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Published: October 26th 2012
NANJING: A LOOK FROM THE TOP
NAJING, THE THRIVING AND MODERN CAPITAL OF JIANGSU PROVINCE, CHINA
COME WITH ME ON A JOURNEY THROUGH SOME OF THE MOST IMPORTANT CITIES IN "JIANGSU", PRC, THE PROVINCE THAT HAS BEEN MY HOME FOR THE PAST 6 YEARS. I HOPE YOU WILL ENJOY THIS NARRATIVE; THAT IT WILL BE OF INTEREST AND MAY ENCOURAGE YOU TO KNOW EVER MORE ABOUT THIS THRIVING PROVINCE, THE MOST DENSELY POPULATED- AND ONE OF THE MOST HISTORIC PROVINCES, LOCATED ON THE EAST-COAST OF CHINA.
Green and beautiful JIANGSU Province is often referred to as the breadbasket of China. Cut by waterways and characterized by beguiling canal towns, JIANGSU province is well placed on China's fertile and prosperous eastern seaboard. Known for its great educational institutions, efficient transportation, delicious foods, and major historical sites, Jiangsu is a paradise for visitors from around the world.
JIANGSU has been historically referred to as the "land of fish and rice", and is bisected by the mighty Yangzi River (Chang Jiang), which flows into the East China Sea, just north of Shanghai. Along the way, on both sides of this great river of China, lie Jiangsu's major cities including Nanjing, the provincial capital, with a profusion of historic sites.
From the park-like setting of
its famous university to the forested Zijin Shan (Purple Mountains) in the east, NANJING has a relaxed atmosphere that few other Chinese cities can match.
The historic silk town of nearby SUZHOU is one of China's major sights, famed for its dreamy canal setting and classical gardens.
And if Suzhou's charms wets your appetite, you will be drawn to the historic architecture of the Grand Canal cities of Wuxi, Tongli, Yangzhou, Taizhou and Zhouzhuang. Nearby, the huge lake of Tai Hu is ringed with sights, including Ding Shan, home of the distinctive Yixing pottery.
The province is developing quickly but still retains its charm, especially in the many small towns where traditional architecture can be seen.
Of all of China's great cities, Nanjing or Nanking, as it was once known, is the most attractive. The capital of Jiangsu province, it is picturesquely set on the banks of the Yangzi River, close to the Purple Mountain. This city of lakes is still enclosed within its grand city wall, and its streets are shaded by rows of trees.
Translated as the "Southern Capital", Nanjing was the capital of several regional kingdoms up to 220 A.D.
Later, it was China's Capital under the early Ming Dynasty. It was also the capital of the 19th-century Taiping Heavenly Kingdom and the first Chinese Republic under Dr. Sun Yat Sen. Today, Nanjing is a fast developing city, with good restaurants and a lively nightlife.
The region has been populated for more than 5,000 years, and the history of Nanjing itself dates back to the 5th century B.C., the beginning of the Warring States Period (4003 -221 B.C.). Between the 3rd and 6th Century A.D., Nanjing was the capital of the Southern dynasties at a time when foreigners were ruling in the north of China.
After various natural disasters and a peasant rebellion, the new Sui dynasty moved the imperial capital to Xi'an and completely destroyed Nanjing, along with almost all of its cultural and historical relics.
Nanjing was able to regain national importance at the beginning of the Ming dynasty, when its first emperor set up the seat of government here in the "Southern Capital", a literal translation of the name Nanjing, until they later transferred it to Beijing in 1421. The well-preserved city wall in Nanjing dates from this period.
Taking two decades to
construct, the tremendous fortifications had a circumference of over 30km, some 19 miles, and an average height of 12 meters, some 39 feet. Each brick was inscribed with the name of the maker in case of defects, and 13 gates served as defensive ramparts and barracks. Several of the gates remain standing today, including ZHONGHUAMEN (Zhonghua Gate), in the south of the city and ZHONGSHANMEN, gate in the eastern part of the wall. Some wooded walks follow the path of the wall, and some sections of the original stone wall are still visible in places.
Near the Jiangdongmen (Gate on the Eastern Bank of the River) is the DATUSHA JINIANGUAN, the somber memorial to the notorious Nanjing massacre. Inside is a quiet and darkened exhibition of photographs, maps and witness accounts that document the arrival of Japanese troops in December 1937, and of the brutal rapes, burnings and looting of houses and historical relics and the slaughter of some 300,000 Chinese. Those who survived sometimes ended up as Japanese Imperial Army "comfort women", as the Japanese called Asian and European women held as prisoner for sex. Most silencing of all is a viewing hall overlooking the mass grave, one
of many of the "wan ren keng" (pit of ten thousand corpses) that the Japanese left behind.
