As we were trying to decide how to maximize our travel potential during the recent QingMing Jie (清明节/Tomb Sweeping Festival), I remembered a suggestion some of David’s co-workers had made: “you need to go to Nanjing!” Of course, they recommended going for an entire weekend as a single day could not quite do it justice….but with the impending repatriation of our pets upon us we wisely concluded it would be best not to board either of them lest they get sick or become otherwise unable to travel. Fortunately our Ayi (阿姨/maternal aunt) was more than willing to spend some extra time with Kenobi before he left and offered to work a full day on her “holiday off.” We checked the trains about three days in advance and found the high speed ones could get us there and back in approximately one hour, so we booked an early and late train and headed to China’s former southern capital! Unfortunately half of China decided to join us, ah the hazards of traveling during a Chinese holiday…
First stop: the Presidential Palace. For those of you unfamiliar with modern Chinese history I will endeavor to give you a brief overview. The Qing dynasty officially fell in 1912 with the then 6 year old emperor abdicating the throne. It was then replaced with the Republic of China government which lasted until just a few years after WWII. You have possibly heard about the likes of Sun Yat Sen and Chiang KaiSheck (known as Jiang JieShi in Chinese) as the major leaders of this political movement. During the Republic of China period the government was officially located in Nanjing along with the countries main military headquarters. During WWII the ruling party left Nanjing to avoid the conflict with the Japanese and returned after the successful end of the war. Fast forward to some internal struggle in China and the ROC government was banished to Taiwan and outlying islands when the People’s Liberation Army ousted them and created the People’s Republic of China. To this day both governments claim ownership over all of China, though it is quite obvious the PRC governs the mainland while the ROC governs Taiwan. All this to say that the presidential palace we toured was officially occupied by the ROC government in the early 1900s.
I found this compound and buildings particularly interesting in comparison to the much older and traditional architecture we are used to seeing in China. There are many modern touches reminiscent of popular styles at the time. We opted to use the self service audio guides which helped us understand what we were looking at a little better. In our experience though, the guides assume a certain level of Chinese history knowledge, so they can throw out many names and events as though you already know their significance. Unfortunatly that is not usually the case for us.
For the brave and non-claustrophobic you could join a long slow moving mob through the building to view the offices of the top government officials including Chiang KaiSheck! We did not entirely know what we were signing up for when we entered this
So this is what all the fuss was about:
There are plenty of other traditional buildings and gardens on the premises, but alas I forget a lot of their names. For some historical reading look up the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom which had strong ties to Nanjing and was the inspiration for these gold leaf masterpieces.
There was also a quite expansive garden to be found in the presidential palace compound.
Before leaving the garden and place grounds I decided to scratch a cultural itch that has plagued me for the last two months: buying a small rooster hair clip to wear around! These became popular during the Chinese New Year as it is the year of the rooster and I have seen countless people (men, women, and children) wearing them at various times since February.
We also braved the mobs at the Nanjing Massacre Memorial to check out the museum they have built there to commemorate the 300,000 lives lost when the Japanese unceremoniously entered Nanjing and started a mass killing spree. The museum itself was pretty well done overall, but being herded through like cattle really did detract from the atmosphere.
One thing we have found interesting in all our travels is getting to view “the other side of history.” This one really takes the cake though. There may have been a small incident at the end of WWII that encouraged Japan to back off…
After the museum we made our way to the city wall, which is one of the largest remaining in china. While it is not completely in tact (like the one in Xi’an) it is still quite impressive. It was also mercifully devoid of people by holiday standards so we had a nice walk along it to observe the city from above.
We ended our evening with a quick burger on one of the famous shopping/food streets near the river before catching the train home. Overall it was a very eventful day and I can easily see why you need more than one day to truly experience Nanjing. There is so much history to see there!