Nanjing (南京) aka Nanking, is the capital of Jiangsu province and a city with a prominent place in Chinese history and culture. It has served as the capital of China during several historical periods, and is listed as one of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China. It has a rich history as a political center, as the capital of early regimes in the south and as the Southern Capital during the Ming dynasty, as well as the seat of the Nationalist Government in the 20th century. It is 2 1/2 hours west of Shanghai by express train. Nanjing is hot and humid in summer, considered one of China’s four “furnace cities.” Winters are cold, with frequent rain or drizzle and low visibility.
Nanjing has an extremely rich and complex history, going back some 5,000 years, documented by the discovery of several prehistoric, Shang and Zhou era sites. During the Warring States period there was a walled city. After the break up of the Han dynasty, Nanjing became the capital of a number of short-lived dynasties. At that time Nanjing was also a center for the propagation of Buddhism. Nanjing was established as the capital of the Ming by its founder, Zhu Yuanzhang (the Hongwu Emperor). Hongwu repopulated the city with craftsmen and wealthy families from elsewhere in southeastern China, meanwhile deporting most of the resident population to far away Yunnan. He also undertook a massive building program, including an imperial palace and massive city walls, parts of which still stand. The city became an administrative center and the site of imperial examinations, as well as a manufacturing center.
The third Ming emperor, known by his reign title a the Yongle emperor, usurped the throne from his brother and moved the capital back to Beijing. Nanjing continued as a secondary capital. When the Manchus invaded north China Nanjing held out briefly as a center of Ming resistance, but eventually fell. With the overthrow of the Manchus in 1911 and the establishment of a Chinese Republic, Nanjing again became the national capital.
The often violent history of the city continued, however, as it was the site of mass executions of Communists by Chiang Kai-shek in 1927, and of the infamous “Nanjing Massacre” by Japanese forces who occupied the city in 1937, when some 300,000 residents of the city perished. After 1945 Nanjing again became the capital of the Kuomintang government. After peace talks between the Kuomintang and the Communists held there in 1947 broke down, Nanjing was captured by People’s Liberation Army in 1949.
Today it is an important industrial city for the automobile, electronics, and machine tool industries, petrochemical production and steel foundries, and aeronautical training.
- Presidential Palace (总统府). Spend a day exploring the headquarters of past emperors and the Nationalist government. The Palace includes the former offices of many top governmental officials, including Chiang Kai-shek and Sun Yat-sen, as well as the former residence of Sun Yat-sen. It is one the few places in mainland China where the flag of the Republic of China still flies. Informational placards around the palace are printed in four languages. Admission ~ RMB 40.
- Nanjing Museum (南京博物院), (inside Zhongshan Gate). Eleven exhibition halls contain a variety of ancient Chinese artifacts and lots of different culture murals, including the sailing of Zheng He (the eunuch admiral of the Ming Dynasty who explored at least to Africa, perhaps further). Be sure to take a look at the Jiangnan silk-making exhibition. It’s a great place to spend either a hot or rainy day.
- Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall (侵華日軍南京大屠殺遇難同胞紀念館). Memorializes the hundreds of thousands of Chinese who died at the hands of Japanese troops in Nanjing during World War II. The memorial features an excavated mass burial site, and newly opened tomb-like multimedia museum explains the entire history of the event in English, Chinese, and Japanese. A harrowing, but worthwhile place to visit.
- Confucius Temple (夫子/夫子廟). Once an imperial examination testing center for the entire Jiangsu region, this museum comprises a tiny fraction of the once-massive original buildings. The rest of the site is a massive, labyrinthine market; a top tourist draw in Nanjing and a place where you can get all your haggling out of your system. Check out the little gold-roofed floating tea houses on the canal, grab some tea on one of the gondolas. On the southern side of town next to Zhonghua Gate and the Taiping Museum. .
- Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge (南京长江大桥). This 6km bridge over the Yangtze has sculptures that are classics of Chinese sociallist art; with workers and farmers carrying tools, soldiers carrying weapons, and all of them holding books, most likely Quotations of Chairman Mao Zedong (better known as The Little Red Book). The bridge was built after Soviet advisors left China during the Sino-Soviet Split of the 1960’s, and is therefore the first major project built entirely by Chinese, without foreign help. A new town is currently being constructed on the other side, which may include a direct subway connection in the future.
