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Destinations China (1982): Nanking
|by Proloy Bagchi|
We were at Xian airport waiting for the flight to Nanking. After about a couple of hours we were told to get on to a flight that had arrived a few minutes earlier. All seven of us were bundled into it in a jiffy. While we were settling down Pat Kearney, our consultant, told me that the flight we were on was in fact the one that flew between Xian and Shanghai. As a day’s delay would have upset our schedule the Chinese authorities decided to put us on this flight which was made to make an unscheduled halt at Nanking. This was another instance of Chinese state power and it also showed the keenness Chinese to make a success of the month-long visit of the UPU delegation. They didn’t obviously want any flap. After all, their international reputation, especially with the UN agencies, was at stake. Whether in the process some passengers were offloaded at Xian is not known to me. An hour and a few minutes later we were at Nanking.
Located in the South-East of Xian, Nanking has been prominent in Chinese history, having been its capital on several occasions. It was capital during the reign of the first emperor of the Ming dynasty in the 14th Century. Later rulers of the same dynasty relocated the capital to Beijing in the 15th Century. In the 17th Century the Ming Dynasty brought the capital back again to Nanking. In the 19th Century it became the capital of the Taiping Kingdom and was known as Tianjing. The city saw on several occasions the capital being moved out and moved in. The establishment of the Chinese Republic in 1912 under the Presidency of Dr. Sun Yat Sen (a name we were familiar with in India), after what is known as the Xinhai Revolution, saw Nanking becoming the capital yet again. Later Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek of the Kuomintang (KMT) made Nanking his capital in 1927. A decade later, sometimes called the Nanking Decade, Nanking was invaded by Japanese troops commencing the Second Sino Japanese War that had seeds in it of World War II. In 1949 the People’s Republic of China of Mao Tse-tung overran Nanking and drove out Chiang Kai-shek and his KMT forces ending its role as the capital of the country. Quite a chequered history for the city!
Nanking had seen tumultuous times in the 19th Century when the Taiping Rebellion raged in and around it for several years. The rebellion was against the Qing Dynasty that was ruling China at the time. The conflict saw avoidable loss of large number of innocent lives. There was a repeat of the same kind of bloodshed in 1937 when the Japanese invaded the country and were reported to have put hundreds of thousand of innocent Chinese to death. Visuals of are available of Japanese soldiers describing the way they were ordered to kill innocent Chinese.
Nanking hosts one of the most beautiful monuments dedicated to one of its great leaders, Dr Sun Yat-sen. A medical doctor who later became a revolutionary fighting against the Imperial Qing Dynasty, Dr. Sun was instrumental in ending the monarchy after the revolution of 1911. He was made the Provisional President of the new republic with the capital at Nanking. Reckoned as the “Father of the Nation” and one of the greatest leaders of modern China, Dr. Sun, however, had a life of constant struggle and frequent exiles – a life that is the fate of all revolutionaries. No wonder a remarkably massive memorial has been built in one of the most beautiful sites in China on the slopes of a hill. The mausoleum blends the traditional architecture with the modern. One has to go up around 400 steps to get to the vault. The steps are dozens of metres wide on both sides of which are pine and cypress trees. It is a beautiful sight and the parks and gardens are very well maintained. The Memorial itself is an edifying sight, easily one of the finest tourist sites I ever happened to visit. It was crowded with visitors, mostly local and the ubiquitous People’s Liberation Army soldiers with cameras in hand.
Among other ancient monuments Nanking has is the tomb of founder of the Ming Dynasty. Situated a little away from the town it is known as Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum. Approximately six centuries old, ravages of time are quite apparent. In any case, I found the monument somewhat undistinguished. What was more impressive was the Linggu Pagoda which, having been destroyed quite a few times, was rebuilt again and again and the last reconstruction undertaken was in 1929. It was first built in the sixth century AD and was destroyed in warfare after about a millennium. It had again an Indian connection as here, apart from Buddhas and Bodhistvas, Xuangsang (whom we know as Huen-tsang) and his relic were worshipped. The Pagoda is reputed for the beamless hall built centuries ago that was meant for worship of Buddha. Much later, in 1928 it was converted as a memorial for the 30000 soldiers who lost their lives in the war of 1926-27. Speeches of Dr. Sun Yat-sen are inscribed on the Pagoda.
A modern monument that was shown to us was the Yangtze River Bridge at Nanking. Opened to traffic in 1968 it was first ever massive double-decker bridge that was designed and built entirely by Chinese expertise. It is a rail-cum-road bridge, the upper deck is continuation of a highway and the lower deck is for railways. The bridge facilitated and speeded up rail traffic between Shanghai and Beijing. The superfast Chinese trains now thunder down to Beijing via Nanking through this bridge. It is a massive bridge, more than a kilometre and half long. The Chinese officials were justifiably proud of it. It was, perhaps, one of the biggest projects undertaken by them until 1982. The Three Gorges Dam on Yangtze and some more bridges on it were still in the future.
Nanking, in 1982, was seemingly a quiet, small town. Roads were devoid of motorised traffic as in two other cities we had visited so far. We were put up in a rather small hotel yet it had all the comforts and beautiful grounds all around. The city, I understand, has markedly changed after China’s “Great Leap Forward” into an economy that is more capitalistic than socialistic. It is now a thriving town with industries (which were not there earlier), educational institutions and massive urban expansion. There are high-rises galore and, as happens in a booming economy, a large number of hotels have come up, with some close to the Yangtze Bridge.
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