Nanjing is the capital of Jiangsu province in Eastern China with a rich history dating back more than 2500 years. The city would play a vital role throughout China’s long history, becoming its capital for six dynasties, being razed and reconstructed several times under different names. After overthrowing the Yuan Dynasty, the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty renamed the city Yingtian, rebuilt it and made it capital in 1368.
The present-day City Wall of Nanjing was mainly built during the next 21 years and remains in good condition and well preserved. It is among the oldest surviving city walls in China. In 1421 when the third emperor of the Ming Dynasty relocated the capital to Beijing, Nanjing is believed to have been the largest city in the world at the time.
It is interesting to note that “Nanjing” means “southern capital”, while “Beijing” means “northern capital”.
Near the Qinhuai River lies the Confucious Temple, dedicated to the great man himself. The surrounding area was a mess of construction for a new massive tourist area filled with shops and restaurants. But we escaped inside the temple for a moment of reflection.
Perplexed at the number of locals eating bright red shiny balls on an oversized skewer, we discovered it was actually massive ripe strawberries coated in sticky toffee-like gloss. We couldn’t help ourselves and were surprised to discover the thin crunchy coating added to the unbelievably delicious sweetness of the strawberries to create a taste sensation!
As the sun began to set, we strolled along the top of the city wall from Xuanwu Gate as far as we dared go until darkness fell.
For anyone who hasn’t read the fascinating book “1421: The Year China Discovered The World” by Gavin Menzies, it is a controversial book which asserts that in 1421, Chinese Admiral Zheng He led an expedition containing the largest fleet the world had ever seen and set sail from China to circumnavigate the world in the name of Emperor Zhu Di during the Ming Dynasty. The “1421 hypothesis” is that Chinese junk ships reached and technically “discovered” the Americas, Australia, Antarctica and circumnavigated the globe long before the Europeans.
Although its “truth” is dismissed and severely criticised by historians, it is an incredibly interesting read and Andrew couldn’t leave Nanjing without visiting the little-known Zheng He Treasure Ship Park. It is an open park/museum with artefacts and descriptions of his very real voyages across the Indian Ocean and through Asia/Pacific. It is located in an archeological shipyard site where a number of boats were built for Admiral Zheng’s fleet, since Nanjing was capital of the Ming Dynasty at the time. Complete with a life-size replica of his flagship junk ship, it was a quiet hour or so to marvel at his achievements, real and perhaps otherwise.
A not-so-well-known moment of history would change Nanjing and the world forever. In 1912 after the fall of the Qing Dynasty (the final dynasty), Dr. Sun Yat-sen became the first president of the Republic of China and Nanjing (Nanking at the time) was selected as capital. However it stayed in Beijing until the Kuomintang (KMT) took control and Nanking became capital again in 1927.
In 1937, Japan started full-scale invasion of China, beginning the Second Sino-Japanese War (often considered a theatre of World War II). Their troops occupied Nanjing in December and carried out the systematic and brutal “Nanking Massacre”, (the “Rape of Nanking”). Between 300,000 and 350,000 local people were killed by the Imperial Japanese army.
The Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall was built to commemorate this event. We did not take any photos inside. It is a solemn reminder of a tragic moment of humanity and a place we will never forget.
With time against us, we hurried next to the Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum, which sits atop a grand staircase of arches and towering tree surroundings.
With so much history, Nanjing is a place that most will never visit or probably never know anything about. But if you ever get the chance, take a few days to take it all in and learn the history that is behind it all. Because for us, two days was not enough.
Perhaps next time.
Visited 28th & 29th December.