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March 12-13

As a diligent student of Japanese history, Nanjing is a city I have wanted to visit for a long time. More on that below...

We arrived in Nanjing to find a very different scene than Shanghai. Upon sight of two Westerners, frenetic merchants swamped us, offering to drive us to the nicest hotels around, which they eagerly pointed to on their placards. We escaped the crowds and grabbed lunch at a local restaurant where I had some of the most revolting and greasy fried rice I've ever tasted. The food, mixed with my anxiety upon arriving at such a dismal place, gave me an unsettling feeling in my stomach. We weren't in the coastal and cosmopolitan area of China anymore...

Things got better. We left the restaurant and took a taxi to Nanjing University, where they rented dorm beds to travelers. (This is apparently against the rules, but they have enough extra beds that the need to make money convinces them to ignore regulations.) We got a room for just 40 yuan (US$6) and took a creaky elevator to one of the top floors where our Spartan accommodations awaited us. We dropped off our bags and were on our way to see the city.

There was some sort of festival taking place, and we visited a neon-lit street where people mingled and food was sold.

We also visited a Confucian Temple inappropriately adorned with tacky models and statutes, and with muzak-pop music playing in the background. It was the Chinese equivalent of covering the Lincoln Memorial with Christmas Tree tinsel and neon lights.

The next morning, we awoke to a panorama view of the city. Skyscrapers and apartment blocks were being constructed, and I imagine that the Nanjing of today will be quite a different place a decade.

Nanjing means "southern capital" and was the sight of many battles through history. Most recently, it was the location of a particularly nasty siege by the Japanese in 1937, in which anywhere from 60,000 to 300,000 people were killed. The 'Great Leap Forward' economic policies of the 1950s and the Cultural Revolution killed as many as 30 million Chinese, but when it was outside powers the wounds take longer to heal, and this museum was a gruesome exhibit and very anti-Japanese.

The exhibit had a big effect on how I view the incident, and perhaps not as you might expect. It wasn't called the "Museum of the Nanjing Massacre"; it was called, in appropriately nuanced English, "Memorial for the Victims of the Nanjing Massacre Killed by Japanese Invaders." The focus of the museum is artwork; as evidence, they show graves (which confirms that people died, but little else); and show pictures of survivors pointing at scars. I left feeling more bewildered by China's victim mentality than anything else.

The highlight of the trip was seeing a temple that once been a palace of one a prince of the Taiping Rebellion. There is a strange story to this. About 150 years ago, Christian missionaries came to China to preach to the people . One of those people was a failed civil servant called Hung Hsui-Chu, who, after suffering a nervous breakdown, thought that he heard the word of god after listening to American missionaries. He studied for years and tried to become ordained as a Protestant priest (and a southern Baptist no less!), but his mentor thought him rather nuts and refused. But by now Hung thought he was the brother of Jesus, sent by God to cleanse China of corruption and sin, and before you knew it he was leading an uprising of peasants in a radical movement that tore across the country and almost toppled the Qing Dynasty. The movement failed through fratricide and the intervention of the British, who thought the Taiping rather scary and unreliable.

The Communists now embrace Taiping as the first uprising of the people against the " foreign imperialist running dogs" (do we sense a theme here yet?) and the museum was very impressive. Not a word about the radical Christianity that drove them though... it seems the Communist government would rather forget about that part of the story.

c. 2005 Christopher Gunson