We are stone
(Slogan seen on a tee-shirt in the Presidential Palace, Nanjing)
After a better night’s sleep but an identical poor breakfast, we set off with S and Mr D for the presidential palace in central Nanjing. Originally a Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) palace, we were told, it had also been used by the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), the leaders of the Taiping rebellion, Dr Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek. During some of that time Nanjing (lit Southern Capital) had been the capital of China, but when the communists finally won in the civil war in 1951 Mao chose to move the capital permanently to Beijing (Northern Capital).
Tourists milled around multitudinously, but apart from us all were Chinese; westerners, it appears, rarely visit Nanjing. For 20 years after the civil war, the government had no interest in Chinese history and Mao actively encouraged the destruction of ancient monuments. In today’s China, regional governments over-reacting to their earlier vandalism are assiduously restoring, rebuilding and faking the past. This may explain why, despite the palace’s size and pulling power, it rated only one line in my twelve year old Rough Guide. I look forward to a more balanced approach.
At the western end is the Ming garden. A traditional Chinese garden has four elements, stones, water, buildings and finally, almost as an afterthought, plants.
This garden certainly qualifies, it even has a stone boat to rival the marble boat of Beijing's Summer Palace, though the crowd meant we did not see it in the quiet seclusion envisaged by the designers.Beyond the garden are Dr Sun Yat-sen’s offices….
…and outside is a statue of the great man himself.
Inside we saw various rooms including his modest private office...
|Sun Yat-sen's office, Presidential Palace, Nanjing|
The sign on the desk has his name as Sun Zhong Shan, the modern pinyin version, but he has gone down in history under his Wade-Giles transliteration so I am sticking to Sun Yat-sen
...and the meeting room.
We moved on to Chiang Kai-shek's offices...
...where I had to wrestle with the crowd (the Chinese sense of personal space is not the same as ours, but when in Nanjing….) to get a photo of the inside of CKS’s office. It is not a great picture, but I worked for it, so here it is.
|Chiang Kai-sheks' personal office, Presidential Palace, Nanjing|
Round the next part of the garden is the Taiping area. The way the historical sections are adjacent but not overlapping confirmed my suspicion that this is more a carefully constructed museum than a real palace.
|More of the Ming garden on the way to the Taiping throne room|
Presidential Palace, Nanjing
In the 17th century the Ming dynasty ran out of steam and was replaced by the Qing dynasty in Beijing in 1644, extending their rule to Nanjing in 1683. Peaking in power in the late 18th century, the Qing rulers encountered difficulties in the 19th and faced several uprisings. The largest was the Taiping rebellion of 1850 when a group of farmers and land owners seized control over a great swathe of southern China and set up the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom under Hong Xiuquan, the younger brother of Jesus Christ (or so he claimed). They chose Nanjing as their capital and the throne room of Hong Xiuquan has been lovingly restored - or recreated.
The current official line approves of the Taiping Movement describing it as nationalist/proto-communist. Their kingdom, though, was 'heavenly' in name only, the 14 year rebellion and resulting civil war were marked by great brutality. With estimates of the dead ranging from 20 to 70 million it was the bloodiest civil war and largest conflict of the 19th century. The Qing forces were ineffectual until in-fighting weakened the Heavenly Kingdom and in 1864 the Emperor eventually regained control with the assistance of the French and British including the ‘Ever Victorious Army’ led by General Charles 'Chinese' Gordon (later better known as Gordon of Khartoum).
The Qing Empire petered out in 1912 and Dr Sun Yat-sen briefly became president of a new republic.
We left the presidential palace via more gardens and the stables.
Americans date the Second World War from 1941 when they were attacked by the Japanese; the Chinese date it from the Japanese invasion of 1937. Shanghai fell in August 1937 and the invaders moved on towards Nanjing, Chiang Kai-shek’s capital. CKS did not want to make a stand here and retreated 1,400km up the Yangtze to Chongqing which would become the war time capital. Mao and CKS paused their civil war to fight the Japanese (resuming it in 1945).
|Shanghai, Nanjing and Chongqing|
In pinyin transliteration 'q' is pronounced 'ch'. The older Wade-Giles system referred to Nanking and Chungking
The Japanese reached Nanjing in December 1937. The massive medieval walls provided little protection from a modern army and on the 13th of December, after several days of air raids, they breached the walls and took the city. There followed six weeks of destruction, looting, mass murder and gang rape, an event known as the Nanjing Massacre.
The Massacre Museum and memorial to the victims is near the presidential palace, behind a massive if not entirely successful sculpture of a mother holding a dead child.
The pebbles represent the multitude of the dead, and in the subterranean museum the story is told in stygian gloom to a soundtrack of bombing and shooting. The figure 300,000, the number of the dead, is repeated everywhere as the story is told through pictures, artefacts, the testimony of survivors and, occasionally, even of the perpetrators. Like the killing field in Phnom Penh or the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, it is a place to shake your faith in humanity.
