Traveling through China: Nanjing

Nanjing: China’s southern capital

Nanjing has a telling name. “Nanjing” translates as “southern capital,” while “Beijin,” that is, Beijing, is the northern capital. This naming system took root under the Ming Empire, which conquered and rebuilt Beijing in the late 14th and early 15th centuries and immediately relocated the capital there from Nanjing.

It was even more complicated before that: during the Liao Empire period, a city called Nanjing existed in what is now Beijing, and had nothing to do with Nanjing ) Along with Beijing, Luoyang and Xian, Nanjing is referred to as one of the “Four Great Capitals of Antiquity”.

Historians believe that during its heyday, Nanjing could have been the largest city in the world. Now it is a big city even by Chinese standards (8.2 million people), but it is far from Shanghai and Beijing. The city is two hours by high-speed train west of Shanghai. What else is Nanjing famous for?

Of course, you all have heard about Nanjing Massacre, when Japanese invaded the city on December 13, 1937 and organized one and a half months of massacres of civilians, rapes and looting. According to official Chinese data, 300,000 people became victims of the massacre; the International Military Tribunal for the Far East recognized more than 200,000 people as dead.

There is still debate about the scale of the tragedy and the number of victims (largely because all Japanese data on what happened in Nanjing have been destroyed), but certainly not in China. Since December 13, 2014, China has held an annual Day of Remembrance of the Nanjing Massacre. In Nanjing itself, the sirens are turned on on that day.

Since Nanjing is almost like Beijing, it also has its own wall, and it also has its own duck! The duck is almost like Peking duck, only saltier, served in pancakes, and not fried on apple wood.

Nanjing is also the capital of Jiangsu Province, which is one of the richest regions in the country. Its GDP is 1.1 trillion dollars, slightly less than the whole of Russia (1.3 trillion).

There’s also a vending machine that sells live crabs! A crab costs $5. They say the crabs are always alive, if you suddenly fall out dead, it will be exchanged for three live ones for free! The locals call them “sleeping crabs.” The packaging is made to resemble a crab’s natural hiding place. The machine is installed at one of the subway stations. Well, it’s natural. You stand and wait for the train. You decide to buy a crab and the machine is right there!

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That’s the Nanjing Bridge over the Yangtze! What’s it famous for? Because it’s the most popular place in Asia for suicide! It’s said to be on par with the Golden Gate Bridge and Aokigahara Forest in terms of the number of victims. As of 2006, there were already more than 2,000 suicides registered here, but no official statistics are kept so as not to make the place more popular. This bridge even has responsible employees who make sure that people don’t take their own lives. One of these employees has already saved 300 people!

01. Overall, Nanjing is a modern, spacious and clean city.

02. The most surprising thing is that there are almost no people here. Well, no. Not by Chinese standards. Even in the evenings the streets are half empty.

03. Apple’s flagship store painted its logo in honor of AIDS Day.

And this is Nanjing’s tallest building, the 450-meter Zifeng Tower, aka Purple Peak. The 89-story skyscraper was completed in 2010. In addition to offices and stores, the building houses a public observatory.

06. Weird Chinese thing! With the onset of cold weather, heavy insulated curtains were hung everywhere to keep the heat from escaping the rooms. In Russia, they make vestibules in buildings for such purposes. In China, vestibules are not available everywhere, so you have to hang extra protection. This is what the entrance to the subway looks like now. In Russia, again, there are doors. The Chinese have no doors. To enter the subway, you have to pull back the heavy insulated curtains.

07. This is what the entrance to the store usually looks like.

08. City bicycle rental

09. Vivo is a smartphone brand, a subsidiary of BBK Electronics (remember, they used to have DVD players like that?). In 2015, it was one of the top 10 smartphone manufacturers in the world, and it has one of its development centers in Nanjing. It’s funny that in addition to phones, the company’s showroom can also sell sets of pots and pans (on the right side of the window).

10. The local university.

11. The first imperial university in Nanjing was founded back in 258. The university in its present form has been operating since 1950. This old building is a symbol of Nanjing University.


Nanjing is a metropolis in eastern China, known as the “capital of ten dynasties. Like other Chinese cities, Nanjing has visibly changed due to the economic boom, but it successfully combines modern trends and rich historical and cultural traditions. It takes at least two days to explore Nanjing.

