Why is Peking University not called Beijing University?

If you are a student aspiring to study in China, in its most prestigious university, you might have wondered, why is Peking University not called Beijing University instead? Why did the  prominent university retain the imperial pronunciation of its capital city, for its most prestigious university? Peking University, originally established as the Imperial University Of Peking, in 1898 under the royal charter of Emperor Guangxu, is one of the top academic institutions in China and the world. According to the Times Higher Education University Rankings, Peking University is ranked 16th globally and 1st in the Asia-Pacific and emerging countries.  Here we will see about Why is Peking University not called Beijing University?

The romanized proper noun ‘Peking’ is an older transliteration of the Hanyu pinyin transliteration ‘Beijing,’ using the system of Chinese Postal Romanization. This was a system developed in the late 19th and 20th century that was used to transliterate Chinese place names or names of Chinese cities and regions by the postal services and authorities. Peking University retained the Chinese Postal Romanization perhaps because at the time when it was established, the corresponding postal romanization was the most common English-language form for the names of Chinese cities. This went on until the Wade-Giles postal system was replaced by pinyin in the l982. Today, China’s most prestigious university uses the name ‘Peking University’ when dealing with foreigners, however, Mandarin speakers refer to it as Beijing Daxue, literally meaning Beijing University. 

The above mentioned transliteration systems are explained in detail below.

Why is Peking University not called Beijing University?

What is transliteration? Why do we need it?

Transliteration is the process of writing a word in one language in the closest phonetically corresponding letters of another language. Transliteration emphasizes more on pronunciation than meaning, which in turn, helps retain the meaning of the word when spoken. It ensures that the speaker knows the pronunciation of the words, which helps in smoother communication with native speakers of the language.

What are the major Chinese transliteration systems?

Hanyu pinyin is the contemporary transliteration system used to romanize Chinese words in English. It was developed in the 1950s and standardized by the International Organization of Standardization in 1982. It is considered the phonetically closest romanization of Chinese. 

Before the standardization of pinyin, the most prominent system of romanizing Chinese was the Wade-Giles system, created by Herbert Giles in the year 1892. 

The postal romanization was only applied to names of cities while the rest of the Chinese proper nouns were transliterated through the Wade-Giles system.

It was only after the establishment of the modern Imperial Post Office in 1896 that the Wade-Giles system became the toponymic authority over the transliteration of Chinese place names through its postal style romanization system or youzeng shi pinyin. 

Why was postal romanization and standardized transliteration necessary?

According to the academic paper A’ Lasting Boon To All’: A Note on the Postal Romanization of Place Names by Lane. J Harris from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign,  the postal romanization system was created to remedy the confusion caused by the presence of a numerous transliteration system of Chinese place names, such as the ones representing local dialectical pronunciations of Mandarin and the Chinese orthoepy or accepted Chinese pronunciations as interpreted by the various European language speakers. This caused inaccuracies in the Imperial Postal Service that had opened to the public in 1987. The postal romanization reduced the burden of the postal clerks and ensured accurate and efficient mail delivery by having the public- including foreigners in China, overseas Chinese population and foreign patrons to adopt the standardized system of spelling Chinese place names. 

How do Chinese people refer to Peking University?

While Peking University is the proper noun used by foreigners, Chinese students and mandarin speaking people refer to Peking University as Beijing Daxue (北京大学). It literally means Beijing University. Daxue (大学) is formed of the characters ‘da’(大) meaning “great or big” and ‘xue’(学) meaning ‘study or learning.’ Hence, daxue implies a place of great learning. However, adding to the multiplicity of names, within China, people most commonly use the truncated name of the university, BeiDa, from the abbreviation of ‘Beijing’ and ‘Daxue.’ ‘Beijing’ (北京)comprises of the characters ‘bei’ ( 北) or ‘north’ and ‘jing’ (京) or ‘capital,’ meaning ‘northern capital.’ The abbreviation BeiDa, hence, means the great north.

How can I study at Peking University?

According to the official website of Peking University application process in Peking university has the following steps:

  1. The aspiring student must register at http://www.studyatpku.com and select their course of choice.
  2. The applicant should fill the Peking University Application Form for International Students attaching a passport size photograph.
  3. The applicant must provide a certification for their highest degree of education and academic transcripts in either English or Chinese.
  4. The applicant must write a Letter of Motivation or Study Plan in either English or Chinese in 500 to 1000 words.
  5. The applicant must have at least two letters of recommendation.
  6. Certificate of Chinese proficiency.
  7. Photocopy of valid passport ID

An application fee of 400RMB is also payable upon application.


No matter what the name is, Peking University or BeiDa, the university has stood the test of time as one of the premier institutions in the world for its education and legacy. Hence, any aspiring students of the place of ‘great leaning’ need not be confused or intimidated by the multiplicity of the names of the university, for its rich cultural history, education and legacy are one of its kind.