Thursday, March 29, 2012

Circling Shanghai II: Nanjing

Nanjing means "Southern Capital," and it was indeed the capital of China or of parts of China on several occasions between 228 AD and 1949. Thanks to its central location both north-south and also east-west along the Yangtze (aka the Chang Jiang), it has been a center of commerce and a focus of attention over the centuries. It is also the site of two of the greatest tragedies of modern Chinese history, which we will get to in due time. 

We reached Nanjing about 1 pm and quickly figured out the subway system, taking a subway train 7 stops for the usual 65 cents each that most Chinese subway systems charge. We grabbed some lunch then dropped off a few things at our hotel and headed off past a scenic spot along a river running through the city.

Our goal was to find the Zhonghuamen, the best-preserved gate through the ancient wall.  Beause of its size and importance, Nanjing has long had large and imposing city walls.  The gate was indeed worth finding.  It is actually a series of gateways, so that an enemy penetrating the outer gate would find himself in an interior courtyard with descending arrows and spears making for a pretty hot rather than a warm welcome. 

The photo to the left and the first one below are looking toward the center of the city.  In the scale model we're looking away from the city.  Note the ramps that rise up from the city to the walls, allowing horses to climb the 50 or 60 feet to bring troops and supplies up and perhaps reposition them along the wall to where they were most needed.

Construction began in 1366 and it remains in good condition in part, perhaps, because of the high standards enforced in building it. Each maker of the stones used in its construction had to imprint his name on the stone, and what happens nowadays to contractors who deliver substandard goods absolutely pales compared to what happened in 1366.  Within the walls there are enormous storage rooms that could be used for weapons or for food during a siege. 

From that red building, known as an Arrow Tower since archers would use its height to give their arrows further range, we looked westward along the top of the wall, first at the Qinhuai River making its way just outside the wall on its way to the Yangtze, then at the inner side of the wall.

We also took a shot of a second model, this one showing the full extent of the wall when it still completely encircled the city (about a third is now torn down). To get an idea of the scale, the complete wall was 33.5 km, or 21 miles, all the way around! For a comparison, the circumference of Manhattan Island in NYC is 28 miles.

We then headed east to begin a walk of about a mile in a counter-clockwise direction.  We kept moving since the sun was getting low in the smoggy sky.

As we walked along, we noticed that the neighborhood alongside the wall on the inner side was being torn down to create a park setting along the wall.  While some places were clearly deserted, many others were clinging on 'til the last possible moment even as the bulldozers closed in, as in the fourth photo where a woman is doing something on the veranda of her about-to-be-demolished home while a dad bikes by with his child.  The fifth photo shows what the outside of the wall looks like in this same area.  If there were once homes perched under the walls on this outer side, there is only parkland now.

In the 1830s a fellow named Hong Xiuquan flunked the imperial civil service exam for the fifth time -- not overly unusual, since the pass rate was about 1% -- and turned for inspiration to a religious pamphlet given him by a Christian missionary.  Between the pamphlet and a series of mystical visions he shortly experienced, Hong came to believe himself the brother of Jesus Christ.  Unfortunately for Chinese history, so did a lot of Chinese.  By 1850 he was the leader of a violent upheaval known as the Taiping Rebellion.  By 1853 the Taiping had conquered much of southeastern China, including Nanjing, which they made their capital city.

The Qing Dynasty did not take this lightly, particularly given the Taiping custom of murdering all Qing officials they could get their hands on.  By the time Nanjing was retaken it was standard Qing custom to murder all the citizens of the cities it reconquered.  In fifteen year of civil war from 1850-64, the conservative estimates are that 20 million died, including the total populations of Nanjing and Suzhou, among other places.  In four years from 1861-65, the American Civil War caused 650,00 to 850,000 deaths, and even the dozen years of Napoleonic wars fifty years earlier had "only" 4 to 7 million deaths.  In short, the Taiping Rebellion was one of the world's worst wars prior to WW I.

Our guidebook told us there was a museum to the Taiping movement near our hotel, but when we searched the area where it was alleged to be, all we found was a rabbit warren of odd streets.  We passed a Confucian museum and something else that might have been the Taiping museum, but with signs only in Mandarin we couldn't be sure.  So we turned our attention to another major figure in Chinese and specifically Nanjing's history, Dr. Sun Yat-sen, known also as Sun Zhongshan.

Sun had dedicated his life to ending the Qing dynasty and creating a republic for China, but was actually in the United States when the 1911 revolution knocked the Qing out of power.  He rushed to China and was acclaimed the first president of the Republic of China.  Soon after, Nanjing was named the capital of the Chinese Republic.  However, Sun's enormous prestige was not enough to overcome his lack of military power.  He soon had to resign in favor of a warlord who wanted the job of president, and before long China was divided into competing camps of petty military leaders, the so-called warlord period.  Sun died of liver cancer in 1925, still dreaming of a reunited China.  At his request, his mausoleum was built on Purple Mountain on the edge of Nanjing, and we joined the millions of Chinese who go there every year to pay their respects to the man considered the father of modern China.  It's a very impressive place!