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Nanjing is the capital of the coastal province of Jiangsu and is located on the banks of the Yangtze River, already very wide in these parts, on its lake-rich plain. The humid, hot summers here make it literally the “red-hot scorcher” of China. The city’s name (Nanjing in Chinese pronunciation) means “southern capital,” which has been its name since 1421, after the imperial court moved to Beijing.

Save on your trip to Nanjing!


The city has been mentioned under different names in historical documents for 2500 years. In the 3rd century AD, under the name Jianye, it was the capital of the Wu kingdom, and later the seat of many local dynasties. It gained its greatest significance in 1368 under the name Yingtian, when the first Ming emperor elevated it to the capital of the empire. Before the court moved to Beijing in 1421, significant buildings such as the city wall, the emperor’s tomb, and the (later destroyed) imperial palace were erected.

The Taiping rebellion, which in the middle of the 19th century brought half of China under its control, took over Nanjing in 1853 and thereafter served for 11 years as the capital of the Taiping “Great Heavenly Empire”. At the suppression of the rebellion in 1864, Nanjing was severely destroyed. After the fall of the last imperial dynasty in 1911. Nanjing briefly became the temporary capital of the young republic, Again was the capital from 1928 until it was taken by Japanese troops in 1937, and again from 1945 until the government fled to Taiwan in 1949.

Viewing, Landmarks

The northwestern boundary of the city is formed by the Yangtze, which reaches 1.5 kilometers in width; it is crossed by a two-tier bridge built in 1960-1968. To the east of Nanjing are the hills of Zijingshan, in front of them is the Black Dragon Lake (Xuanuhu), a spacious park complex, in which you can walk along the levees and islands. The central part of the city is still largely enclosed by an impressive city wall built in 1366-1386. Once 35.2 km long, nowadays 20 km partially preserved, reaching in some places a height of 21 m.

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The Purple and Golden Mountains (Zijingshan)

To the east of Nanjing, on the southern slope of the Zijinpan Hills are some of the most important landmarks. From west to east are the mausoleums of the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty and the founder of the Republic, Sun Yat-sen, and the Valley of Soul Temple. It is conveniently accessible by minibus and cab; you can also walk from one tourist site to another in 30 minutes.

The Tomb of the First Ming Emperor (Mingxiaoling)

Zhu Yuanzhang, the first ruler of the Ming dynasty (1368-1398), was the only Chinese emperor who ordered himself buried in Nanjing. His tomb, one of the largest surviving in all of China, was completed during his lifetime in 1383. Located on a slope north of the access road, the burial area was severely damaged during the Taiping Rebellion, but even today the surviving structures are amazing in their scale. The tomb itself, which lies under an artificial hill with a diameter of almost 400 m, has never been opened. Further to the south is the 800 m long Valley of the Soul with a guard of honor made up of twenty-four monumental animal statues and eight sculptures of officials. Opening hours: daily. 8.00-18.30.

Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum (Zhongshanlin)

Sun Yat-sen was truly an imperial tomb. Soon after his death, construction of a colossal 80-hectare complex had already begun. In 1929, Sun’s body was moved here. As one approaches the mausoleum, one is struck by the enormous grand staircase with three hundred and ninety-two steps leading up the mountain slope. At the lower end of the staircase is a gate of honor with the inscription “Vo Ai” (“Universal Love”) and the main portal, above which is inscribed “Tianxia Wei Gong” (“The Commonality of the Whole State”), in memory of the political precepts of the founder of the state. At the top is a memorial hall with a bright blue brick roof, from where a marble statue of Sun looks out over the country, facing south, as befits traditional statues of rulers. The tomb itself is inside the hall, five meters below another statue of the president (reclining). Working time: every day. 6.30-18.30.

Lingusa Monastery

The history of the monastery begins in the 6th century; originally located on the grounds of the imperial tomb in the 14th century, it was moved to its present location. It is worthwhile to visit the big “hall without beams” (the “Wulingun”), a brick building with cylindrical vaults built in 1381. Today the hall displays wax figures of Chinese revolutionaries; a little farther north, the 60-meter Linguta Pagoda is a reminder of those who died in the Northern War Campaign (1924-1927); it was built in 1929. 6.30-18.30.

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City Center.

