מקור שם השכונה אינו ברור. המילה "גורוד" משמעה ברוסית "עיר", והמילה "קיטאי" משמעה "[[סין]]".
ישנן סברות שונות בדבר מקור השם. לפי אחת הסברות מקורו במילה "קיטה" שמשמעה "[[צמה]]", או "מקלעת" ומשמעות השם "עיר מקלעות קש" - בהתייחס למבני העץ שהיו בה והיו בנויים מקלעות של ענפים.
[[Image:Bolshoykrest.jpg|thumb|right|St. Nicholas Church on the Ilyinka (1680-89), with its golden-starred blue domes, once dominated Kitai-gorod's skyline. It was razed in 1933.]]
Kitai-gorod, developing as a trading area, was known as the most prestigious business area of Moscow. Its three main streets — Varvarka, Ilyinka, and Nikolskaya — are lined with banks, shops, and storehouses. Two of the most beautiful churches in Moscow, [http://hram.codis.ru/jpg/440-1.jpg St Nicholas at Nikitniki] (1653) and St. Nicholas the Great Cross (1689, destroyed in 1933) once dominated the district's skyline.
[[Image:Church_of_the_trinity_in_Nikitniki.jpg|left|thumb|The church of the trinity in Nikitniki, a baroque masterpiece]]
[[Nikolskaya Street]] is famous for being the site of Moscow's first university, the [[Slavic Greek Latin Academy]], housed in extant [[Zaikonospassky monastery]] (1660s). Another monastery cathedral, the main church of [[Epiphany Monastery]] (1690s), stands in the middle of Kitai-gorod in an eponimous Bogoyavlensky Lane. 18th legacy survives in the exterior walls of otherwise rebuilt [[Gostiny Dvor]] (Guest Merchant's Court) by [[Giacomo Quarenghi]].
In the 19th century, the Red Square was lined by a [[neoclassicism|neoclassical]] domed structure of Upper Trade Rows by [[Joseph Bove]]. However, in 1890s it was torn down and replaced with a new, [[eclectics|eclectic]] [[State Universal Store|Upper Trading Rows]] (by [[Alexander Pomerantsev]] and [[Vladimir Shukhov]]) and similar [[Middle Trade Rows]] (by [[Roman Klein]], scheduled for demolition in 2007). The rest of Kitai-gorod was densely filled with offices, warehouses and hotels, to the point where real estate developers had to build streets, not buildings - like the [[Tretyakovsky Proyezd]] project by [[Pavel Tretyakov]] and [[Alexander Kaminsky]].
In the same 1890s, developers consolidated large land lots on the perimeter of Kitai-gorod. [[Savva Mamontov]] has launched an ambitious civic center, built around an opera hall, which was completed as [[Hotel Metropol (Moscow)|Metropol Hotel]] in 1907, the largest early [[Art Nouveau]] building in Moscow with artwork by [[Mikhail Vrubel]], [[Aleksandr Golovin (artist)|Alexander Golovin]] and [[Nikolai Andreev]]. Eastern segment ([[Staraya Square]]) was rebuilt by Moscow Merchant Society, with a late [[Art Nouveau]] ''Boyarsky Dvor'' offices (by [[Fyodor Schechtel]]) and neoclassical 4, Staraya Square (by [[Vladimir Vladimirovich Sherwood|Vladimir Sherwood]], Jr., 1912-1914) which later housed [[Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union|Central Committee of the Communist Party]].
The present-day offices and clock-tower of [[Constitutional Court of Russia]] were financed by Northern Insurance Socity (1910-1912) and built by [[Ivan Rerberg]], [[Marian Peretiatkovich]] and [[Vyacheslav Oltarzhevsky]]; this project is also notable as the first professional employer of young [[Ilya Golosov]].
Since early 1990s, many historical buildings are being torn down or rebuilt by [[facadism|facadist]] methodes, tearing down everything beyond the street facade. Apart from the Gostiny Dvor, recent losses include the Tyoplye Trade Rows (Теплые ряды, demolished 1996-1997) and recently reopened block at 10, [[Nikolskaya Street]]. Degree of destruction cannot be assessed in full, since many properties are operated by the federal government and closed to general public.
A whole quarter of Kitai-gorod adjacent to the [[Moskva River]] and known as Zaryadye, was demolished in three rounds (1930s, late 1940s, 1960s), sparing only those structures that were classified as historic monuments. These include Cathedral of the Sign (1679-84), the [[Church of All Saints, Moscow|Church of All Saints]] (1680s), St. George Church on Pskov Hill (1657), St. Maksim Church (1698), St. Anna's Church at the Corner (1510s), St. Barbara Church (1796-1804), the Old English Embassy (1550s), and the 16th-century [[Romanov]] boyar residence. There is no other such cluster of old edifices left anywhere else in Moscow. The district's main structure, [[Rossiya Hotel]] (1967) is being demolished, making way for a new round of development.