A sign of the museum-memorial declares: "We must be on guard against any attempt to distort the history of Japanese aggression or to mollify aggressive war by the forces in Japan." China's commemoration of the massacre is not out of vanity or self-pity! The Japanese, including government officials, have persistently denied the magnitude of the massacre, if not denying it completely.
More people, mostly civilians, died at Nanjing from the Japanese massacre than from the atomic bomb of Hiroshima, yet Japanese textbooks refer to the massacre as a "minor incident". Among those denying the massacre have been cabinet ministers, university professors, and many of the more right-wing establishment of Japan. China is still waiting for a full and unreserved apology from Japan for its occupation and its consequences.
The XINJIEKOU roundabout marks Nanjing's modern city center, packed with people, vehicles of all descriptions, offices, banks and hotels. Here the JINGLING HOTEL stands out like a beacon, towering above the traffic. XU YUAN, somewhat to the east, is a pleasant and recreated Ming-dynasty garden, home to the TIANCHAO GONG (Palace of
the Heavenly Kingdom), once occupied by Taiping leader Hong Xiuquan. To the southwest is MOCHUO HU, a lake named after the Mochou (Lady Without Sorrows), who is said to have lived here in the 5th century. Various Qing pavilions are scattered around this area.
The CHAOTIAN GONG (Chaotian Palace) nearby dates back to the Song dynasty (960A.D.-1279A.D.), a time of Confucian revival. This palace is considered one of the area's best-preserved Confucian Temples. During the Ming dynasty is was expanded to include a school for children of the imperial court.
The entrance-gate LING XING (Spirit Star) dates from the Song dynasty, where a maze of merchants sell their trinkets, antiques and magazines, some dating into China's Cultural Revolution. Operas performed in the Jiangsu provincial tradition are often held within the main courtyard. There are three halls at the back of the complex that contain fossilized human, buffalo and deer bones from the Neolithic period, as well as a variety of pieces from the Ming and Qing dynasties.
Also in the southern part of the city, near ZHONGHUAMEN, is a Ming-style garden residence housing the TIANGUO BOWUGUAN (Taiping Museum). The rise and fall of the Taiping Rebellion is
YANGZHOU'S MOST FAMOUS LANDMARK
In Shaoxihu Park stands the Slender West Lake (Daming Si). It boasts the most famous landmark of Yangzhou, the Wutang Qiao (Five Pavilion Bridge)
well documented here in both Mandarin and in English. Led by Hong Xiuquan, a failed civil service candidate who was convinced he was the son of the Christian God, the Taiping (Kingdom of Heaven) captured Nanjing in 1853, making it the capital of their domain.
NANJING was retaken by Manchu troops in 1864 and Hong's magnificent temple was leveled. Cannons, guns, swords and other weapons are displayed alongside photographs and paintings depicting the rebellion.
Only two blocks to the west of the Taiping Museum is a lively market area known as FUZI MIAO. A festive atmosphere surrounds this labyrinth of alleyways and small squares filled with souvenir- and antique shops, and street stalls selling food. At the heart is the site of a Confucian temple and ancient study center, dating back 1,500 years. The temple and surrounding buildings were razed and rebuilt numerous times. The present buildings are Qing dynasty renovations and recent additions built in the Qing traditional style.
To the north of the Xinjiekou traffic circle stand further reminders of the Ming dynasty, GULOU, the Drum Tower, and ZHONGLOU, the Bell Tower. The Drum Tower, whose purpose was to call the watch and warn the
city of attack, was completed in 1382, only 14 years into the reign of the first Ming emperor. The Bell Tower, completed six years later, was used for ceremonial purpose.
The streets surrounding the tree-green campus of NANJING UNIVERSITY are filled with active student cafes, eateries and bookstores. Here you will find some of China's best educated students, often seeking to engage in English conversation.
In the eastern part of the city, next to ZHONGSHANMEN, is the NANJING BOWUGUAN (Nanjing Museum). One of China's best museums, it has an extensive collection of ceramics, jade, lacquer-ware, textiles, bronzes, porcelain and stone figures from Nanjing and elsewhere in Jiangsu Province. The collection covers 5,000 years of history, with many pieces dating from Neolithic times. One of the most important exhibits is a 2,000 year-old shroud from the Eastern Han dynasty (25A.D.-220A.D.). It is made from 2,600 green jade rectangles sewn together with silver wire. A new museum building was opened in 1999, containing 10 galleries arranged around a central courtyard. The facilities are spectacular and well labeled in English.
