The 3,000-Year-Old Document That Planned Beijing
Oliver Wainwright explains the millennia spanning significance of the Kaogong Ji, "one of the oldest examples of urban planning guidance in the world," and the document that shaped the beginnings of Beijing as it exists today.
In establishing the fundamental layout of the new capital, the Ming [dynasty] reached for a suitably weighty touchstone, drawing on the teachings of the Kaogong Ji (roughly translated as “regulations of construction”), a text dating from the fifth century BC; part of the Rites of Zhou, an ancient Confucian manual of bureaucracy and organisational theory.
Wainwright explains how the Kaogong Ji influenced the plan for the city:
As one of the oldest examples of urban planning guidance in the world, the Kaogong Ji covers everything from how to determine north-south orientation when planning a new city (stick a pole in the ground and watch its shadow), to dictating the specific dimensions for local, regional and national capitals.
And as one more example of the philosophy and influence of the Kaogong Ji:
The effect is no accident: Beijing was conceived as a diagram of an organised, harmonious society, designed to bind the citizens together in bricks and mortar under the supreme rule of the emperor. It was to be an expression of absolute power like no other city in the world.
Wainwright provides a thorough and detailed examination, which is recommended reading for anyone interested in the history of planning and planning outside the traditional European sphere of influence.