When Did Peking Become Beijing and Persia Become Iran? We Have the Data
Where politics and language collide: how place names change over time.
The Chinese government would officially recognize “Peking” and “Nanking” for postal purposes in 1906. The Chinese Nationalist governments took a liking to the charming “Peiping” and “Beiping,” though “Peking” outshone both in common usage. The Communist government began using “Beijing” at home in 1958 and abroad in 1979; the New York Times kept “Peking” until 1986 and was something of an early adopter next to British outlets, who held on for a few more years. Google’s database suggests the New York Times was in line with the switchover in the rest of the English writing world. “Nanking” held out for several more years, only switching over in 1990.
Nowadays, English speakers are most likely to encounter “Peking” in a Chinese restaurant:
Yet variants of “Peking” endure in other languages, with the seeming toleration of the Chinese—something that irks some English-speaking expats, whose slips of the tongue meet a quick rebuke.
John Allen Gay is an assistant managing editor at The National Interest and coauthor of War with Iran: Political, Military, and Economic Consequences (2013). He tweets at @JohnAllenGay.