Drum Tower and Bell Pavilion (Gulou, Dachungting)

Two imperial structures in the heart of Nanjing. The “Drum Tower,” damaged during the Taiping Rebellion, was repaired in 1889; the “Bell Pavilion” (northeast of it) houses a bell made in 1388. The Bell Pavilion is open from 8.00-24.00 and the Bell Pavilion from 8.30-17.30.

Nanjing Museum (Nanjing Bouguang)

On the way to the tomb of Emperor Ming in front of the Zhongshanmen East City Gate is a museum built in classical style whose history dates back to 1933. Precious bronze statues and a Han-era funerary garment made of jade plates are among the main treasures of the excellent collection. Zhongshan Donglu 321. Opening hours: Daily. 9.00-17.30.

The ruins of the Mingong Imperial Palace

Go a mere 100 meters away from the museum and you’ll see the ruins of the former imperial palace, the forerunner of the Forbidden City in Beijing. Today only five marble bridges and other isolated relics remind us of its former splendor.

Confucius Temple (Fujimiao)

Fujimiao – the Confucius Temple – is the name of an entire bustling shopping and restaurant district in the middle of south Nanjing. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of the people stands the Confucius Temple, first erected in 1034. Here in the old days, young scholars would ask for help from Heaven before the crucial examinations to become an official. Today the (modern) statue of the Teacher is bustling and colorful – and in the evenings the whole neighborhood is lit up by illuminations. Opening hours: Daily. 8.00-21.00.

Exam Cells

And just a short walk east of the Confucius Temple, in the imperial era, glittering official careers began and countless hopes were dashed. In order for co-citizens to prove their suitability for public service, they were locked in tiny cells for twenty-four hours or longer, where they had to produce literary essays. The psychological pressure was almost unbearable, the physical stress enormous. Of the several thousand cells, forty were reconstructed and today remind us of the ancient Chinese “examination hell,” as well as the inevitable attempts at knavery. Jinling Lu 1. Opening hours: Daily. 8.00-18.00 Uhr.

Taiping Tianguo Lishi Bouguan Museum

A small Ming dynasty palace west of the Confucius Temple served as the headquarters of “Heavenly King of the East” Yang Xueqing. At the head of the Taipings, Yang captured Nanjing in 1853 and was assassinated in 1856 as a result of a conflict in the rebel leadership. In addition to the historical exhibition, tourists are also interested in the neighboring Garden of Contemplation (Zhangyuan), a typically Southern Chinese “garden of literati”. The garden is located at 128 Zhan Yuan Lu. Visitors are welcome to visit the Garden of Contemplation, which is open every day from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. 8.00-18.00.

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Zhonghuamen Gate

Three stories high, 118 m x 128 m. footprint, room for 3,000 soldiers: The largest surviving city gate is on the southern section of the city wall and represents the mighty fortifications of the Ming dynasty city wall. Opening times: Every day from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. 8.30-17.00.

The Rainstones of Flowers

A little south of the Zhonghua Gate is Yuhuatai Park. A certain monk preached here until flowers fell from the sky. According to legend, they turned into colorful pebbles – today you can buy them as “flower rain stones. They are supposed to lie in the water and are quite popular as souvenirs.

Memorial to the victims of the Nanjing Massacre

The Memorial to the Victims of the Nanking Massacre recalls the darkest page in the history of Sino-Japanese relations. In December 1937, Japanese troops invaded Nanking and perpetrated a six-week bloodbath in the city, which their own government told the population to bravely endure. According to the latest research, some seventy thousand people were killed and tens of thousands of women and girls were abused. A memorial in the southwest of the city documents these brutal events, and the remains of innocent victims are buried here. Shuiximen Dajie 418. Hours: daily. 8.00-17.30.

Salted duck (yangshuya), fish and seafood delight the city’s gourmets; in the fall, braised mossy crabs (dajase) are on the menu. A wide variety of snacks and tasty trivia are offered at stalls around the Confucius Temple.

How to get there

From Lukou Airport, 42 km from Nanjing, there are flights to all Chinese megacities. The main station is located in the northeast of the city; the most important bus terminal is located 1 km further west in Zhuiyangmen Square. South of the bridge over the Yangtze is the pier for ships, from where they go up the river to Wuhan and Chongqing and down to Shanghai.

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