While planning for the annual AGLA outdoor activities, Nanjing was voted as one of the preferred destinations by many AGLAers. I for one voted for the Zhangjiejie Mountains, also famously known as the AVATAR Mountains (the location where parts of the AVATAR movie were filmed). I wondered why!!! Little did I know that this unheard of city (from an Indian’s perspective) in Jiangsu province has been the bedrock over which modern Chinese history took many dramatic turns.
Twenty two of us had booked the fast train tickets early in the morning on a Saturday. The Hangzhou East station witnessed a mad rush in the early morning with a bunch of laowais (a word used by Chinese people for foreigners) running around everywhere. Finally most of us made it to the train just in time. At around 10.30 AM we reached the Johns Hopkins-Nanjing Centre for Chinese and American studies (HNC). The HNC is jointly administered by Nanjing University and The Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). We were welcomed by the Centre’s Director Dr. David Davies and his students David King, Haleigh Morgus, Logan Pauley, Jeremy Xiao, Miranda Zhou and Zhouchao Hao (Chao). I was amazed to see the cultural amalgamation when Chinese students introduced themselves with fluent English and the American students told that they were writing their final thesis in Chinese.
We had a session in the university with Professor Liu who is one the most renowned history professors at Nanjing University. He walked us through the history and significance of Nanjing. Nanjing has been a pivotal city in Chinese history, partly due to its strategic advantage of being next to the Yangtze River delta and had been a capital to many Chinese dynasties. However, in the modern era, when the Republic of China under Dr. Sun Yat Sen overturned the last emperor of Qing dynasty, Nanjing was declared the capital of China. In a way, modern China developed in the laps of Nanjing. 1927-1937 is considered as the Nanjing decade when the development of Nanjing reached its pinnacle.
Nanjing Massacre Museum
In 1937 December, the second Sino-Japanese War broke out and the Japanese troops invaded Nanjing. This is marked as the dark period of Chinese history, as Japanese troops massacred innocent residents of Nanjing (known as the Nanjing Massacre) and caused immeasurable harm to the city. The Nationalist Government retreated to Chongqing. In 1945, the Second World War ended and the Nationalist Government took over Nanjing again. Soon in 1949, civil war broke out in China and the People’s Republic of China took control of the country, pushing the incumbent government to the island of Taiwan.
After having lunch at the university campus with the students, we headed to visit the Nanjing Massacre Museum which was built in 1985 in the memory of Nanjing Massacre. I witnessed a dark period of Chinese history. The countless corpses buried in that place, the broken city wall, images of the gruesome acts of inhumanity and historical evidences of the event left me numb. Coming out of the museum with tearful eyes, I was a different person for whom peace, happiness, humanity, and war meant a lot more than just words.
The evening was again a triumph of happiness. We walked around the old city center area and saw happy faces all over. I could see that the spirit of the city was as high as its old city walls. Despite facing multiple attempts to demolish them and despite witnessing numerous wars, the city walls of Nanjing still stand tall and are one of the longest and oldest in the world. We tried local cuisine, took a walk along the banks of the river and went to the old Confucius Temple. Through our conversations over dinner with the local Chinese students, I came to know that Nanjing is still considered the capital of China for many nonpolitical reasons such as education. This is still one of the education hubs in China with many world class universities and is one of the most prosperous cities of China.
We took a night train back to Hangzhou with a bunch of new friends, a sneak peek into Chinese history and a learning of lifetime to respect human values. As the city lights of Nanjing slowly faded through the train windows, I realized that travelling indeed leaves you speechless and turns you into a storyteller.
Binamra Dash is an engineer by education and has recently graduated from Indian School of Business before joining Alibaba. He wants to create an impact for the greater good in long term. An avid guitarist and music aficionado, Binamra likes to relax in proximity to nature and loves all things natural.