Thursday, 13 September 2018

The World’s Most Important Ghost Station?

This Monday, I set out on a mission to find an almost forgotten landmark dating back over a century – a relic of early Republican China in a corner of Nanjing that is now almost forgotten by most city residents, and the planning authorities.

What I was looking for was an abandoned train station built in 1914 that was once the bustling terminus for trains heading to Beijing and the north of the country.  The station is called ‘Nanjing North’, or in Chinese, 南京北站, and was built on the north side of the Yangtze so that rail passengers would alight their trains to cross the river by boat – there was no bridge until 1968.

However, the opening of said bridge half a century ago made this terminal redundant and it was subsequently closed to passenger service. 

Being once a central hub on the Shanghai-Nanjing-Beijing rail corridor in the world’s most populous country, you could easily argue that it is the world’s most important ghost station.  Due to this, and due to it being a clear example of early 20th century Chinese architecture, I chose to set out to find it.

Getting there.
The north side of the Yangtze, known as Nanjing’s ‘suburban’ Pukou district, is to a great degree, considered the sticks by ‘mainland’ Nanjingers and this was particularly true of the area around the old Nanjing North Station, which my Chinese friends had mostly not even heard of. 

Although the Nanjing subway does extend to Pukou, the nearest stop was perhaps an hour long walk away from the old station, mostly along the Yangtze itself.  

As I walked it, the dense and glitzy high rises within a radius of the subway stop in time abruptly turned into vegetable patches and open fields with chickens – I was entering a completely different China.

Sign on the bottom left informing us that harbor was strictly
off limits to livestock.
And then, when rooftops started appearing again, it was evident that the settlement I was entering was itself nothing short of a time capsule - a China without skyscrapers, a China with the old sense of community - where the street is everyone's summer living room and your neighours are you're extended house mates:

And there were certainly streets that looked like this - it's best days were most definitely behind it.
Here was a community that had once been a railway hub, Nanjing's Swindon if you like, but now with its raison d'etre gone, and today well beyond the normal reach of the nearest subway stop, the settlement really has become part ghost town.

And there it was, Nanjing North Station:
And then as soon as I arrived, I came across the locality's very own tour-guide offering to show me around all the sites, and better still, she was driving around in one of these, which allowed us to drive up stony footpaths to our decaying destinations:

 Such as the old port, where the train-ferries would once dock up:
Me being so childish.
To the rail sidings, where some running locomotives still stood:
This picture we took without disturbing the driver - her idea.  A wee naughty but who cares. 

And then into the old station itself:
When you're so desperate for a holiday...
Sure, most people in Nanjing today may not have heard of Nanjing North station across the river but my tour guide and her colleague were certainly making a living out of this, and they clearly enjoyed doing it.

In fact, that day there was a local couple being taken round by her colleague, and I was shown pictures of previous customers posing amongst the old locomotives - one was a bride posing in her wedding dress, and another was a tourist from India.

My hopes for this community, are of course mixed.  On the one hand, it's nice that it has remained such a time-capsule and a snap shot of 'old China'.  But on the other hand, it is sad that this community is not what it once was - having once been a mega-important railway town and port, it is now part ghost-town.  

It would certainly be great if the metro could be extended, and who knows, use the old station as it's station, bringing it back into modern use.  But then, not only would tower-blocks follow, but my two tour guides would no longer have this decaying venue on their doorstep to show tourists around.   

Thus, when I saw this community, I definitely did not know quite what to hope for.  But then, next to the old station, I saw this - new houses being built in the old industrial style of this area.  Clearly, it's not just the two tour guides and their customers who value the heritage of this area, but the planners too.
And that is clearly a cause for optimism.  

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Why is UKIP Wales so Anti-Welsh?

Something very bizarre and frightening has just happened in Welsh Politics.  UKIP Wales, that is the Welsh branch of UKIP, Britain’s right wing nationalist party, has just elected a leader who has promised to a) Seek to Abolish the Welsh Assembly and thus scrap Wales’s limited sovereignty, and b) stop promoting the Welsh Language.

