1902 Encyclopedia > Nanking (Nanjing), China

(also known as: Nanjing)

Nanking, or "the southern capital," is the name by which Keang-ning, chief city in the province of Keang-soo, in China, has been popularly known for several centuries. The present city, which stands in 32° 5´ N. lat. and 118° 47´ E. long., dates only from the beginning of the Ming dynasty (1368), although it is built on the site of one which for more than two thousand years has figured under various names in the history of the empire. The more ancient city was originally known as King-ling ; under the Han dynasty (206 B.C. to 25 A.D.) its name was converted into Tan-yang ; by the T’ang emperors (618-907 A.D.) it was styled Keang-nan and Shing Chow ; by the first sovereign of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644 A.D.) it was created the "southern capital" (Nan-king), and was given the distinctive name of Ying-t’een ; and since the accession to power of the present Manchu rulers it has been officially known as Keang-ning, though still popularly called Nan-King. As a matter of fact it was the seat of the imperial court only during the reigns of the first two emperors of the Ming dynasty, and was deserted for Shunt’een (Peking) by Yung-lo, the third sovereign of that line, who in 1403 captured the town and usurped the crown of his nephew, the reigning emperor.

Nanking (Nanjing) map

Map of Nanking (Nanjing).
Date: circa 1884.

But even when speaking of the city rebuilt by the Ming emperors it is necessary to use the past tense. The Taiping rebels, who carried the town by assault in 1853, made a clean sweep of all the national monuments and most of the more conspicuous public buildings it contained, and destroyed or were the means of destroying the greater part of the magnificent wall which surrounded it. The following description, therefore, must be understood as referring to the town as it existed before it was invaded by those ruthless destroyers.

The city is said by Chinese topographers to have been surrounded by a wall measuring 96 le, or 32 miles, in circumference. This computation has, however, been shown by more accurate calculation to be a gross exaggeration, and it is probable that 60 le, or 20 miles, would be nearer the actual dimensions. The wall, of which only small portions now remain, was about 70 feet in height, measured 30 feet in thickness at the base, and was pierced by thirteen gates. Encircling the north, east, and south sides of the city proper was a second wall which enclosed about double the space of the inner enclosure.

The public buildings were on a scale befitting one of the foremost cities in the empire, which was and still is the permanent seat of the provincial government, and which for a time was the abode of the imperial court. The inner city, which is nominally inhabited by the Manchu garrison only, is crossed from north to south by four main thoroughfares, which are intersected by roads connecting the gates in the eastern and western walls. In the north-east corner of the stood the imperial palace reared by Hung-woo, the imperial founder of the modern city. After suffering mutilation at the time of the overthrow of the Ming dynasty, this magnificent building was finally burnt to the ground on the recapture of the city from the Taiping rebels in 1864.

Porcelain Tower, Nanking

The Porcelain Tower, Nanking (Nanjing).
One of the wonders of the medieval world, this building
was destroyed by the Taiping rebels in the 19th century.

But beyond comparison the most conspicuous public building at Nanking was the famous porcelain tower, which was designed by the emperor Yung-lo (1403-28) to commemorate the virtues of his mother. Twelve centuries previously an Indian priest deposited on the spot where this monument afterwards stood a relic of Buddha, and raised over the sacred object a small pagoda of three stories in height. During the disturbed times which heralded the close of the Yuen dynasty (1368) this pagoda shared the fate of the surrounding buildings, and was utterly destroyed. It was doubtless out of respect to the relic which then perished that Yung-lo chose this site or the erection of his "token-of-gratitude" pagoda. At noon or the fifteenth day of the sixth month of the year of the reign of this monarch (1413) the building was begun. But before it was finished Yung-lo had passed away, and it was reserved for his successor to see the final pinnacle fixed in its place, after nineteen years had been consumed in carrying out the designs of the imperial architect. In shape the pagoda was an octagon, and was about 260 feet in height, or, as the Chinese say, with the extra ordinary love for inaccurate accuracy which is peculiar to them, 32 chang (a chang equals about 120 inches) 9 feet 4 inches and 9/10 of an inch. The outer walls were cased with bricks of the finest white porcelain, and each of the nine stories into which the building was divided was marked by overhanging eaves composed of green glazed tiles of the same material. The summit was crowned with a gilt ball fixed on the top of an iron rod, which in its turn was encircled by nine iron rings. Hung on chains which stretched from this apex to the eaves of the roof were five large pearls of good augury for the safety of the city. One was supposed to avert floods, another to prevent fires, a third to keep dust-storms at a distance, a fourth to allay tempests, and a fifth to guard the city against disturbances. From the eaves of the several stories there hung one hundred and fifty-two bells, and countless lanterns adorned the same coignes of vantage. The strange form and beauty of the edifice, which might have been expected to have preserved it from destruction, were, however, no arguments in its favour in the eyes of the Taiping rebels, who razed it to the ground when they made themselves masters of Nanking.

Nanking is about 194 geographical miles to the west of Shanghai, and is nearly equidistant between Canton and Peking. It is situated on the south bank of the Yangtsze Keang, and has a population of 400,000 souls. In bygone days it was one of the chief literary centers of the empires, besides famous for its manufacturing industries. Satin, crape, nankeen cloth, paper, pottery, and artificial flowers were among its chief products. Of late years, however, these peaceful industries have been superseded by the production of all kinds of warlike material. As at Fuh-chow, the arsenal at Nanking is superintended by Europeans, under whose guidance steam ships of war and cannon of the newest and most approved type are there manufactured. In the history of the political relations of England with China, Nanking principally figures as the city where, after its capture by British ships in 1842, Sir Henry Pottinger signed the "Nanking treaty." (R. K. D.)

The above article was written by: Robert Kennaway Douglas, Keeper of Oriental Printed Books and MSS. at the British Museum; Professor of Chinese, King's College, London; China Consular Service, 1858; Assistant in charge of Chinese Library, British Museum, 1865; author of The Language and Literature of China; Confucianism and Taoism; China; A Chinese Manual; and The Life of Li Hung-Chang.

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