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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.