One of the things that surprised us about China was how popular corn on the cob was as a street food at popular tourist sites.  Perhaps it was the color of the corn here, coordinated as it was with his shirt, that got Jeff to finally try it.  We can report that it was pretty chewy, but we don't know if that's because it was red corn or because it was Chinese corn.  We did not track down a yellow corn on the cob vendor to do a taste teste.  After that hearty walk up to see the statue of Sun Yat-sen inside the mausoleum, we had a nice walk back down the hill and into the Nanjing subway system yet again, this time navigating our way to a memorial to the enormous 20th century tragedy known as the Rape of Nanjing (or Nanking, the old name in English for the city).

Although there is still much denial about it in Japan, virtually all historians elsewhere agree that Japanese troops committed one of the worst atrocities against civilians in the history of warfare.  And virtually all the victims were women, children and old men, as the Chinese army had retreated when the Japanese army took the city.  The Memorial Hall of Victims in the Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Invaders, to use the museum's full name, has adopted the figure of 300,000 dead as a result of the Japanese Army's actions in December 1937 and January 1938, and most estimates other than those coming from Japan agree that that number is a fair estimate. 

Museums like this, such as the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC and the September 18 Museum in Shenyang that we described in an earlier blog, are tough places to visit or to write about.   The lighting is dim and the mood somber, the photographs on display and the stories told sometimes overwhelming.  The statues by the entrance are as graphic as we choose to be in our blog.

The museum assembed the evidence quite effectively, including diaries and photographs by Christian missionaries that were carefully smuggled out of Nanjing; accounts and photographs by a Nazi official in Nanjing who was appalled by what he saw; and even Japanese newspaper articles, including a contemporary one that told of a "killing contest" between two Japanese officers with as much compassion as a sports writer gives to describing a baseball game.  It was all too sad.

There were a few positives, particularly the story of brave missionaries who defied the Japanese and protected survivors as well as gathering and hiding evidence.  This statue of one of them, Minnie Vautrin, was accompanied by displays that credited her with saving the lives of some 9,000 women and children.  As we exited the museum, we passed the archives that hold documentation about the event. 

When we visited the Peace Memorial Museum in Hiroshima several years ago, we were struck by the fact that that museum acknowledged a widespread feeling that the Japanese "deserved" the atomic bombing of Hiroshima because of their fanatical refusal to surrender and as payback for their unprovoked attacks on Pearl Harbor, Hong Kong, Singapore and elsewhere, plus their many wartime atrocities.  There was no suggestion in today's museum that the Chinese had done anything whatsoever to deserve what happened to them in Nanjing, nor are we aware of anyone serious who has suggested otherwise.  We left the museum, however, wondering if the world has learned anything from this event.  What was clear was that this incident is not something the Chinese will easily forget until the Japanese government is more truthful and apologetic for what it allowed its wartime army to do.

We spent two evenings in Nanjing, which means two suppers.  One night we tried a Chinese cafeteria.  You'd think that if you could see what you're getting before they serve it out, you might choose a healthier selection of food, but as in other visits to cafeterias, it still featured more salt and oil than was good for us and more garlic than we cared for.  Boy, getting good Chinese food is really hard in China!  Healthiness aside, this was a pretty good quantity of food for under $10, and the watermelon and white rice weren't salty, fatty or garlicy.

The other meal was in a place that featured German food. While waiting for our sausages and red cabbage, we had a glass of wine that came perched in a beaker apparently filled with dry ice. Odd, but the food was OK although a bit pricey for what we got.   It was about as German as what you get at Denny's when they feature "German" food, but at least it was a change of routine.

This was also our second and final experiment with staying at a Western chain hotel, in this case Holiday Inn.  The bed was as hard as every other one in China.  But the location was convenient, and we had a great view out our window at life in the big city, Chinese style.  As we dallied in the morning, we watched all the bedding and other wash go out on the drying racks across the street.

We'll take you on one last train trip with us, this one to our next destination, Suzhou.  The Nanjing Train Station was once again quite stunning and modern.  We watched the departure board until our train number came up, G7383.  Yup, departure is right on time.  Not sure what the Mandarin says, but track 11 was clear enough and all the info we needed from the display board.  Off we went to find our train.

As we moved with the herd toward track 11 we looked down first at the platforms for the slow trains, then the ones for the fast trains like ours.  There's our train -- down the escalator we go!  Let's get a shot of one on the next track that looks just like it.  Our ticket says seats 25 & 26 on car 7 . . . here it is.

Oh yes, one more shot.  Halfway between Nanjing and Suzhou, we hit a new personal land speed record, 308 kph, or 191.4 mph.

We'll take you on a tour of Suzhou in our next blog.

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