Nanjing is like a living museum where each piece reveals another chapter in China's history. Southwest of Nanjing BOWUGUAN lie
scattered the remains of the MING GUGONG (Ming Palace Ruins) in WUCHAOMEN Park. Erected by the first emperor of the Ming dynasty but reduced by war to a few scattered vestiges, some marble bridges and the ancient WUMEN (Wu Gate) survive.
South of Zhonghuamen is YUHUATAI (Rain of Flowers Terrace), where in the 4th century, according to legend, the Buddha made flowers rain from the sky. Today, it is a memorial in the park to the Communists and their supporters who died in 1927 at the hands of Nationalist troops.
For most Chinese, the ZHONGSHAN LING, the mausoleum of Dr. SUN YATSEN, is Nanjing's main attraction. Known as the father of modern China, Dr. Sun Yat Sen was the founder of the Chinese Republic in 1911. He wrote many political treatises which to this day remain required reading in schools in the People's Republic. A native of Guangdong Province, Dr. Sun wanted his final resting place to be here, amidst the lovely ZIJIN SHAN (Purple Mountains). His wishes were carried out four years after his death when the mausoleum was completed in 1929.
The size of the monument is staggering, covering some 20 acres (8 hectares). At
the end of the tree-lined avenue begins a climb of 392 granite steps leading up to the blue-tiled memorial hall. There are a few places to rest and enjoy the view of Nanjing along the way. The first hall contains a statue of the leader surrounded by walls with inscriptions telling his history and his most influential political theories. In a circular vault room, a tomb may be viewed, although Dr. Sun Yat Sen's real tomb is underground and cannot be seen.
Ruins to the northeast of Nanjing, near ZIJIN SHAN, offer a glimpse of the era of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). Years before his death, the first Ming emperor, Hong Wu (1327-1398), built his tomb known as MINGXIAO LING. Unfortunately, it was plundered during the Taiping uprising in 1864 and only the yellow walls of the main structure remain. Hanging inside these walls is a short history of the Ming dynasty and some photographs of Ming artifacts. A "sacred path", know as the SHIXIANG LU (Stone Statue Road) survives, and is beautifully lined with stone animals and soldiers leading to the tomb.
To the east of the tomb in LINGGU (Valley of the Souls) is LINGGU SI,
a temple built at the end of the 14th century. Only the temple site, which has been restored several times and built entirely from stone and without any wooden rafters, remains of the former large structure. Behind the temple site, known as WULIANG DIAN, is the 61-meter (220-ft) high LINGGU TA, a pagoda built in 1929 in memory of the victims of the war between the warlords and Nationalists. There is a magnificent view of the surrounding landscape from the top of the floor.
On the mountain stands an observatory, which has a museum containing astronomical instruments, old and new. A cable-car to the observatory provides a splendid view of Nanjing.
The park of XUANWU, a lake in the north of Nanjing, offers pavilions and small islands linked to the shore by dams and bridges and offers a pleasant retreat.
ALONG THE GRAND CANAL:
"In heaven above there is paradise, on earth there are SUZHOU and HANGZHOU." Yuan dynasty poet Yang Chaoying celebrated the two great Chinese garden spots with this celebrated line of poetry, and even today these towns along the GRAND CANAL (Da Yunhe) have maintained their stature as grand cities of
The origins of the canal go back to the periods of the Eastern Zhou dynasty (770-256 B.C.). Since the end of the 13th century, this waterway has stretched north to south over a distance of more than 1,800 km (1,100 miles). It crosses the provinces of Zhejiang and Jiangsu towards Beijing and connects the major rivers: Qiantang Jiang, Chang Jiang, Huai He and Huang He.
Like the Great Wall, the GRAND CANAL was assembled from smaller pieces. Preparing for war, the king of the state of Wu had a canal built from Suzhou to the Chang Jiang (Yangzi River). It was completed in 495 B.C., and was 85 km (53 miles) long. A few years later, the canal was extended to Yangzhou, and the two rivers Chang Jiang (Yangzi River) and Huai He, in the north, were linked.
The emperor's fascination with the canal created a link from what was then the capital, Luoyang, to Beijing in the north and to Huai He in the southwest and, subsequently, from Zhenjiang to Hangzhou. As a result, the capital, Luoyang, was eventually connected with both the north and the economically important south by a canal system totaling 2,700
km (1,680 miles) in length.
