Last weekend I took a final trip to Nanjing with Aaron. We used the opportunity to buy some souvenirs at what I think is the best market in China and to see some of the sites we hadn’t seen on our previous two Nanjing adventures in November and December.
The China Gate
The title of this post comes from our first stop, the Zhonghua Gate built in the fourteenth century during the reign of the first Ming emperor. This gate was designed to put the enemy in a tough spot like “a turtle in a jar” as it said on one of the signs. The gate is ingenious and a great defensive structure.
Composed of four sections of walls and gates, this south entrance to Nanjing is an imposing structure built with one thing in mind, deter the enemy and if that doesn’t work destroy them before they get into the city. The first section is the main gate through the actual city wall except this gate is nearly three times as thick as the rest of the wall. If the enemy breaks through the gate, there is a long dark tunnel to get through with surprises of its own before reaching three more walls.
In the tunnel are two small entrances to two more tunnels on either side, which could hold up to 3,000 soldiers ready to storm into the main tunnel behind or in the midst of the intruders. At the end of the tunnel is the first of three courtyards surrounded by high walls that would have been stalked with archers and other means of deterrents like heavy rocks for dropping.
Each of the courtyards has a gate in the middle. The design for the fortress basically trapped the intruding army into four areas of combat, three of which were basically pits for slaughter. They would divide the sections with heavy stone slabs at each gate thus trapping the invaders like turtles in a jar or more appropriately with the archers above like fish in a barrel.
Not only is the structure, engineering and strategy impressive but it is a cool place to visit too. You can walk through the tunnels and up on the walls. With ivy growing over the walls it is pretty cool looking too. There are small exhibitions about the gate, Nanjing and other things in some upstairs corridors and a bonsai garden in the middle courtyard.
If you really want to get into it, you can even pay a few Reminbi to shoot a quiver of arrows at a small archery range in the first courtyard.
The Drum Tower
Having walked passed it several times to get where we were staying and to go to church on all of our trips to Nanjing, we figured we should stop in for a visit at the old drum tower. Most ancient Chinese cities have a drum and bell tower for telling time and making important announcements. Nanjing’s bell tower was destroyed but the drum tower still stands on a roundabout in a lovely little park.
The top structure with the actual drums has been destroyed and rebuilt several times over the last several hundred years, but the base or pedestal of the tower has survived from the original. One can climb up to get views of the nearby skyscrapers. In two of the corridors of the base there were art exhibitions to peruse for free.
The Presidential Palace
Most non-Chinese people don’t know that Beijing has not always been China’s capitol. In fact, it has moved several times, but Nanjing was a favorite place several times over the last several hundred years. For that reason, Nanjing is full of amazing history covering not just ancient dynasties but also playing a very pivotal role in modern Chinese history and the current relationship with Taiwan.
Among the more modern sites is the Presidential Palace, the equivalent to the White House for Nationalist China. The property and some of the buildings have a bit older history, but the most important history is what it saw at the infancy of modern China.
If those walls could talk, the stories told would be fascinating. This is the place where the first modern China was created and where they tried to set it all in motion. Dr. Sun Yatsen lived and worked there and after his death the government of the Republic of China operated from this building. They received foreign heads of state and planned, wrote and revised China’s then constitution that would later be the base for the current Taiwanese government.
Kuomintang leaders met with CCP leaders and eventually it was the site of the “liberation” in 1949 by the new People’s Republic of China People’s Liberation Army. If you’re a Sinophile then this is a must see. So much happened there, and from the few English translations, the role of the short-term Nationalist government is fairly treated as essential and not all bad.
There are some Qing-style buildings and cool Chinese art deco buildings built in the 1920s. There are also many buildings and gardens to explore. Depending on how much you’re interested in China’s history, plan on anywhere between a day and a few hours to explore the complex. There are exhibitions about the governments, the old constitution and the Five Yuan System, and displays about Sun Yatsen.
Of all of the cities I’ve visited in China, Nanjing is one of the very top. It is for the most part clean and relaxed. The tree-lined streets make it more intimate and the transportation system is decent. I’ve been three times and each time it has been a good experience.