Nanjing used to be the capital of China (in fact, literally Nan means South and Jing means capital – so Nanjing means South Capital, and Beijing means North Capital), so this weekend we went to see the Presidential Palace , the home of the government in Nanjing.
The palace is nothing like Versaille or Buckingham. Like many Chinese buildings, the palace is a collection of smaller buildings surrounded by an outerwall with pretty gardens in between. The gardens feature flowers and big, bright red-orange goldfish. With the noisy, messy, crowded city all outside the wall, it’s a beautiful place for a picnic, and you could spend the entire day touring the grounds.
Toward the front of the complex, there are stables that still have saddles and tools in them. Some of the rooms have photographic exhibits – one of the different ethnic minorities, one exhibit of social problems before the Communist revolution, and a number of others. Deeper in, there is a throne room, where the prince sat, and the throne, an ornate gold thing with two large, delicate crane figures standing guard beside it, is still there. Two red pillars with gold dragons wrapped around them hold up the pagoda-shaped roof.
Deeper still, you can find Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s office. Dr. Sun Yat-sen is considered the father of modern China. In the early 20th century, he fought the warlords that terrorized the country. He helped establish the Republic of China. Even though he was a member of the Kuomintang party, which were the enemy of the Communists, he was a socialist and pushed forward the socialist agenda, so he is still revered in Mainland China. He is buried in Nanjing; we saw pictures of his funeral, but we haven’t been to the Mauseoleum, his tomb, yet. The Presidential Palace is the only place in China where the flag the Republic of China still flies (all be it indoors).
Farther back are more modern offices, where Chiang Kai-shek’s government (the government before the Communist Revolution) worked. It’s very strange to be walking though a piece of history. Being in France, particularly Normandy and Versaille, was similar, except I (Laura) have such a looser grasp of China’s history than I do even of France. And, of course, the coarsely-translated English signs don’t always englighten as much as their authors hoped.
To help increase my understanding of China’s history, I’m reading this book Wild Swans , which is a biography/autobiography that starts with the author’s grandmother, who grew up in imperial China, and follows her mother, who was a communist revolution, and ends with the author in modern China. If anyone wants to read along with me, I’d love your thoughts!