When it comes to size, Nanjing does history on a grand scale.
Much of what can be seen today relates to the two brief periods during which it stood as the capital of a unified China – first, in the Ming Dynasty and second, during the Republic of China.
Nanjing literally means “southern capital” and it is this legacy which makes it a draw to visit today. While it first became the capital of the Wu state during the Three Kingdoms period and subsequently served as the capital during Six Dynasties, much of what can be seen today relates to the two brief periods during which it stood as the capital of a unified China – first, in the Ming Dynasty and second, during the Republic of China.
The 450-guestroom Shangri-La Hotel, Nanjing recently opened its doors in the centre of the vibrant Gulou District and is just a brief walk from part of the city wall – one of the monuments of the Ming Dynasty’s rule and on the tentative list for UNESCO World Heritage sites. Zhu Yuanzhang, the first Ming emperor, established his capital in Nanjing and, from 1366 to 1393, a million workers laboured to build the longest city wall – 35 kilometres to be exact – the world has ever seen. Twenty-five kilometres of this city wall still remains intact today and, in parts, such as around Jiming, it is possible to stroll along the ramparts. The Ming people used the land’s topography, which rose up to 12 metres, to aid the city in defence.
Many of Nanjing’s main sights lie outside the city walls at the nearby Zijin Shan (Purple Mountain). On the southern side rests Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang’s tomb. After his death, a power struggle for control resulted in the capital’s move to Beijing. This made Zhu Yangzhang the only Ming emperor buried in Nanjing. Stone animals meant to scare away evil spirits line the entrance to the tomb. The tomb itself lies inaccessible under a large mound.
Also dating back to the early Ming period, the nearby Linggu Temple has a beamless hall made entirely of bricks and stones. The Linggu Pagoda, built in 1933, links the area closer to our times. With some help from American architects, the pagoda was built in commemoration of those who died in the creation of the Republic.
Nanjing was the first capital of the Kuomintang after the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty and the resulting battle for power. Sun Yat Sen died before a stable government was established, but respecting his wishes, he was buried in Nanjing. His tomb, in many ways, is a reinterpretation of a classic Chinese tomb. A total of 392 steps lead to the tomb, which is laid in the traditional north-to-south axis, up to a memorial chamber, behind which a marble statue of the great man lies atop his coffin.
A large statue of Sun Yat Sen stands in the middle of Xinjiekou, Nanjing’s central shopping and dining district, which is in proximity to the Presidential Palace. The site dates back to the Ming period and has changed hands many times in 600 years. During the Taiping Rebellion in the mid 19th century, followers of Hong Xiuquan, who claimed to be the younger brother of Jesus, built the Mansion of the Heavenly King on the site, which was completely demolished after the rebels were defeated. A reconstruction of the mansion and a Ming garden now stand in this area. Some of the buildings here were used as presidential offices between 1912 and 1949.
Nanjing, as well as having a long history, hosts one of the bloodiest incidents in China’s recent history. After the Japanese captured the Chinese capital in 1937, over 300,000 people, mainly civilians, were killed in wanton destruction. The Memorial Hall of the Nanjing Massacre is a graphic and poignant memorial to the barbaric acts humankind is capable of inflicting on one another.
The area surrounding the Nanjing Confucian Temple is a lively night area with lots of authentic local restaurants and souvenir shops. The temple itself has been rebuilt many times and most of the structures are constructed during the later part of the Qing Dynasty.
After a hard day’s sightseeing, CHI, the Spa offers welcome relaxation. Its long infinity pool helps hard-pressed executives unwind. For avid runners, the hotel’s suggested jogging route takes you around the nearby Xuanwu Lake Park, which can be seen from all Horizon Club rooms. Jiangnan Wok, helmed by Chef Hou, serves local Huaiyang cuisine and is not to be missed by gourmets.
With its long history and tree-lined streets, Nanjing makes a great place to visit for either pleasure or business. Shangri-La Hotel, Nanjing, located close to the subway and featuring all the modern comforts you would expect, will be your ideal base.