Just think about how bizarre and unusual that is.  In any other country country, England, France or Sweden, you name it, the nationalist right’s self-declared Raison D’être is to defend the country’s traditional culture, identity and sovereignty.

·       In France, the Front National’s self-declared aim is to protect Frenchness, French Identity and French Sovereignty.

·       In Sweden, the Swedish Democrats’ aim is likewise to defend Swedish Identity and Swedish Sovereignty.

·       Likewise, in England, UKIP’s aim is precisely to protect England’s Englishness, the indigenous culture and the nation’s sovereignty.

Yet in Wales, UKIP Wales’s central aim now is to attack Welshness, Wales’s Culture and scrap what limited sovereignty Wales currently has. 

Why on earth is UKIP Wales not beating the drum in support of Welsh Culture and Welsh Sovereignty like UKIP in England is doing for England?

To answer that we should maybe look across the oceans.  The only countries where you’ll find nationalist right-wingers being anti-indigenous are those like Australia and New Zealand. 

And why are Australia and New Zealand, along with the Americas, in such a bizarre, and paradoxical situation?  Precisely because they are colonial societies. 

And so readers, I put it to you, that Wales itself has become a colonial society and that the very fact that Wales’s own nationalist right wing is anti-Welsh, rather than fiercely pro-Welsh and pro-indigenous, is certain proof of that.

Wales and Colonial Nationalism
Like in Australia and New Zealand, the history of Wales over the past two centuries has been the history of an indigenous culture and society being progressively eroded and destroyed by an non-indigenous one. 

When Right-Wing nationalists in Australia and New Zealand are anti-indigenous, it is precisely because their nationalism is the ‘White and Anglo’ nationalism of the settler nation and one that is diametrically opposed to the interests of, or any potential nationalism by, the indigenous people.

Likewise, UKIP Wales has just proven that they are certainly not a Welsh party, but instead an Anglo-nationalist party that happens to exist in Wales, and which hates indigenous Welsh culture and Welsh sovereignty just as White Nationalists in Australia are anti-Aborigine. 

Complete and Utter Hypocrisy
So in England UKIP is in favour of national sovereignty and taking back control, while for Wales UKIP thinks that having any sovereignty and self-control at all is positively bad.

In 2016, UKIP was adamant that a strong central government = bad news but now it seems to think that a stronger Central government is just what Wales needs.

In England, UKIP is pro-indigenous culture and indigenous language, and in Wales, UKIP is anti-the indigenous culture and language. 

All that I can say is, “Hey UKIP, good luck trying to sell that two-faced con-trick to the Welsh people.”

What to do about it
Among Welsh Nationalists it seems to have been popular to refer to anti-Welsh behaviour, whether it be anti-Welsh racism in the street, or comments by politicians, as ‘xenophobic.’ 

But given that the word ‘xenophobic’ means hating foreigners, that to me sounds like you are conceding that the Welsh are somehow foreigners in their own country, Wales.  And to that, I say NO.

Come on, the Welsh are the Indigenous inhabitants, and the Titular Nationality, in Wales, – and they are also are the descendants of the Ancient Britons. 

So when you encounter British Nationalists and British Unionists being anti-Welsh, whether it’s racism in the street or policies by a political party, you should hit them where it hurts and accuse them of being anti-British. 

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Racism against the Welsh Puts the UK into Disrepute

 It seems that in the twenty-first century, anti-Welsh racism in the UK, and particularly in Wales itself has become so common that it’s practically part of the news landscape now.

Whether it’s Welsh speakers in their own Welsh hometowns being told by incomers to ‘stop speaking foreign muck’, to incomer staff in shops and pubs mimicking or threatening locals for speaking Welsh, to comments by leading British media figures, it’s only a few months after a slur like this before you hear of another. 

 And then at the end of last month, Guto Bebb’s resignation from the government was met with a storm of anti-Welsh comments on Twitter, some of which include the following:

‘‘I’m sorry, Guto Bebb is not a name, it’s an accident with fridge magnets.’’

“Christ, even anagrams are resigning” 

So, in other words, it’s now got to a point where a Welsh politician can’t even participate in the government of his own country, at the level of the political Union, without being mocked simply for his Welsh name. 

