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Saturday, July 5, 2014

A consensual visit to Nanjing (Part 1)


Every time I go on a trip, it seems, there will be rain. Areas suffering from severe droughts should invite me to come visit, for I'm sure to bring forth water down from the sky. Certainly the two days I spent in Nánjīng 南京, the former capital of the Republic of China 中華民國 before its government fled to Taiwan, and site of one of the most notorious war crimes of the Second World War, were very wet ones. Nevertheless, short of a typhoon (and I've experienced those as well when I'm on vacation), I still persevere in seeking out the sights no matter how soaked I and/or my belongings become in the process, and with that, I bring you a few impressions of one of China's most important historical cities.

For most Westerners, the name Nanjing probably conjures up the Rape of Nanking, and for that reason the first thing I did after arriving in the city by train from Shànghăi 上海 was to take the subway into the southwestern suburbs to visit the Memorial Hall of the Nanjing Massacre 南京大屠杀纪念馆. Surprisingly, for a rain-soaked late morning on a weekday, there were a lot of people lined up to go inside. The atmosphere was also unexpected - visitors were posing with the outdoor sculptures as if they were artworks in a public park, while vendors were hawking umbrellas and Chinese flags. I decided that perhaps it might be better to return the following morning before the museum opened and so beat a hasty retreat:

Instead, I made my way by Metro to the hilly area containing two of Nanjing's most visited sites, the Míng Xiàolíng Tomb 明孝陵 and the Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum 中山陵. It was a 1.6 kilometer (one mile) walk from the subway station uphill, but the walkway led through the kind of scenery never glimpsed in Shanghai:

After purchasing the entrance ticket and passing through a huge gate, the inside of which contained a statute of a giant turtle with a stele on its back...:

...the first section of the mausoleum containing the tomb of the founder of the Ming Dynasty is a 618 meter (2028 feet) "spirit path", lined with stone statues of animals both real and imaginary:

A second, shorter path has statues of generals and officials marking the way:

The route then enters into a courtyard and through several pavilions, including one containing a stele of homage from the second Qing emperor to his Ming predecessor of 300 years earlier:

Eventually, the mammoth mausoleum comes into view:

To get to the top, you first walk up through a tunnel, before mounting steps to the outside viewing platform:

Behind the mausoleum is nothing but hillside and forest:

On the way out, a chance to admire some of the details:

Lunch - overpriced but overdue, according to my rumbling stomach:

From the tomb, it's a short walk along the same wooded path to the other mausoleum, that of the father of modern China, Dr. Sun Yat-sen 孙中山:

The lousy weather did little to deter the crowds arriving by the busload from making their way up the 392 steps to the where Dr. Sun is entombed:

Inside the chamber sits a seated marble statue of Dr. Sun, complete with signs commanding visitors to "salute", while the ceiling is emblazoned with the emblem of the Kuomintang 國民黨. The remains of the man himself lie in a coffin contained further within, but it was closed off for viewing that day:

On the outside facade are carved the "Three Principles of the People". The book expounding these principles made life miserable for millions of Taiwanese schoolchildren:

Were I Chinese, I would probably be in awe of the man, a hero of the nation revered by both Nationalists and Communists. For me, however, it's hard to understand the reverence. This was a man who failed several times at organizing revolts to overthrow the Qing Dynasty, only to be completely taken by surprise (not to mention out of the loop) by the uprising that did bring to an end Imperial China. His reign as the first president of the Republic of China has to be considered a failure - the country was far from united, the central government was weak and following his death, the leadership fell into the authoritarian hands of Chiang Kai-shek 蔣介石, eventually leading to civil war and the rise of the communists. None of this has prevented a cult of personality from arising around Sun Yat-sen, as I would learn more on my second day in Nanjing:

Still, I had to buy a souvenir. Not surprisingly, the lighter didn't work when I tried it later in my hotel room:

I don't normally post pictures of signs with strange English on them as the subject has been done to death since the days even before the Internet (hard to imagine), but this one was too strangely-worded to pass by:

Dinner was had at a Mexican restaurant called Behind the Wall, where I was the only customer there until almost the end of my meal:

The end of a long, wet but interesting day in Nanjing:




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