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Nanjing - Second In Line Doesn't Mean Second Best!
July 15, 2000

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Ring my bell! These towers mark the city center and the site of 5000-year-old artifacts
Yang-Yang and I are headed north toward our final destination, and China's northern capital city, Beijing. We started at the southern tip of mainland China, even jumping into the Hong Kong islands, coming back through Guangzhou and heading into Wuhan. Rolling green hills, beautiful countryside and a land full of history whiz by outside the train windows. Every now and then it dawns on me and I smile to myself with excitement: That's China outside and what a story she has to tell!

All our travels thus far have brought us to a very special place, a city with the charm of rural country villagers, the modern pizzazz of big cities and a history that places it among the oldest in China-and the world. Nanjing literally means "southern capital," and it is often overshadowed by China's political center, Beijing. But once you visit you'll quickly find that second in line doesn't always mean second best!

Prior to visiting Nanjing, the only reference I'd heard concerning the Mings was about Ming vases. They're very expensive collector's items, and relics of Chinese history from the Ming Dynasty period (between 1368 and 1644). I recently learned that they're even more precious because not many Chinese artifacts survived China's turbulent past. The same holds true for many of the monuments still standing in Nanjing, which also date back to the Ming Dynasty; this was originally the Mings' capital city.

Before we jump to the 14th century, though, let's go back even further-say about 5000 years. Yep, you heard me right, 5000 years!

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These students came all the way from Hong Kong to visit Nanjing and are excited to know we're so interested in learning about their country!
Prior to the Mings, or anyone else, there was a prehistoric culture that inhabited this area. Artifacts like pottery and bronze have been unearthed all along China's famous Yangzi River, and one of those sites is right here in Nanjing. We went to see for ourselves and found a small museum next to the Bell Tower at the base of the Old Drum Tower in Central Nanjing. The artifacts show that about 200 small communities once called this place home.

Moving ahead a few years, the Ming City Wall, of which two-thirds is still standing, is the most hard-to-miss landmark in the city. The Ming dynasty earned the glory for this extraordinary feat of architecture back in 1386. It rivals even The Great Wall in Beijing by being the longest city wall in the world! Stretching across the sloping hills of the Jiangsu Province, the wall measures over 33 kilometers long. Nanjing's hilly landscape made it that much more of an achievement (and gave me a nice workout too)!

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Two cars can pass on top of this huge wall, which rivals even The Great Wall in Beijing by being the longest city wall in the world!
When the Yuan Dynasty began to weaken under Mongol rule, it was imperative that the Chinese reestablish themselves as capable rulers. Under ruthless Ghengis Khan, his grandson, Kublai, and their successors, Chinese people were made third- and fourth-class citizens in their own country. The society was split into four categories with Mongols first, their Asian allies second, Northern Chinese third and Southern Chinese fourth. This stigma made it especially important for Zhu Yuanzhong, the founder of the Ming Dynasty, to make a name for Nanjing, his southern capital city. Not only did he have the grandeur of the Mongol Dynasty to surpass; he also had to reconcile their failure. The economy had collapsed and it was up to him to rebuild in the aftermath.

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Sign here!
He quickly set upon the task, making the city wall one of his first projects. The bricks used to make the wall came from five different Chinese provinces, and were assembled over the course of 20 years by more than 200,000 laborers. Great care and attention were given to the project. Every detail was carefully monitored. In fact, as we walked along the top of the massive 12-meter-high wall, we noticed that each brick had Chinese characters on it. I thought they may have been calligraphy-a very popular Chinese art form-but later learned that the characters were not for decoration at all. They were the name of the brickmaker, who would be sought out if his brick got broken and needed to be replaced!

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The Jiming Temple, one of the oldest in China, is an exquistie and towering reminder of Ming achievement
Yuanzhong, who later changed his name to Hongwu, set about most of his administration duties in a similarly detailed and fanatical way. His tremendous effort provided direction for the country, and its success fueled the spirits of the Chinese-thus beginning an era of leadership that would last for almost three centuries. On the other hand, Hongwu's paranoia cost the lives of thousands of scholars and their families as he sought to rid his administration of "suspect" or potential turncoats.

Hongwu did most of his commanding from the magnificent palace he had built in the city center. The palace has long since been destroyed, but is said to have been a marvelous building-so grand in fact that the Imperial Palace in Beijing was modeled after it. The city gates have been destroyed over time as well: by fire, by incoming rulers or during the Cultural Revolution. Still standing and functional is the Jiming Temple which remarkably withstood the fires of time, especially given that temples were often the first buildings to be looted or destroyed during periods of unrest.


imperative - necessary
grandeur - magnificence
turncoats - traitors

Toward the last years of Ming rule, China built up a great naval fleet and even undertook voyages to Southeast Asia, Persia, Arabia and Eastern Africa. Unfortunately, China didn't take full advantage of these expeditions: instead of forming allies or growing from advancements by other nations, China continued in solitude. While the West was developing technology and modernizing its political strategies, China was distracted by internal conflict. One dynasty and 300 years later, it was this Western superiority that would bring an end to China's long dynastic cycle.

China has been recovering ever since, and has just recently become somewhat stable. But who took over when there were no more emperors in China? you ask. Good question! We'll talk more about that soon so stay tuned!


p.s. - Please e-mail me at

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