This is beyond insane, and the people who should be most alarmed by these trends are the Unionists, since such anti-Welsh remarks by people in or from the other nations of the UK can’t exactly be good for pan-British brotherhood and solidarity can they?

Anti-Welsh Graffiti on a beach in Tudweiliog which is one
one of Wales's last truly Welsh-Speaking communities.
Racism towards the local Welsh in Barmouth,
a popular seaside resort in southern Snowdonia.

Racism towards Welsh-Speaking customers in a shop
in the town of Blaenau Ffestiniog, where
Welsh-Speakers are 78% of the population.
But how should Welsh-Nationalists respond?

It seems to have become quite popular on amongst Plaid politicians and their supporters to label these actions as ‘xenophobic’.  Xenophobic, for those who don’t know, means hatred of foreigners. 

I’m sorry but that to me sounds like you’re conceding that the Welsh are somehow foreigners in their own country, and that Wales is somehow doesn't belong to the Welsh. 

And that, let’s face it, sounds just like a surrender.  So no, let’s not use the X-word.  So what shall we call this racism then?  I’ll tell you what to call it – Anti-British.  And here are a few reasons why  anti-Welsh racism is absolutely anti-British:

·       The Welsh people, language and culture are indigenous to Wales which, last time I checked, was on the island of Britain and part of the UK.
·       Not only that, but the Welsh are the descendants of the Ancient Britons, and thus their ancestors, language and culture were on the island of Great Britain long before we English turned up after the Romans left.  In short, the Welsh are British Par Excellence. 
·       By being racist towards another group of Brits, those Brit Nats must surely be doing the United Kingdom a disservice by undermining the spirit of brotherly unity and solidarity that should come with any political Union.  Thus, they are surely undermining their own British State.

And so calling them anti-British is exactly what we should do - since they're all undoubtedly Brit Nats themselves, by calling them as such we will be attacking them on their own ground and hitting them where it hurts.

And that should shut them up.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Is Learning Chinese really all that hard?

I guess you could say that I come from a 'language-learning family.'  Indeed, both my parents, all four grandparents, and all my cousins can speak at least two - and often three or four.  Yet I don't think that very many of them would have ever considered having a go at Chinese.

Certainly in the UK, and throughout the West generally, Chinese is most definitely seen as something mind-blowingly-impossibly-absolutely-impossibly-difficult - the equivalent of a 'no go' area in the language world.

And for me too, I had that idea, and indeed whenever I met anyone who said they were learning Chinese, the first thought that would enter my mind was always 'Are they a genius or are they insane?' 

And then, a year ago, I got accepted into a job in China and started learning Chinese.  Then seven months ago, with my VISA sorted out, I arrived here in Nanjing.

So what do I think of learning Chinese so far?

Forget Half of What you Already Thought you Knew
I don't want to shock you readers too suddenly when I say this - but Chinese grammar is actually way easier than that of French, German, Italian, or any European language.  No, seriously:
  • In most European Languages (apart from English) all nouns are either masculine or feminine, including inanimate words such as for chair and table, which means that you have to remember whether to use the word for 'he' or 'she' even when talking about inanimate objects.
  • In addition, most European Languages have different words for 'the' and 'a'/'an' depending on whether the word is a 'he' word or a 'she' word, or if the noun in question is the subject or the object of the sentence.
  • In addition, in pretty much every European language, including English, whenever you use a verb, you have to use the correct form of that verb which corresponds with the subject of the sentence (eg: 'I go' vs 'he goes') as well as with the tense - whether in the past, present or future.
Because, guess what?  None of these strictures exist in Chinese.  In short, in Mandarin, a word, be it a noun or a verb, just 'is what it is.'  Once you've learned it, you've learned it.  No grammatical gender, no grammatical cases, no conjugation.  And as for articles such as 'the' and 'a'/'an', they don't exist.

To make something past tense, you just add 'le' on the end of it, or you can just add a time word, like the the word for yesterday, or tomorrow, to make the time clear.

But then I hear you ask 'What about the tones?'  Well, sure enough, my fellow foreigners do freak out about them and many don't even try with them but here's my advice:  Don't freak out.

