A greater appreciation of historical sources documenting the weather has been achieved during recent decades, recognising their value in understanding and interpreting long-term climate change, their application and utility for improving climate models and the opportunities they offer for a deeper consideration of societal responses to past climatic events. Using a variety of historical archives, the drought history of Beijing is extended back to 1368, and a new reconstructed instrumental monthly precipitation series presented from 1724-present (2019). This combined instrumental and documentary analysis permits an opportunity to explore past droughts and the inter-relationships between physical, social, and cultural drought impacts. The Standardised Precipitation Index (1724-2019) is augmented with a long-term historical drought classification (1368-2000) based on drought impacts (using a 5-class drought index). Long precipitation reconstruction enables both short- (monthly) and long-term (decadal) drought variability to be robustly assessed for Beijing since the Ming Dynasty, identifying a series of historically severe droughts of comparable severity to recent events, but with a range of varying social and cultural impacts.