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The two scholars shedding light on Beijing’s central axis
Author :  Zhang Chunhai Source : Chinese Social Sciences Today 2016-05-20
Liang Sicheng (1901-1972) may have been the first scholar to research the central axis of Beijing in academic history.
Liang Sicheng, also known as Liang Ssu-ch’eng, and Hou Renzhi have been researching the central axis of Beijing since the 20th century and have significantly improved public understanding of the central axis and its role in the ancient capital of China.
Liang may have been the first scholar to research the central axis of Beijing in academic history. The central axis of Beijing is 7.8 kilometers long, starting in the south from the Yongdingmen Gate and ending with the Bell and Drum Towers in the north. Beijing’s unique and spectacular beauty is fully embodied by its central axis, Liang once said. Liang, along with city planning expert Chen Zhanxiang, said in 1950: “Beijing is famous as an item of cultural heritage, because it’s a beautiful city built by excellent planning originally and perfectly protected until now.”
Liang and Chen also realized the limitations of the layout in ancient times. “Due to political considerations, the layout of the old Beijing city emphasized the importance of the imperial city as the center too much, and the main buildings were constructed along the axis, so other centers weren’t explored,” Liang said.
In 2013, the Chinese edition of An Historical Geography of Peiping was published. It is regarded as the first monograph on urban historical geography in China, and was written by Hou in 1949 as his doctoral dissertation at Liverpool University. Hou became a professor at Peking University and was later elected as a Member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. In this book, Hou analyzed the Beijing central axis in the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1616-1911) dynasties from the perspective of historical geography.
During his many years researching Beijing’s central axis, Hou called for the protection of the Beijing urban axis and was involved in its reconstruction. His innovative studies spanning several decades provided great insight into the city planning process and layout of Beijing’s old city.