Just as in English you know that the word laptop is pronounced with the stress on the 'a' not the 'o', in Chinese you eventually come to learn the tone with every new word and have them glued together in your mind by instinct.

On the other hand, when speaking, you shouldn't slow yourself down to make sure that every tone is correct - that, strangely enough, will make you less understood than if you continue talking at a normal pace and just 'merge' words together, which is far more common.  Tones are not quite as important when the word is obvious by the contest.

But then, there's the real hard part  - the characters!

Characters - Learning them by the Hundreds
Now this is what makes Chinese difficult - the characters.  Whereas in English and other western languages, each letter represents a sound, in Chinese, each character represents a one-syllable word (each syllable in Chinese is a word in it's own right) and given that there are thousands of words in any language, you get the picture.

Indeed I am aiming for at least HSK Level three before I leave China, and for that, I am told, I will need to know 600 characters.

But here's the thing about characters - they're not completely random; there is in fact a pattern to them - which I am about to show you:

Here is the character for the word 'female' - pronounced ''.
The general rule of thumb, is that any word character that has anything to do with female, such as the word for 'mother' or 'she' will have the female character inside its own character, like so:

The character for 'she' (pronounced ''):

The character for mother (pronounced ''):

A Phonetic Side to Characters too
Although characters in Chinese are generally phonetic, often characters are made to deliberately look like other characters that sound similar.  Above was the character for mother,'Mā', and below is the character for horse, pronounced 'Mǎ', both of which, tones aside, are pronounced the same:

So, as you can see, the character for mother was deliberately designed so that it was an amalgamation of the female radical and the horse radical, to reflect both the word's meaning and its pronunciation .  This is just one example of how characters are what they are for a reason, making them easier to remember.

So yes, there are aspects of Chinese that are a challenge for any foreign learner, but it's certainly not as impossibly difficult as we westerners instinctively think it is.  And indeed, the lack of all that western grammar has made it more fun to learn than learning Western languages (sorry, French), although that may also be due to the pure excitement of it all.

Friday, 3 August 2018

Can Ethnic Federalism Truly Succeed in Abiy Ahmed's Ethiopia?

It's now been four months since Ethiopia's brave new reformist Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, took power in a country until then classed as an 'authoritarian regime'.

In that time, he has so far:
  •  Released thousands of political prisoners, including opposition leaders who were on Death Row. 
  • Made concessions that have brought real peace with Eritrea for the first time in two decades
  • Ended numerous authoritarian laws which cracked down on descent, 
  • Promised to allow private citizens to buy shares in state owned companies, 
  • Admitted to his governing coalition having used torture before he came to office,
  • When meeting with opposition leaders, talked about the need for a true multi-party system as well as arguing that his own job should have term limits.
For those readers who don't know, Abiy Ahmed became Prime Minister after mass protests had led to his predecessor resigning, and that in itself was an amazing democratic awakening.  Yet what has happened since has blown even that out of the water.

And now, numerous Ethiopians abroad in the West have decided their homeland is now good enough for them to return.

So now that the country's political situation has improved so drastically, could Ethiopia's governing principle of Ethnic Federalism actually become a model, that is when it is applied with real Democracy?  And just what is Ethnic Federalism?

Some History

Ethiopia, much like India, Yugoslavia, or the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, is a multi-ethnic, multi-national  and multi-lingual country.  However, it has only been a Federation since 1991, when the country's Soviet backed Communist Regime , the Derg, was overthrown by a coalition of rebel forces from different ethnic groups.

Until then, both under the Monarchy (pre-1974) and the Derg, Ethiopia was essentially a Unitary Empire, dominated by the Amharas who make up 26% of the population, the ethnic group who created and expanded the Empire in the first place.  Amharic has thus been the country's official language and Lingua Franca, just as German was in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

However, in 1991, the Civil War which had seen a multitude of different ethnic nationalist rebels fighting the Derg, ended when a rebel coalition called the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), cooperating with other forces, seized the capital, Addis Ababa.

It was this group, formally a coalition of different ethnic groupings but dominated by their Tigray coalition parter (the Tigrays being 6% of the country's overall population) who, upon seizing power, decided that the country was to be a Federation of different states, just like the US or Canada.

