Nanjing, China Review – History and Beauty

My opportunity to visit Nanjing, China, a place I have always wanted to see, came about when my husband, who was working with a colleague in Hangzhou, China, was invited to present a plenary lecture at a biennial engineering conference held at Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics.  We left for Nanjing on  the high-speed train (along with about 800 others), accompanied by his colleague from Zhejiang University.  Because the track on the direct line from Hangzhou to Nanjing has not yet been completed, our trip was like a triangle from Hangzhou to Shanghai and Nanjing, two hours with a usual speed of 300 km/hr. and then the train went on to Beijing.  It felt like we were flying at times, in comfort and luxury. Arriving in Nanjing, we were impressed by the size and beauty of the new train station recently built to accommodate the high-speed trains.


Our host in Nanjing arranged for all of us to be picked up and delivered to the Grand Metro Park Hotel, a five star hotel very close to the university and next to the Nanjing Museum, which was undergoing extensive remodeling and consequently closed. ( Because of our very short stay, we did not have the opportunity to enjoy the hotels’ wide-ranging facilities, except for our lovely room and two of the great restaurants there.

We were anxious to learn about Nanjing, which is the current capital of Jiangsu Province and is inhabited by eight million people.  It has a formidable history, having been the ancient capital of China for six dynasties, and the place where modern China was formed. Nanjing is the second-largest commercial centre in the East China region after Shanghai.  Following my husband’s talk two kind and generous individuals, Professor Gang Yan (who drove us) and graduate-student,  Quanquan Yang  guided us through a whirlwind tour of Nanjing.  This was an eye-opening experience in every way with lots of exercise as a bonus.


We began by walking through the beautiful campus of Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics.  The University, founded in 1952, is comprised of sixteen colleges and will soon celebrate a major birthday.  The campus is filled with arching trees, lots of greenery and a park in addition to the usual labs and lecture rooms.


Our next stop was the base of the Zhongshan Mountain Scenic Area where an informative map and guide states the following,  “Zhongshan Mountain, located on the eastern outskirts of Nanjing, has been listed among ‘The four most famous mountains in areas to the south of the Yangtze River’” since ancient times.  It’s also called Purple Mountain because purple clouds can often be found hovering over its peaks. “  Places of interest on the mountain include: Dr Sun Yat-sen’s Mausoleum which is an imposing Tomb of the Ming Dynasty, Linggu Temple, numerous pavilions, towers, and pagodas.  In 1991 Zhongshan Mountain Scenic Area was listed among “Forty Top National Tourist Resorts of China”.   To reach Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s Mausoleum we climbed aboard a small bus and after driving through forest and a ways up the mountain, we arrived at the entrance.  As one of about 10,000 daily visitors I joined our group and headed up the steps to the marble statue.  The Travel China Website says: “It was the Revolution of 1911, the Chinese bourgeois democratic revolution led by Dr. Sun Yat-Sen that overthrew the Qing Dynasty. On the first day of 1912, Dr. Sun Yet-Sen gave his simple but sublime address on the inauguration held of the new Republic of China. Today, a memorial hall in the Mausoleum of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, houses a statue of Dr. Sun sculpted out of white marble.”  The 290 steps to the top beckoned to me and up I went and then down.  Awesome.


Nanjing City Wall Museum was the next place we explored. The Travel China offers: “Nanjing City Wall is one of the key historical and cultural remains of Ming Dynasty under state protection. It is a masterpiece of China's ancient architecture. With an original perimeter of about 35 kilometers (22miles), the City Wall has a height 14-21 meters (46-67 feet). The footing has a width of 14 meters (about 46 feet). The present remains have a length of about 21 kilometers (13 miles). Nanjing is one of the few cities in China that still have old city walls, and Nanjing's City Wall is better preserved with most parts still remaining. Although it has a history of about 600 years, the wall is still spectacular and of great value in terms of cultural relics protection.


