashion industry throughout the world as Chinese shoppers are now such a large factor. She is frequently attending fashion industry events in Beijing and throughout China.

Further Reading:

10 Essential Chinese Sentences for Traveling in China (Part 1)
10 Essential Chinese Sentences for Traveling in China (Part 2)
长城 The Great Wall
Surveying Famous Cities in China — Beijing, the political center

2 thoughts on “The Four Ancient Capitals of China: Learn About Them Here!”

  1. I visited Xi’an in 2007 with my taichi instructor and classmates. He’s from Xi’an and it was an amazing trip. It was on this trip that I restarted my efforts to learn Chinese.

    1. jennifer.zhu

      Hi 大卫,
      Thank you for the messages. Xi’an is a very nice city in China. I’m glad you like it. I think you would also like another ancient capitals of China if you have chances to visit them.

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