Our readers often ask the questions: Why did Peking change its name to Beijing? When did this happen? Whose decision was this? And if the city changed its name, why is Beijing still
sometimes referred to as Peking?
The answer to all these puzzling questions is really quite simple. The Chinese capital did not change its name but Chinese words became spelled in English differently. In Chinese, the
name stayed exactly the same and most Chinese people are not even aware that some Westerners think that there has been a name change.
The old spelling has been Peking, this is how the city appeared in most earlier discourse. After the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the government adopted the
pinyin transliteration method and used this to write all of the proper names (including place names, people's names, etc) using the Latin alphabet. Theoretically, this was when
Peking became known in the West as Beijing. In reality, however, the West has been using the old spelling long after it has been replaced in China. It is only sometime in the 1980s that
China started to enforce its official name on all flights, sea routes and official documents. This is why the name Peking is still echoing in our minds and people continue to use it even
today. Needless to say, it is easier to pronounce than Beijing, which is an important factor too.
Both the old and new spelling are approximations of the Chinese sound, pronounced something like "pay-cheeng." The same pseudo-change is seen in the name of Nanking which is
now written as Nanjing. Or remember the movie Chunking Express? Chunking in mainland China (where it is located anyway) is written as Chongqing -- it is the same thing under
A number of names did not change their spelling. Shanghai has always been Shanghai but this is because both the old and new spelling systems transcribe it the same way. The change
from Peking to Beijing is perhaps the most dramatic because 1) it is the capital of China and thus one of the best known Chinese cities, 2) the change is relatively big. Tianjin, one of
the main naval entry ports to China used to be written as Tientsin but since then the area lost its importance and few people remember its days of glory.
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