In 1366 AD Zhu Yuanzhang, the first Emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), accepted the suggestion of a chancellor to build the City Wall. After 21 years of painstaking construction, the wall was finally completed in 1386. According to historical records, Zhu Yuanzhang ordered 118 counties of 20 states in 5 provinces to make bricks. Each brick weighs about 10 kilograms with a length of 40-50 centimeters, a width of 20 centimeters and a height of 10 centimeters. The bricks are inscribed with the names of officials who were responsible for the quality of the bricks. Up to 350 million bricks were used to build the wall.”  The museum had many photos and descriptions of the history of the wall and a model of what the city looked like when it was built.


Driving to an area on the other side of town we found a parking space with some difficulty and proceeded to explore the area of the Confucius Temple (Fuzimiao), which does contain an actual Confucius Temple but also a museum showing China’s history and depicting the way in which civil service exams were conducted in the 1100’s, the largest space in the country. The surrounding area is bustling with shops, restaurants and a snack street housed in traditional Chinese architectural buildings.  We headed for a very famous restaurant, Wan Quing Lou


This restaurant offers something very special, a sixteen course “tasting menu” of dishes representing Nanjing cuisine. There was a lovely woman who played a zither kind of instrument in the room where we were eating to welcome us.


After we had eaten as much as we could manage, enjoying everything, we walked the bridge over the Qinhuai River, a branch of the Yangtze, which is the largest river in the Nanjing City area and is the 'lifeblood' of the city.  The section we crossed was filled with boats that looked very pretty, covered with brightly colored lights.


We had a few hours the next morning, which allowed us a visit to the Presidential Palace.  It was huge and beautiful and divided into different parts depicting its beauty in earlier dynatic times, a western wing and offices for  Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek and others. 


From China Absolute Tours:


“Today the Presidential Office's hall is the former site of the majestic temple of the Heavenly King House. The temple was totally burnt by Qing forces during their Nanjing attack led by militarist and official Zeng Guofan (1811 – 1872).

The site became the temporary presidential office for the founding father of modern China, Dr. Sun Yat-sen in 1912. But three months later, northern warlords sabotaged the relatively stable political situation since the successful Democratic Revolution in 1911. He was forced to step down. In 1927, Chiang Kai-shek officially set up Nanjing Nationalist Government here. 

The western part of the Presidential Office consists of a Chinese classical garden and the old office rooms of Dr. Sun Yat-sen. The central section is the original Nationalist Government, presidential palace and offices that are affiliated to them. The eastern part is the former site of Kuomintang's Executive Yuan, horse stalls and the East Garden. The complex is a vivid depiction of the essential part of China's history before 1949. Since 1998, it has been formally opened to general public as a tourist attraction in the city. “



Because our time was limited, we took a tour offered by an English-speaking guide.  With more time, my preference would have been to use a written guide and wander through more slowly enjoying the beautiful grounds and reading the many signs in English.  This area functioned in a way that was similar to the Forbidden City in Beijing.


Our museum guide suggested that we visit a museum telling about Zhou Enlai, which was nearby.  This is called the Meiyuan New Village Memorial for the CPC delegation.  This historic site is the place where, in May 3, 1946, a China Communist Party delegation led by Zhou Enlai and Dong Biwu came to Nanjing from Chongqing, to have ceasefire negotiations with Kuomintang. The People's Liberation Army had been fighting with the Kuomintang for decades. The one-hundred-strong delegation lived and worked in the houses at Nos. 17, 30 and 35 located in Meiyuan New Village, which served as their homes and offices. These houses were collectively called CPC Delegation Nanjing Office.



We had time to visit The Exhibition Hall located on the west of Meiyuan New Village Community which is composed of exhibition halls with historical documents related to Nanjing Negotiations. We were impressed with the bronze statue of Premier Zhou Enlai and our guide told us the he was the most handsome of Chinese leaders. The hall is a magnificent modern construction with Chinese characteristics. Inside the photos and documents were fascinating and added to our understanding of that period of time. One display that really impressed us was the black Buick the premier had used, in great conditon.


After a farewell lunch, we left Nanjing having seen impressive sights and gained insights into the modern history of China.


Photos: Leon Keer

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