Nanjing was founded almost three thousand years ago and was formerly China’s capital. The Nanjing Treaty of 1842, following the first of the so-called “opium wars”, granted Hong Kong to Britain. The war was over the “right” of foreigners to sell opium to Chinese nationals. Imagine the Mexicans insisting on their “right” to sell drugs to Americans.
A hundred years later, the city endured the infamous Nanjing Massacre when Imperial Japanese troops slaughtered tens of thousands of civilians in an orgy of blood letting that gave the lie to the claim that they were on the Asian mainland to liberate Asians from Western colonialism.
Despite the ravages of history, much that is old and impressive still stands in Nanjing. The city’s ancient defensive wall survives in huge sections. The bricks from which it is made are stamped with the manufacturer’s name. You can see who made the good bricks and who made the bad.
The ancient city gates are particularly impressive. They were built on a massive scale with storage chambers for armaments and barracks for soldiers. The gates are preserved as museums with historical displays and art exhibitions.
Nanjing is renowned for its parks and huge open areas, including the Purple Mountain. That is where you will find many of the city’s most important relics. These include the World Heritage Ming Dynasty tombs and many ancient shrines. The mausoleum of Sun Yat-Sen, the father of modern (republican) China, is near the Ming tombs.
The Confucius Temple is a popular destination for residents and visitors alike. The building is situated beside a small river. A picturesque bridge and floating tea houses add to the attraction.
There is a lot to see on foot in Nanjing. I like to get up early and go for a stroll. People are out and about as soon as the sun rises. It’s a time to socialise and do exercises. I never cease to be impressed by the way Chinese mix with one another and with outsiders. Being sociable is deeply ingrained in the Chinese psyche. You will see young people out jogging. Older people do t’ai chi exercises or a variant of them.
The parks in Nanjing are full of people exercising in the morning. I would like to report that they are in the majority but I would be stretching the truth. Far more are hurrying to work or school. There is a sense of urgency in China these days. Some older people think it’s gone too far. They pour venom on Mao with one breath and yearn for a return to a more relaxed lifestyle with the next.
I met a few old people who idolised Mao but they were in a small minority. Younger people are different. Many say his name with awe. They are proud of the new China and have been brought up to believe that it’s all due to Mao with a bit of help from Sun Yat-Sen. My hero is Deng Xiaoping, who upturned Mao’s crazy system and set China on the road to prosperity. When I mention him to young Chinese I get little response.
Not much survives from Mao Zedong’s reign. The general standard of construction was so bad that most has been knocked down and replaced by something better. There is one notable exception in Nanjing and that is Yangtze River Bridge, built in the 1960s. It received the full publicity treatment of the age and is lavishly decorated with masterpieces of revolutionary art depicting farmers, soldiers and factory workers, clasping Mao’s Little Red Book.
Nanjing is not a popular destination for overseas visitors but is well worth a visit. The city mixes the old with the new. Its shops are world class and its metro system is outstanding.