Friday was hot, humid and overcast when Walter and I set out for Nanjing. It was to be our third trip to the capital of Jiangsu Province. The first and second were in the summer of 1997 and 1998 – just another indication of how long we’ve been living in China.
Since we came to live here, I’ve never tired of looking at the ever-changing scenery along the road…especially after a heavy rain when the countryside looks fresh and green and the water level in rivers and canals is high, making a lovely and picturesque sight. And so our two-hour drive from Suzhou to Nanjing flew by in a flash.
The unfeasible bridge
We crossed the double-level “Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge”, which comprises both railway and road. After ten years of construction, it opened to traffic in October 1968. The Chinese are justly proud of this particular bridge since it was built against all odds. The bridge is of Chinese design and constructed with local materials. The project was deemed unfeasible from the start by Western nations and the Russians abandoned it half way. Despite all the obstacles, the undaunted Chinese managed to show the world what they could achieve.
The ancient capital
We drove down the Zhongshan Dong Lu, a tree-lined street. In fact, most of the roads in Nanjing are shaded by leafy trees. In my view, these are necessary because the city is quite notorious for its hot climate; so much so that the Chinese dub it one of the three furnaces of the country; the other two are Wuhan and Chongqing.
According to a reference book, Nanjing is one of the six famous ancient capitals of China, along with Xi’an, Beijing, Luoyang, Kaifeng and Hangzhou. The Yangtze River flows past the city in the northwest with the Zhongshan (Purple Mountain) bordering the southeast.
The heavenly capital
Although Nanjing is an ancient capital, its modern history is also interesting. In 1853 when the Taiping peasant insurgents stormed into the city, they made it the capital of their Taiping Heavenly Kingdom and renamed it Tianjing (Heavenly Capital), a name which lasted only eleven years. The Taiping rebels were the famine-stricken peasants and workers whose leader believed that he was the younger brother of Jesus Christ. Their objective was to bring down the Manchu Government in the north and put the country back into the Chinese hands. They were finally driven out of Shanghai by the French when they attempted to take the city. Their leader committed suicide. However, this was not the end but the beginning of a peasant upheaval that would continue a century later under the leadership of Mao Tsedung.
The father of the republic
After the victory of the Revolution that ended the monarchy of the Qing Dynasty, Dr. Sun Yatsen established the Republic of China. He was appointed Provisional President in Nanjing on December 29, 1911. Nanjing became the capital of the Republic on April 18, 1927 when Chiang Kai-shek proclaimed the inauguration of his National Government there.
While Walter was attending a business meeting, I escaped with Mr. Liu, the driver, to Dr. Sun Yatsen’s Mausoleum, which is situated at the foot of the Zhongshan Mountain or Purple Mountain. It had always been his wish to be buried near the tomb of the first Ming Emperor on the Purple Mountain outside the city. However, when he died on March 11, 1925 of liver cancer, his remains were preserved on the Western Hills near Beijing while plans were being made to build a mausoleum for him. As fate would have it, it was another five long and eventful years before his remains were finally put to rest.
According to the inscription on the stone slab at the foot of the stairway, the mausoleum was built from March 1926 to the spring of 1929. The burial rites were held on June 1, 1929 and the shrine was proclaimed “a National Major Unit of Protection of Historical Relics” by the State Council in 1961.
The magnificent memorial consists of eighty thousand square meters of marble. At the entrance is an archway with the Chinese inscription “Philanthropic Love”. Further is a large courtyard and a tree-lined corridor ending in a stone three-arched gate, bearing the inscription “The world belongs to the people.” Eight flights of steps in Suzhou granite lead to the stele pavilion and then the mausoleum, which is a marble structure with four cupolas and iridescent blue tile on the roof. There is a marble seated statue of Dr. Sun Yatsen. Behind is the coffin chamber containing his remains.
At the urge of General Chiang Kai-shek, Madame Sun Yatsen or Ching-ling Soong – the youngest of the three sisters and the one who loved China – traveled by Trans-Siberian Railway from Berlin to Harbin and then on to Beijing before boarding the funeral train to Nanjing to be present at the ceremony.
Dr. Sun Yatsen is highly revered by the Chinese for his role as Father of the Republic of China; he rallied the people and the generals to overthrow the Qing Dynasty. He founded the Nationalist Party and designated the Kuomintang. According to a reference book, his document known as “The Tsung-li Testament”, meaning the testament of the Maximum Leader was read in every political Kuomintang meeting.
After the visit to the mausoleum, I took a stroll along the “Sacred Path to Xiaolong Mausoleum”. Both sides of the path are lined with stone lions, a unicorn-like beast, camels, elephants and horses. In spite of the heat and humidity, I kept my cool under the shade of the leafy trees.
While returning to the city, we saw some workmen hacking at the overgrown branches of the trees along the narrow road. One of the branches fell onto the car just as we were about to pass underneath, causing some damage to the trunk. As far as the workers were concerned, it was business as usual. They carried on trimming as though nothing had happened, even though they did not have a net to catch the falling branches. To prevent another dangerous and unpleasant incident, the driver stopped a little further down the road and went to report to the foreman. The man just shrugged and refused to accept any responsibilities, pointing out defiantly that our car must have been damaged elsewhere. The driver and I were dumbfounded. Seeing no point in arguing with the ruffian, we decided to drive on.
In the evening, we went to the Confucius Temple, or Fuzimiao in Mandarin. It was built to commemorate Mr. Konzi, the founder of Confucianism, who was one of China’s most famous ideologists and philosophers during Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC – 476 BC). The guide told us that the Qinhuai River where the temple stands has been a gathering place for merchants and artists, as well as local culture vultures since time immemorial. Being a professional free-lance writer, I was asked to pose in front of the gate – above which is inscribed “Tien Xia Wen Shu” meaning “outstanding literary articles under the sky”.
You don’t have to look far for a place to eat because the Qinghui district abounds with restaurants…their restrooms are quite acceptable. As night falls, hawkers and vendors set up their little stalls… rows and rows of them, selling all kinds of artifacts from colored stones to necklaces.