The customs tributes that were collected from the canals were transported to the capital via the waterway, as were rare wood and bricks used for the Imperial Palace in Beijing. During the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368), when Beijing became capital, the canal system was extended, connecting the capital directly with Hangzhou and shortening the distance by 1,000 km (620 miles), to 1,800 km (1,100 miles) in the process.
SUZHOU is known as the Venice of the East and has great charm. The city is built around a latticework of 24 canals, home to small intimate garden spots tucked away behind houses and hidden between narrow streets. The cobblestone walks and the narrow streets make Suzhou a relaxing and romantic city, though development is threatening its quaintness. The government seems to be at pains to preserve the local architectural style.
SUZHOU was the capital of the state of Wu during the Warring States (403-221 B.C.), though only for a few years. It flourished as a trading and silk center in the early 6th century, linked with the capital by the GRAND CANAL. SUZHOU was most prosperous during the Ming and Qing dynasties, when many
officials, scholars and artists settled here, and local traders grew rich. This wealth was largely invested in 287 gardens, of which 69 still remain today.
The principle of Chinese garden construction, creating an illusion of the universe in a small space, is obvious here. Water trickles between twisted, rocky crags; small islands are connected by canals and zigzag bridges; winding paths lead to tiny garden spaces with fountains, carefully manicured plants and fish ponds. A walk through the small alleys in the town, along the canals, and through the gardens has a special charm in the misty mornings, before the hoard of tourist arrive.
WANGSHI YUAN (Master of the Nets Garden) is a delightful and compact garden, dating from the Southern Song dynasty. Famous for its peony blooms in spring, the focus of the garden is its central pool around which cluster charming pavilions and walkways. Chinese opera is performed nightly in the garden. The CANGLANG TING (Blue Wave Pavilion) is a beautifully arranged garden laid out next to a canal. The PAN MEN scenic area by the moat in the southwest of the town is well worth exploring for its stretch of city wall, the delightful arched
WUMEN QIAO (Wumen Bridge) and the impressive restored RUIGUANG TA (Ruiguang Pagoda).
In the northeast of the town is Suzhou's largest garden, ZHUOZHENG YUAN (Humble Administrator's Garden), which covers 10 acres (4 hectares). Wang Xiancheng, a retired court official, had it built in 1513 on the spot where the famous Chinese poet Lu Guimeng lived during the Tang period.
Near the Humble Administrator's Garden is the SUZHOU MUSEUM, which opened in 2006. Designed by the famous Chinese-American architect I.M.Pei, whose family is from Suzhou, the building displays many of his signature design features, such as squares, rectangles and pyramids, plus abundant use of glass and natural light. It also uses Chinese elements such as a garden, a classical foot bridge, and a traditional rock wall, while the exhibits are primarily tried-and-true staples from the world of Chinese art: jade, porcelain, calligraphy and paintings.
BEISI TA (North Temple Pagoda) is an octagonal pagoda and dates from the Southern Song period, though it went through extensive restoration in the 17th century. A wonderful view of Suzhou can be seen from the top of the 76-meter (250-ft) high, 9-floor tower and there is a teahouse with refreshments behind the pagoda.
Right across the Renming Lu (Renming Street), the SUZHOU SILK MUSEUM guides through the history of silk production in China.
On the western edge of Suzhou, in the street with the same name, is LIU YUAN (Garden in which to Linger). The name invites and getting lost in the garden's many nooks and crannies is a pleasure. LIU YUAN is considered a prime example of a southern Chinese garden of the Qing era (1644-1912), and thus belongs to the gardens protected as a national cultural monument.
Just west of LIU YUAN is the fascinating XIYUAN SI. In the main temple are some special statues of Buddha and a colossal statue of Guanyin. At the entrance to the impressive Arhat Hall, housing some 500 gilt effigies, is another Guanying figure, extending its 1,000 arms.
Only 1 km west of Suzhou, in the small town of Fengqiao, stands HANSHAN SI (Cold Mountain Monastery), celebrated in poetry during the Tang Dynasty by poet Zhang Ji. The monastery was built in the 6th century, though the current buildings were rebuilt after its destruction during the Taiping revolt.
A pretty little water-town typical of the region, TONGLI gives visitors a good
idea of what Suzhou must have been like in its heyday. All its houses open out on to a network of canals that are spanned by dozens of stone bridges and are busy with transportation and trading boats. Some of its buildings are open to the public, such as JIAYIN HALL, the former home of Liu Yazi, and early 20th Century actor. The other interesting sight is TUISI YUAN, a classical garden dating from the late Qing period.
