Jiangsu Province is ripe with pleasure for those who need a little less adventure and a lot more leisure. Perfect for taking river cruises, enjoying the charm of Venice-like water towns, and ambling about in classical gardens, Jiangsu is heavily stocked in the romance department. Apart from the age old charms of Suzhou and its surroundings, history buffs can add in a trip to Nanjing, the former capital of several dynasties, to explore the museums detailing some of the region’s brightest (and darkest) moments. So sit back, relax and enjoy the gondola ride – you’re in Jiangsu, one of the countries most liveable regions.
By the Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE), present day Jiangsu was divided into Xuzhou Province in the north and Yangzhou Province in the south. After the fall of the Han Dynasty during the Three Kingdoms Period (220 CE – 280 CE), the Wu Kingdom rose to prominenc and held their seat of power in the southern Yangzhou Province. Northern Xuzhou, on the other hand, soon fell to northern invaders, causing Han people to flee (and populate) the present day city of Nanjing.
Soon a new golden age dawned under the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 CE) as trade flourished across the Middle Kingdom. Suzhou and Yangzhou soon blossomed into wealthy cities known for their luxury and culture, helped in large part from their mercantile tendancies, which blossomed during the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279) and have continued to modern times.
After the Mongolian Yuan Dynasty saw it’s last days in 1368, the Ming Dynasty brought the capital to Nanjing from Beijing (Nanjing means Southern Capital and Beijing means Northern Capital). Even though the capital returned to Beijing again in 1421, Nanjing’s days as a national leader would come again centuries later.
The mercantile class continued to develop during all three of these dynasties (Yuan, Ming and Qing), and by the mid-19th century, after the Opium Wars and the subsequent (forced) opening of China by foreign powers, Jiangsu flourished. It was also during this “grand international opening” period that the small fishing village known as Shanghai (which used to be part of Jiangsu) expanded economically as numerous foreigner governments took concessions there.
Despite the booming economy, the 1850s witnessed the Taiping Rebellion (1851 – 1864). The Taiping (Heavenly Peace) revolt was a radical Christian uprising led by Hong Xiuquan, who claimed to be the younger brother of Jesus Christ. Disgruntled peasants were reqruited from the impoverished countryside to build a massive army as the movement gained great momentum, eventually capturing the major Jiangsu city of Nanjing and renaming it Tianjing (Heavenly Capital). It didn’t take long for the Qing (with the help of foreign legions) to crush the rebellion, however, and stability returned to the region a few years later. The revolt ultimately took some 20 million lives, and is today considered the bloodiest rebellion in world history.
By 1912, the weakened Qing Dynasty had collapsed, and the Kuomintang (KMT) Nationalist party took power, setting up their capital in Nanjing. The years of the KMT were marked by constant war with communist rebels and the Japanese, and soon the fate of Nanjing took a turn for the worst during the 1930s.
Beginning in 1937, the Japanese occuaption ushered in one of the most harrowing events in the city’s history: the infamous Nanjing Massacre, which resulted in the slaughter and rape of 300,000 civilians, according to official Chinese sources. For a closer look at the events that took place in Jiangsu during Japanese occupation, read The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II (1997), by Iris Chang.
With the Communists defeating the KMT in 1949, the Nationalists fled to Taiwan and Mao moved the capital from Nanjing back to its penultimate spot in Beijing. Jiangsu, like the rest of the country, went silent during the years of Maoism, but as the country opened up in the 1990s, the rich agricultural resources and the cosmopolitan culture of the region made Jiangsu an area ripe for investment. Shanghai’s rabid growth has also been monumental in influencing the nearby Jiangsu cities of Suzhou and Wuxi, both of which currently rank among China’s top ten cities by GDP.
Traditionally, South Jiangsu shares the Jiangnan culture with Shanghai and Zhejiang, while the rest of the province is dominated by the Jianghuai Culture in the area between the Yangze River and Huaihe River. While the northern areas of the province speak a variety of Mandarin dialects, the southern areas speak a variety of Wu Chinese (not mutually intelligible with Mandarin). Most people, however, can speak Putonghua (standard Mandarin).
Jiangsu is home to a variety of renowned Chinese operatic styles and performance traditions. Kūnqǔ (昆曲), originating in the city of Kunshan, is one of the most renowned and prestigious forms of Chinese opera and is said to have influenced the development of the famed Beijing Opera style. Xījù (锡剧) is another form of traditional Chinese opera that originated in Wuxi, while Huáijù (淮剧) developed further north, around the Huai River. Píngtán (评弹), though it has differences in regional styles, is a traditional form of storytelling that is accompanied by music, which remains popular throughout the region.