- The Sun Yatsen Mausoleum (中山陵), covers an area of 80,000 square meters. Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s Mausoleum is situated in the Zhong Mountain Scenic Area in the east suburb of Nanjing City, Jiangsu Province. Dr. Sun Yat-sen is the father of the Republic of China and so it is considered to be the Holy land of Chinese people from all over the world. The place is historically significant and added with the magnificent architecture and the very beautiful scenery, do not miss this destination. Admission ~ RMB 80
- Taiping Kingdom History Museum (太平天国历史博物馆). A small museum focusing on a little-known historical event in the West (1843-68), the Taiping Rebellion (some estimates put the loss of life higher than the dead from World War I). On exhibit are documents relating to Taiping history and the grinding reduction of their movement by enterprising Qing generals and their European auxiliaries, culminating in the siege of Nanjing. Next door are the beautiful Zhanyuan Gardens.
- Ming City Wall is one of precious cultural relics in China. It is also called as the City Wall of Nanjing which was constructed from 1366 to 1387 in the early Ming dynasty. It was designed by Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang after he founded the Ming Dynasty and established Nanjing as its capital and was constructed by the emperor of the city with the intention of protecting his province and consolidating his sovereignty and in order to keep his place safe from the invaders. It took 21 years for the completion of the construction and it involved 200,000 laborers to move 7 million cubic meters of earth – it stands 20 meters high and winds for miles around the city.
- The Gate of China (Zhonghuamen) (中华门). The southern gate of Nanjing’s city wall; this massive gate is one of the best preserved parts of Nanjing’s city wall, and one of the best remaining examples of early Ming defensive architecture extant anywhere. The wooden castle at top was destroyed by fire, but the immense masonry (each complete with the mason’s name and home province by order of the emperor) substructure remains. Two courtyards contain an archery range and vegetable gardens. In one depot you can find an air raid siren used during the Japanese attack on the city.
- The Ming Tombs aka Xiaoling Mausoleum (明孝陵) is the tomb of the Hongwu Emperor, the founder of the Ming dynasty. It lies at the southern foot of Purple Mountain, located east of the historical centre of Nanjing. Legend says that in order to prevent robbery of the tomb, 13 identical processions of funeral troops started from 13 city gates to obscure the real burying site. The construction of the mausoleum began during the Hongwu Emperor’s life in 1381 and ended in 1405, during the reign of his son the Yongle Emperor, with a huge expenditure of resources involving 100,000 labourers. The original wall of the mausoleum was more than 22.5 kilometres long. The mausoleum was built under heavy guard of 5,000 troops. The mausoleum complex suffered damage during the mid-19th century Taiping War, but was restored during the Tongzhi era thereafter.
- Kunqu Theatre. This highly-regarded theater company in Nanjing will give you a chance to see Kunqu Opera, a traditional Chinese art form, firsthand. Expect the dialogue to be sung in ancient Chinese, but LED subtitling in contemporary Chinese characters is provided.
The area around the Confucius Temple in the south of the city has a lot of shopping, especially clothing and tourist items. It is a maze of tiny individual shops, and fun to explore even if you are not buying. If you are interesting in buying, haggling over prices is the name of the game here. If you are skilled in the art of bargaining you can easily get an asking price of RMB 380 reduced to RMB 80 without breaking a sweat. The streets outside the temple area provide more shopping opportunities, as does the underground mall. The entrance to this mall is sandwiched between two shops but the neon lights provide a clue. Opposite Confucius Temple there’s Aqua City Shopping Centre with retailers like H&M, Uniqlo, Zara, Mango and so on.
Xinjiekou (新街口) is Nanjing’s fashion district, the cosmopolitan, fast-paced heart of the city bathed in neon. It’s the closest thing Nanjing has to Tokyo or Times Square. All the major retail is centered on this area, which despite its complexity is only a couple of square blocks in size. There are giant department stores including Wal-Mart, Watsons, Suning, and “Fashion Lady” — a bewildering, subterranean complex of clothing boutiques and vendors that looks like a video game come to life. On the outskirts of Xinjiekou are some higher-end establishments selling everything from single-malt scotch to MINIs. The eight-floor Deji Plaza has a number of retailers such as Cartier, Louis Vuitton, Ermengildo Zegna, Coach, Guess, Versace, Vasque, Crocs, Toys R Us and so on. At DongFang Shopping Centre there’s Gucci, Fendi, Celine and so on. While you might be able to get away with haggling at the Fashion Lady don’t expect any in Deji Plaza.
Hunan Road (湖南路购物街) is a slightly more low-key version of Xinjiekou running between Xuanwu Lake and Zhongshanbei Lu – it has most of the same stores but adds a small pedestrian street running south from Hunan Road which is lined with pretty much every variety of restaurant imaginable.
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