Federal Ethiopia since 1991, divided into its
different ethnic states.
And in this new Ethiopia, the state boundaries were to be drawn deliberately to reflect the boundaries between the different ethnic groups, so that each ethnic group would get their own autonomous state for themselves, a 'country within a country' of sorts.

 Smaller ethnic groups, on the other hand, got to share states with other small ethnic groups, such as in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region.

And that, my readers, is Ethnic Federalism.  Indeed EF has itself been referred to as 'Zenawism' after Meles Zenawi, leader of the EPRDF and Prime Minister of Ethiopia from 1991 until his death in 2012.

However the idea itself is actually not new, indeed, it was essentially the system in Yugoslavia until the 1990s, and is what the Archduke Franz Ferdinand proposed for the Austro-Hungarian Empire before his assassination in Sarajevo.  Here in China, there is a similar system whereby the largest of the country's minority groups have their own Autonomous Regions.

Ethnic 'Federalism' under a De Facto Dictatorship
Ethnic Federalism had its critics from the beginning.  There are, for example, both the former Monarchists and former Derg supporters, who, having ruled Ethiopia has an Amhara dominated Unitary state, have argued that the new system is a cynical break up of the country for the purposes of 'Divide and Rule' by the new regime.

Then you've also had the ethnic nationalists, many former allies of the EPRDF during the Civil War, such as the Oromo Liberation Front, who want full independence for their ethnicities and not to be part of any Ethiopia at all.

And neither of these opponents, nor any other opposition party, were given a fair shot at winning power since the elections since 1991 have not been free or fair - the EPRDF have been no more democratic, it seems, than either the Monarchy or the Derg before them.

And, to top it all off, the governing coalition, ostensibly a coalition of all the ethnicities, has in practice been dominated by its ethnic Tigray wing - the country's government had gone from being dominated by one ethnic group to be being dominated by another.

Thus, the resentments and protests against the EPRDF, which only intensified after Zenawi's death in 2012, were not just pro-Democracy but also increasingly anti-Tigray.

And a major cause of resentment for the Oromos in particular was a government plan to expand the territory of the city state of Addis Ababa into neighboring territory belonging to Oromia, a plan which was eventually dropped but either way, the Oromos were perhaps the ethnicity with the greatest grievance.

The ethnic protests by multiple ethnic groups culminated in 2016 and were met with Government Repression - Live Ammunition and a State of Emergency but eventually led to the resignation of Zenawi's successor and Abiy Ahmed's predecessor, Hailemariam Desalegn.

The governing coalition knew it needed a change of direction and thus Abiy Ahmed, himself an ethnic Oromo, was elected its leader and duly became the new Prime Minister - and so the miracles listed at the front have unfolded since then. 

So can Ethnic Federalism work now?
Federalism, which is, after all, about the states and the central government sharing power, means nothing if it's all a Dictatorship. 

Without Democracy or political freedom, you can't have real autonomy.

Without the rule of law and the separation of powers between different branches of government,  you can hardly have any real sharing of power between different layers of government.

So, that, readers, has been the problem for the past 27 years.

On the 18th of June, the Prime Minister announced that there would be a commission to review the system of Ethnic Federalism, perhaps suggesting that there is a possibility that of it being scrapped in favour of a different model. 

I am of course not an Ethiopian, but as an amateur observer, I personally see nothing wrong with Ethnic Federalism in principle.  Sure there are some problems that go with it, such as the possibility of border disputes, but the biggest problem has not been the principle but the practice.

And Ethnic Federalism does have its advantages.  Why shouldn't each ethnic group have their own unit, their own 'country within a country' where they are autonomous?  Certainly the Oromo people seemed to be proud of their own Oromia otherwise they wouldn't have been so angry at the idea of the City State of Addis Ababa encroaching upon it.

So now that Ethiopia looks like it's embracing genuine democracy, if I were Ethiopian I would want Ethnic Federalism to be continued, so that it can be allowed to run as it's supposed to - with genuine freedom and autonomy.

