Located in the lower Yangtze River drainage basin, Nanjing has long been one of the most important cities in Chinese history. It is one of the earliest established cities in China and is recognized as one of the Four Great Ancient Capitals along with Beijing, Xi’an and Luoyang. It enjoys picturesque sceneries typical of Southern China as well as magnificent historical charm, a city of complexity and profound connotation.
Qinhuai River: Cradle of Nanjing Civilization
Qinhuai River, a branch of the great Yangtze River, is 110 kilometers in length and covers a drainage area of 2,631 square kilometers. It is the largest river in the Nanjing city area and the “life blood” of the city. The river was originally called Huai River, and it is said that the river was channeled to the city of Nanjing during the reign of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, so it was named Qinhuai River from then on.
The Qinhuai River has nursed the rich civilization of the region. It is famous as a residential area of eight beauties, most of whom experienced the transition of dynasties and the turmoil of society. Talented in painting and poem composition, they also have the strongest sense of patriotism, and their romantic love stories were historically influential and respected widely.
The banks along the river were the gathering place for noble and wealthy families, and were also frequently visited by scholars. Painted boats with red lanterns once shuttled to and from. Now, a busy colorful bazaar has gradually taken shape here. The flourishing riverside area can be compared to the Nanjing Road of Shanghai and some do call it the “Mini Nanjing Road”. Small shops, stores, restaurants and bars cluster the area. One can find everything here ranging from colorful trinkets to local specialties. At night the whole area is lit up with colorful lights, thus creating a very impressive scene. Taking the painted boats to cruise on the river, visitors can not only admire the sights along the river, but also experience the traditional culture of Nanjing.
A Mix of History and Modernity
Many people agree with the saying that Nanjing is a city with a nostalgia complex. Wherever you go in the city, you can experience the dynamism of a modern metropolis set against a sleepy historic backdrop full of nostalgia. The mix of skyscrapers and old buildings keeps you on your toes and leave you with the impression that you are at the crossroads of modernity and history.
The City Wall of Nanjing, which stands 20 meters high and winds for miles around the city, is a masterpiece of China’s ancient architecture. It was constructed from 1366 to 1387 in the early Ming Dynasty and is one of the main attractions of the city. The walls were packed layer by layer with broken bricks, gravel and yellow earth. All the brickwork joints were poured with mixed lime, water in which glutinous rice had been cooked and tong oil because the coagulated mixture was very strong. That is why the city wall has stood for such a long time.
Situated at Changjiang Road, Xuanwu District, the Nanjing Presidential Palace has witnessed a history spanning over 600 years. With an area of 90,000 square meters, it served as a mansion for the Prince of Han in the Ming Dynasty and was used as the Jiangning (Nanjing) Fabric Manufacture Bureau and so on. From the First Opium War in 1840 to Nanjing’s Peaceful Liberation in 1949, it served as the political and military center of China, where a series of important political events took place.
Apart from these historical architectures that dotted the city, Nanjing also sparkles with skyscrapers, luxury hotels, fashion shopping malls, supermarkets and highly-developed economic zones, akin to Shanghai and Beijing. Like most of the major cities in China, Nanjing is developing at a very fast speed. Modern highways and railways connect the city with most major cities throughout the country. The city is also home to several colleges and universities and a large foreign population. It is an international metropolis with new faces every day.
Prosperity and Tribulation
It is reported that Nanjing has ever had 44 names in history. The change of names each time reflects the change of dynasties and the rise and fall of the city.
From the Three Kingdoms period (220- 280 AD) to the Northern (386-581 AD) and Southern (420-589 AD) dynasties, China entered an era of turmoil and internal division. It was during this period that Nanjing City first experienced prosperity. Wu Kingdom (one of the Three Kingdoms) established Jianye as its capital and Nanjing was vaulted from an ordinary county to a state capital.
After that, another four states (Song, Qi, Liang and Chen) in Southeast China successively moved their capitals here. Around 320 AD, Nanjing was made capital of Six Dynasties. Although the warring in Northern China persisted, relative tranquility gave the city a good opportunity to develop, and it finally became a thriving economic and cultural center of South China.
Following its 300 years of prosperity, Nanjing spiraled downwards during the Sui (581-618 AD) and Tang (618-907 AD) dynasties. When Zhu Yuanzhang, the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD) ascended the throne in 1368, he changed the city’s name into Nanjing and declared it to be the country’s capital.
In spite of its glorious times as a capital, Nanning has also suffered a lot from the subversion of dynasties as well as foreign invasion. The Nanjing Massacre, which took place in 1937, has left a lasting scar on the city. Located in the southwestern corner of Nanjing near “pit of ten thousand corpses”, a site where thousands of bodies were buried during the massacre, the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall was opened to public on August 15th, 1985 and was enlarged in 1995. Built with gray marbles, the hall is impressive and solemn, which is home to historical documents, cultural relics, art and sculptures, recording the miserable history of the city and the nation.
Although many prosperous cities have been destroyed or even disappeared in wars and disasters, the city of Nanjing has never been struck down. Instead, it has risen from the ashes and got itself on the road to prosperity time and time again.