Top 5 Ancient Capitals of China

China is one of oldest ancient civilizations in the world, with a written history dating back at least 4000 years. In ancient history, as time passed by, towns and cities emerged, and then the historical capitals. Due to their special status – a symbol of the nation or a vassal state, these capitals were elaborately designed and constructed, with palaces, gardens, temples, tombs, city walls and gates, watchtowers, central avenues and streets, etc. The top 5 ancient capitals of China include Beijing, Xi’an, Luoyang, Nanjing and Kaifeng, each of them is like a historical book of ancient China and an evolving fossil of traditional Chinese architecture.  

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Top 1, Luoyang – Historical Capital of China for 13 Dynasties 

Generally Luoyang has a civilization history of over 5000 years. Among the five great ancient capitals of China, Luoyang was the first one to be built as a capital. It became a prosperous and influential international metropolis during Sui and Tang dynasties, and was a hub city of the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal. Today Luoyang, Athens, mecca and Jerusalem are hailed as the four great holy cities in the world. 

Ancient names of Luoyang: Luojing, Shendu, Luoyi, Xibo, Zhenxun

Luoyang was once the capital during the following historical periods:

- Xia Dynasty from 2070 to 1600 B.C.

- Shang Dynasty from 1600 to 1046 B.C.

- Western Zhou Dynasty from 1040 to 771 B.C.

- Eastern Zhou Dynasty from 770 to 256 B.C.

- Eastern Han Dynasty from 25 BC to 220AD

- Wei Dynasty from 220 to 265

- Northern Wei Dynasty, from 494 to 534

- Sui Dynasty, from 569 to 618

- Tang Dynasty, from 618 to 690

- Later Liang Dynasty, from 907 to 913

- Later Tang Dynasty from 923 to 936

- Later Jin Dynasty, from 936 to 938

- 1932 during the Period of Republic of China

Major historical attractions in Luoyang: Longmen Grottoes, Baima Temple, Xiangshan Temple, Luoyang Old Town, Drum Tower, Sui and Tang Grand Canal Museum, Luoyang Mingtang, Sui and Tang Luoyang City National Heritage Park, Dingding Gate

Ancient Capitals of China - Luoyang

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Top 2, Xian – Historical Capital of China for 13 Dynasties

Once the political and cultural center of ancient China for over 1100 years, Xian is now celebrated as one of the four great ancient capitals in the world. It experienced its heyday during Tang Dynasty and was the starting point of the Great Silk Road. 

As early as 1 million years ago, Homo Erectus Lantianensis built settlements in Xian. Back to 7,000 years ago during Yangshao Culture Period, the embryonic form of city appeared here. In 2008, the city relics of late Neolithic Gge, with a history of more than 6000 years, unearthed from Xi’an’s Yangguanzhai Village, were considered as the earliest city ruins discovered in China. 

Ancient names of Xian: Chang’an, Gaojing, Jingzhao

Xian was once the capital during the following historical periods:

- West Zhou Dynasty (1046 - 771)

- Vassal State of Qin during the Warring States Period and Qin Dynasty, from 350-207 B.C.

- Western Han Dynasty (202BC – 8AD)

- Xin Dynasty (8 – 23)

- Eastern Han Dynasty from 190 to 196

- West Jin Dynasty from 313 to 316

- State of Former Zhao, a vessel state during the Sixteen Kingdoms period (265-420).

- State of Former Qin from 351 to 385

- State of Later Qin from 384 to 417

- State of Western Wei from 535 to 557

- State of Northern Zhou from 557 to 581

- Sui Dynasty from 581 to 618

- Tang Dynasty from 618 to 904

Major historical attractions in Xian: Terracotta Warriors and Horses, Xian ancient City Wall, Big Wild Goose Pagoda, Small Wild Goose Pagoda, Xian History Museum, Drum and Bell Tower, Han Yangling Mausoleum, Xian Banpo Museum

Historical Capital of China - Xian

Top 3, Beijing – Historical Capital of China for 6 Dynasties 

Beijing was one of the birthplaces of human beings. The appearance of Peking Man about half a million years ago during Palaeolithic Age marked the beginning of the history of Beijing. Later Beijing gradually became a major settlement and a bustling town 3000 year ago. As history went on, Beijing has become the heart and soul of China until today.

Ancient names of Beijing: Beiping, Dadu, Jingshi, Youzhou, Yanjing, Ji Cheng, etc.

Beijing was once the capital during the following historical periods:

- Sate of Yan during the Spring and Autumn Period (722-481 B.C.)

- Liao Dynasty (907 - 1125): Beijing was the secondary capital

- Jin Dynasty from 1153 to 1214

- Yuan Dynasty (1271 - 1368)

- Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644)

- Qing Dynasty (1616 - 1912)

Major historical attractions in Beijing: the Great Wall of China, Forbidden City (Palace Museum), Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace, hutongs with courtyard dwellings, Lama Temple, the Ming tombs, Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal

Capital of Ancient China - Beijing

Top 4, Kaifeng – Historical Capital of China for 8 Dynasties 

There human signs of human activities in Kaifeng as early as five or six thousand years ago. It was the capital for the first time more than 4000 years ago. Kaifeng is the only exist capital in the world whose central axis has never been changed, which is a real archeological wonder. It was the biggest city during Song Dynasty and inspired the creation of the great painting works of Riverside Scene of Qingming Festival.

Ancient names of Kaifeng: Laoqiu, Daliang, Chenliu, Bianzhou, Bianjing, Dongjing

Kaifeng was once the capital during the following historical periods:

- Xia Dynasty, for 217 years

- Shang Dynasty, for 27 years, when Kaifeng was named Xiao 

- Vassal State of Wei during The Warring States Period, from 369 to 225

- Later Liang Dynasty during the Period of Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms

- Later Jin Dynasty, from 938 to 947

- Later Han Dynasty during the Period of Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms

- Later Zhou Dynasty during the Period of Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms

- Northern Song Dynasty (960 – 1127)

Major historical attractions in Kaifeng: Xianguo Temple, Longting Park, Yamen of Ancient Kaifeng, Kaifeng Iron Tower Park, Kaifeng Fan Pagoda, the Park of Riverside Scene of Qingming Festival (Millennium City Park), Yanqing Taoist Temple

Ancient Chinese Capitals - Kaifeng

Top 5, Nanjing – Historical Capital of China for 6 Dynasties  

Nanjing was the capital of ancient China for almost 500 years. In history, when the central plain area of China was invaded by northern nomads, the ancient monarchs usually chose Nanjing as the capital to recuperate and brought up recovery to the agriculture, economy and military force. Therefore, Nanjing was always considered the land of the renaissance of Han Nationality.  

Ancient names of Nanjing: Jinling, Jiankang, Jianye, Yingtian. Jiangning, etc. 

Nanjing was once the capital during the Six Dynasties Period:

- The Kingdom of Wu during Three Kingdom Period, from 222 to 280

- Eastern Jin Dynasty (317 – 420)

- Liu Song Dynasty (420 - 479)

- Xiao Qi Dynasty (479 – 502)

- Xiao Liang Dynasty (502 – 557)

- Chen Dynasty (557 - 589)

- Ming Dynasty, from 1368 to 1421

- Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, from 1853 to 1864

- The Period of Republic of China, from 1927 to 1948 

Major historical attractions in Nanjing: Confucius Temple, Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, Zhonghua Gate, Dr. Sun Yat-sen's Mausoleum, Xuanwu Lake, Memorial Hall of the Nanjing Massacre

Ancient Chinese Capitals - Nanjing

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