Sunday, 29 July 2018

Nanjing's own Wonder of the World

I wonder how many of you readers were aware that Nanjing was home to what has been considered an 'eighth wonder of the world?'

Yes, that's right, the Porcelain Tower of Nanjing, part of the Great Bao'en Temple, makes the alternate list of wonders, along with sites such as the Hagia Sophia, Leaning Tower of Pisa, and the Great Wall, at least according to the Wikipedia article 'Wonders of the World':

The Porcelain tower dates back to the early 15th century during the reign of the Ming Dynasty, but the site had been used as a temple for over one thousand years since the era of the six dynasties, and what became known as the Great Bao'en Temple was a highly notable site in the history and spread of Buddhism.  

An Arch from the Original Ming Pagoda,
today in the Nanjing Museum.
Unfortunately though, in the 1850s, Nanjing became the epicenter of what is to date the world's deadliest civil war - the Taiping Rebellion, which killed between 20 and 100 million Chinese - possibly making it the deadliest conflict in human history. 

Being the center of it all, the lower Yangtze saw the most destruction when it came to historical sites, and the pagoda was no different.  Not only was much destroyed in the fighting, but the Taiping rebels, believing that their leader was a brother to Jesus Christ, destroyed what they saw as pagan idols. 

The tower may have also been destroyed to stop the Imperial army from capturing it and using it as an observation tower over the rebel capital of Nanjing.  And so the tower and complex were destroyed, and that could have been the end of the story.

But it wasn't.

Reconstructing a Wonder
It's the year 2010, and the Nanjing Municipal Government has decided to rebuild the wonder that once brought so much pride to locals and awe to foreign visitors.  And with it, came the largest single donation in Chinese History, a Billion Yuan, by Chinese Dollar Billionaire and Philanthropist Wang Jianlin.  

And in 2015, the modern version of the great Bao'en Temple and Pagoda opened to the public.  But when talking about it with my colleagues,  I was surprised at how few had even heard of it.

Either way, in July 2018, I thought I'd pay a visit:

The reconstruction has thus been built in a layout much like the original versions - the pagoda being in the courtyard with a surrounding 'cloister' like structure, this time rebuilt in orange .  This was where replicas and artifacts of the original temple were exhibited, and it's history explained.  

As you can see, the building combines both traditional Chinese architecture with its ultra-modernness:  

So too, on the inside was there a combination of ultra-modernity with the old - the latter appearing in the form of original artifacts along with replicas, as well as paintings and models of the site as it appeared in the Ming era:

But what about the Tower itself?

Traveling up to the top was certainly well worth the view - the pagoda being just south of the City Wall and the Zhonguamen, with the 'old town' and Fuzimiao located just to the north.  Beyond on the left is Xinjeikou, Nanjing's Central Business District.

Although the structure was largely glass, the interior walls had their Buddhas:

So why rebuild and old wonder in such a modern style?
As soon as I saw the Pagoda complex when passing by on metro one day, the obvious question came to mind.  Why rebuild such a historic sight in such a hybrid traditional + modern style, when in the west, we would always try to be as authentic as possible?

Given that each previous reconstruction of the temple had been built to conform or to surpass then contemporary standards, why not also build the 21st Century reconstruction to our latest designs?

And it also shows how the designers see China's modernity and progress in the twenty-first century.  Far from seeing it as an abandonment of Chinese civilization, they see it as a renewal of Chinese tradition and past glory - 21st Century modernity is Chinese Civilization par excellence

And so why not include that modernity in a such a proud historical site?

And let's face it, compared to the dark days of the 19th and 20th Centuries, it is very easy to see the 21st Century as a return to past tradition and glory - no longer is China being overrun by foreign invaders or torn apart by Civil War - and whereas the China of the 20th Century either didn't have the conservationist attitudes, political stability or the funds to rediscover and reinvent her old glories, now in the current glory days she has all three.  

And my visit both to the Pagoda itself, and the nearby newly constructed 'old town' both proved exactly that - China's 21st Century is re-appreciating and rebuilding it's old heritage, and is doing so in light of her present day advancements as a country.

