Nanjing has so many attractions – most hailing from its legendary history as a former Ming Dynasty capital – it can be hard to decide where to begin exploring this marvelous cultural center. The shiny modern towers of the city share their ground with classic architecture, temples and informative museums, all enwrapped in a glorious Ming city wall.Though this thriving metropolis has a population that tops 8 million, Nanjing has a much more relaxed atmosphere than other big cities in China. The wide variety of cultural, shopping, dining and outdoor activities can help satiate the cosmopolitan, while the history-hungry are well fed next door. When it’s time to take it down a notch, the city’s mild climate and the beauty of the Yangtze River offers a seductive respite.
Regarded as one of the four great ancient capitals in China and having served as the capital of six dynasties, Nanjing’s history as a government seat of power is vast. It first found administrative work during the Qin Dynasty (221 BCE – 207 BCE), but the prosperity of this time would later fall in the 6th century and not rise again until the mighty Tang Dynasty.
A peasant rebellion in 1356 set the stage for the fall of the Mongolian Yuan Dynasty and for Nanjing’s short tenure as the captial of the early Ming era. By 1421, however, the Yongle Emperor would move the capital back to Beijing and put a torch to an old imperial palace in the city. Nanjing wouldn’t see government work again until 19th century when the British and the Qing court in the the wake of the Opium Wars signed the “unequal treaties,” which ceded Hong Kong to Britain, opened various Chinese ports to trade and forced the Qing to pay a massive war indemnity.
After the Taiping Rebellion of the mid-19th century succeeded in capturing a good portion of southern China, the rebels were only defeated by a joint siege of Qing, British, European and US forces, who captured the city after seven months and put the rebels to death.
The city enjoyed relative peace until the 20th century when, amidst the the turmoil of the Chinese Civil War, the Japanese occupied the city in 1937 and committed their most horrendous atrocities of the war. After the war, the short-lived reign of the Chinese Nationalist Party designated the metropolis as their capital until the Communists came to “liberate” the city in 1949 and moved the capital back to Beijing.