20 km (12 miles) further west of Suzhou is TAI HU, China's third largest lake, covering over 2,400 sq.km (934 sq.miles) and sprinkeld with 48 islands. The romantic landscape surrounding the TAI HU has been the subject of many poems. Residents benefit from the lake, as it provides them with fish, and they breed ducks and geese, as well as grow lotus and water chestnuts on it. The distinctive rock found in all Chinese classical gardens comes from TAI HU, and was an important family business in the past.
Spring is the peak season at MEI YUAN (Plum Garden) overlooking TAI HU (Tai Lake) near the thriving city of WUXI, when thousands of plum trees are in blossom. YUANTOU ZHU
(Turtle Head Islet), a peninsula poking into the lake, has become popular for its walks, pavilions and amusement parks. Boats can take visitors to the island of SAN SHAN (Three Hills).
TAI HU (Tai Lake) extends north to the outskirts of WUXI, another of Jiangsu's great ancient cities. WUXI is easily reached by train from either SUZHOU (30 minutes) or NANJING (2 hours), or even by boat from HANGZHOU on the GRAND CANAL in about thirteen hours. The history of WUXI goes back over 2,000 years, when the town was called YOUXI, which literally means: "There is Tin". But the tin reserves had already been exhausted by the Han dynasty, because since that time is has been called WUXI, or "there is no tin".
Even without tin, WUXI's importance grew with the completion of the GRAND CANAL, and its wealth was achieved, as in the whole region, through agriculture and extensive silk production. The GRAND CANAL flows right through the town, underneath elegant arched bridges, also known as "moon bridges", for their shapes.
For almost 1,500 years, the area around WUXI has produced China's oldest export, silk. Most people living in the area now cultivate silkworms, usually
as a profitable sideline. From April to November, travelers to the region can observe this activity on many farms throughout the area. The silkworm cocoon is washed in silk-spinning mills and then the silk thread is pulled. The thread can sometimes measure more than 1,000 meters (3,280 ft) in length. Several threads are then spun together into a durable yarn that can be woven.
YIXING COUNTY, on the western shore of TAI HU, has an international reputation for its ceramics, and in particular for its teapots. Production is centered on the towns of YIXING and DINGSHAN. Unglazed "Zisha" (purple sand) Yixing teapots absorb the flavor of the tea and often-used pots simply require the addition of boiling water, so it is said. Not to be missed are the fascinating CERAMIC MUSEUM and the CERAMIC EXHIBITION CENTRE and the attached artisan shops in the city of YIXING. Here it is possible to appreciate the full range of YIXING's ceramic production and its historical importance.
Around 30 km (20 miles) southeast of Suzhou is ZHOUZHUANG, a picturesque canal town and UNESCO World Heritage Site, segmented by waterways and sprinkled with man-made stone bridges. The town of ZHOUZHUANG dates back to
the Yuan dynasty, but prosperity came with the canal trade in silk and pottery during the Ming dynasty, which also financed a construction boom. Boat-tours cruise the canals, otherwise a calm stroll can take in the main sights, including the ZHANG TING (Zhang Hall), the SHEN TING (Shen Hall) and the Buddhist temple of QUANFU SI.
Two hours by bus from Nanjing, YANGZHOU dates back to the 5th century B.C. YANGZHOU found prosperity in its prime position at the southern section of the GRAND CANAL, that linked the Chang Jian and the Huai He rivers. A salt monopoly further filled the coffers of this pretty canal town, but the Taiping rebels brought considerable destruction in the mid-19th century to YANGZHOU.
DAMING SI (Daming Temple) in the northwest of the town dates back to the 5th century A.D., although it was also destroyed by the Taiping and later rebuilt. The temple is chiefly dedicated to a monk who failed five times to reach Japan to promote Buddhism, eventually succeeding on his sixth endeavor. YANGZHOU's major scenic area is SHOUXIHU GONGYUAN (Shouxihu Park) and the SLENDER WEST LAKE (Daming Si), marked by the remarkable and unique WUTING QIAO (Five Pavilion
Beyond the historic cities located along the Yangzi River and the Grand Canal, one should not forget the ZHENJIANG REGION, the HUAI'AN REGION, the XUZHOU REGION and the LIANYUNGANG REGION of China's most traveled province: SPECTACULAR JIANGSU !
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