The Nanjing Massacre created an unlikely hero. Most of the international community left Nanjing before the Japanese arrived, but some stayed including Siemens' representative in China, John Rabe, who was German and a Nazi party member, and several American missionaries. Under Rabe’s leadership they negotiated with the Japanese to set up the International Protection Zone where they safely sheltered some 200,000 non-military personnel.
Rabe returned to Germany in 1938 and continued to press the Chinese case until he was arrested by the Gestapo. He was released by the influence of Siemens for whom he worked for the rest of the war. Post-war he was denounced as a Nazi, lost his job and was put on a 'denazification programme'. He died in poverty in 1950.
We finally emerged into the sunlight beside the footprints of some of the survivors. There are just over one hundred officially recognized survivors left, one less than yesterday, so S told us. The death of a survivor makes the news in Nanjing.
For the sake of balance I should add that the official Chinese figure of 300,000 dead is disputed. Some Japanese nationalists deny there was any massacre, and there has never been an official apology, which rankles with the Chinese in general and Nanjingers in particular. Independent estimates put the figure anywhere between 40,000 and 250,000. The true number is unknown and unknowable, but even 40,000 is a lot of innocent people. Suffice it to say it was one of the worst atrocities carried out by a regular army in modern times and there were those who could, and should, have stopped it. War crimes trials were held later but most senior officers escaped prosecution.
Finally we passed through two cavernous halls where the remains of several thousand victims have been found. Partially excavated, their bleached bones look reproachfully up at the world. I am not sure that it is how I would have treated the dead, but everybody filed through in solemn and respectful silence.
I felt emotionally battered but also a little troubled. In The Railway Man, Eric Lomax told of his mistreatment by the Japanese on the Burma Railway. He wrote 'we must never forget, but we must now forgive.' It is not up to me to offer forgiveness on behalf of British PoWs, still less the people of Nanjing, but I would have liked to see the memorial take at least a token step in that direction. Of course the Japanese could help by owning up and apologising.
In the world outside the birds were singing and the sun was just warm enough to tempt me to remove my pullover. 'What would you like for lunch?' S asked, completing the strange change of gear. After yesterday’s salt water duck it was time for Nanjing’s other specialty, what guide books call duck blood soup and S called duck’s bloody noodles.
S suggested a noodle shop near the Yuejiang Tower, so afterwards we could climb the tower see the view of the Yangtze Bridge we could not find yesterday and then walk home.
The noodle shop was in a sparsely attended shopping mall. Next-door was the Cheese Pub, its outside tables and chairs unoccupied. I have no idea what they sold, but I doubt it was cheese.
S ordered for us and insisted we also have a steamer of pork dumplings, because that is what you eat with the soup. Then she left us to enjoy.
The noodles were covered with a broth in which floated some tofu, diamond shaped pieces of scarlet jelly, presumably the duck blood, and various other parts of the fowl - liver, gizzard, finely chopped intestines etc. I should like to report that it was unexpectedly delicious or as disgusting as it sounds. In fact it was neither. It was pleasant enough, but hardly memorable - a good way of using up trifles that would otherwise go to waste.
|Duck blood soup and a steamer of dumplings|
The red splodges in my bowl are chilli sauce from the pot on the table, not blood
From the restaurant we could see Yuejiang Tower on the top of its hill. From this side the steps up to the ticket office were obvious, and there were plenty more steps afterwards.
|Yuejiang Tower, Nanjing|
S had warned us that our path would bring us to the tower at second floor level and that we had to go down some steps to enter. These narrow steps were hidden by foliage but indicated by a sign, the English version of which read 'Therewith to the Floor.' We may not have interpreted that without S’s warning.
What S did not tell us was that the lift would be out of order. Yuejiang mean ‘enjoy the river’ so we slogged up all seven storeys to the viewing platform to be rewarded with a misty view of the Yangtze, the world's longest double decker road/rail bridge and the port of Nanjing - sizeable container ships have no difficulty making it this far up-river.
And on the other side we could look over the haze (or pollution) shrouded city.
|Nanjing shrouded in mist|
S talking us into dumplings as well as noodles meant we did not want to eat in the evening, so instead we walked up to the local Carrefour to see what a French supermarket chain was making of the Chinese market. They sold all the things you might expect including a range of French wines at high but not unreasonable prices and there was a big promotion on olive oil - well, the British have taken to it, so why not the Chinese?
South East China
Part 5: Suzhou (3) the Lingering Garden and the City Gate
Part 6: Hangzhou (1) West Lake, Lingyin Temple and Longjing Tea
Part 6: Hangzhou (1) West Lake, Lingyin Temple and Longjing Tea
Part 7: Hangzhou (2)
coming June 2017