Considered to be the historical southern capital of China through several dynasties over the ages, Nanjing occupies a significant place in the cultural history of this great nation.
From tombs to temples, there is plenty of evidence strewn through this city of 3.6 million people that will communicate its prior importance to any visitor that happens upon this place. Its recent past is much more sombre however, as it is was the site of some of the worst atrocities committed during the Second World War by the Japanese empire.
On the lighter side of things, the mountainous scenery that can be found through much of Eastern China can also be found here, along with more than a few peaceful lakes.
All in all though, Nanjing is like an open-air museum – by coming here, you will gain a greater appreciation of Chinese history, as its remnants are all around you within this relatively small city.
The first place worth checking out in Nanjing should be the Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum, located on scenic Purple Mountain. This monument is the final resting place of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the leader of the revolution against the Imperial Qing dynasty in 1911 that abolished monarchial rule in China, giving way for the establishment of the Republic of China (as it was then called).
The approach to this tomb is elaborate, if slightly intimidating for those who are out of shape, as a massive concrete staircase must be ascended to reach the main structure where the final remains of the father of Modern China sleeps in peace.
If you need another reason to oppose war and all its horrific effects, pay a visit to the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall, a museum and contemplative place that gives homage to the victims of one of the worst mass killings that occurred during the Second World War. When the Japanese army overran Nanjing, four to six weeks of mass executions, looting and burning took place.
When the madness ended, it was estimated that over 300,000 civilians and Chinese soldiers were killed. One mass grave contained more than 10,000 bodies, and today, some of these skeletal remains, along with artifacts from this hellish period of Nanjing’s history are on display to show visitors what war is truly like.
Finally, check out some of the structures from Nanjing’s imperial days by checking out the Ming Palace. Originally much larger than what remains today, its layout later inspired the construction of the Forbidden City in Beijing when the power centre of the country shifted north. Today, only gates, some stone bridges and carvings still remain, but those looking for a glimpse of the far past should still make time to see this site.
Nanjing contains many other worthy sights to see from a cultural standpoint, from the Confucius Temple where government exams were held for hundreds of years, to the City Walls of Nanjing, which loop around the city in relatively good condition, considering their age of almost 600 years. The Gate of China is one location on the wall that shouldn’t be missed, as its complex construction makes it one of the more fascinating aspects of this feat of engineering.
One could spend a week in Nanjing and not get in all the historical points of interest that are worth seeing. If you are a culture vulture, do not miss this place on your trip to China!
The aforementioned Purple Mountain is a respite from the humid and polluted city centre of Nanjing, with many opportunities for hiking. These paths often lead to shrines, pagodas and temples, as well as major attractions (like the mausoleum mentioned earlier in the article). For those who are less fleet of foot, there is a tram that will take you to the top of this peak.
Those seeking their relaxation by the lake will find plenty of serenity by heading for Xuanwu Lake. A favoured gathering place for locals, one will spot them practicing their tai chi at the end of a long work/school day, or flying kites with their kids on a windy weekend day. Several bridges/causeways also link to islands within this placid body of water, granting you a chance to find some supremely Zen surroundings that stand in contrast to the controlled chaos of the urban centre.
Those looking to soak their cares away can find release in the nearby Tangshan Hot Springs, a short one hour drive east of Nanjing. With a spa also being located on site, one can let the hot water loosen their tense muscles, while the mountain scenery relaxes the mind, leaving your masseuse to gladly finish the job.