And so on that note, I will end this blog article by showing you readers the final information board of the museum, before the exit, in which such sentiments are described so beautifully in the second paragraph:

Monday, 23 July 2018

In Search of the Nanjing Decade

Ever since I discovered that Nanjing had been the Capital of China as recently as the 1930s, (or more particularly from 1927 to 1937),  I was determined that find photograph architecture in the city from around that time.

That 10 year period in Chinese history is known by historians as the Nanjing Decade, and was a period of unprecedented modernization and industrialization but too had it's instability and unrest.

Nanjing's 20th Century stint of being the Capital was cut short by the Japanese invasion in 1937 which resulted in the capture of the city by the invaders and the infamous massacre of some 300,000 men, women and children in what was known as the Rape of Nanking.

Since the defeat of the Japanese and subsequent victory of the communists in the Civil War, Beijing, and not Nanjing, has been the capital of the country.

But how much of Nanjing survives from when it was the Capital?
First, of course, there was the damage caused by the Japanese, but then, in the past 30 years, has been the almost complete transformation of Chinese cities, not least their centers, due to the tower block and skyscraper boom.  Old city centers have been bulldozed to make way for the new.

But, nevertheless, I got an idea of what Nanjing Decade Era Nanjing looked like through this wonderful replica street from that time in one of the wings of the Nanjing Museum.

What I particularly liked about the style of architecture shown was  that it is, to me, a hybrid between traditional Chinese and Western influenced architecture of that period.  But what I also wanted to know, was where I could find some real life examples.

Well, the Presidential Palace of Chiang Kai-Sheck, the anti-communist generalissimo who ruled from the city, was a good place to start.

In addition to all the history that was there (and that's all for another article), what I saw there was a wonderful combination of 'traditional chinese architecture', 'Western Art Decco' and 'Chinese Art Decco.'

And then of course, there's this major bank built in 1935, located at the central crossroads of Nanjing's Central Business district, which happens to be my local branch of ICBC.  This is the building shortly after it's construction:

And these are some pictures I took of it while I've been here in 2018:

However, while these two very significant buildings clearly do have a safe future, the same does not seem to be true of more 'every day' buildings dating from that time, which is perhaps why I'm in such a hurry to photograph it all.

Perhaps less than 50 metres along from the bank, in Nanjing's Central Business District, is a line of what looks like to be 1920s and 30s architecture.  Here it was in April 2018:

And here it is now, in July:
Notice the wooden green wall at the bottom.  Yes, it's now been walled off, and the reason is well, obvious.  

And are some more examples from Central Nanjing:

But what's interesting is that the new buildings that are going up in that area, are, in the majority at least, being built in a kind of neo-20's and 30's style, something that was absolutely not the case 20 years ago:

And that itself, is a greatly positive development.  Just as how near the 'old town' area of Fuzimiao, where new buildings are being built in traditional Chinese architecture, so too it seems that many of the new builds in early 20th century districts are being built to imitate that style.

And that certainly wasn't the case 20 years ago - in the area photographed above, just east of Xinjeikou, buildings from the 80s and 90s are all in soulless modern style, compared to what's going up now.  That itself is a cause for optimism, even if the original '20s and '30s buildings are still largely going away.

But what do the people think?
Whenever I've come across older sections of town, I've always been keen to ask the locals what they think of their homes, and this particular trip was no different.  Also a good opportunity to further practice my Mandarin, of course.

When I told one lady that I liked taking pictures of old buildings, she quickly pointed out where a whole lot more still lay around.  When I asked her if she liked them, she said she did and shared my interest. 

However when I got there, I got talking to a resident who expressed her view that their demolition, which would likely happen in a few years, equaled progress and that she much preferred to look at the 21st century space age new build across the road, than at her own old terrace.  

Both sets of opinions I have encountered but the former opinion I would say has seemed more common.  And while I'm at it, here are some pics of that 'block' or so, of older Nanjing:

And here are some other older buildings around that area:

And here is the modern block that the second lady thought was much nicer to look at:

Either way, attitudes to building conservation have changed massively in the past two decades, let alone since the cultural revolution and discovering such differing attitudes on the street was extremely revealing.  

Just like in any other country, individual citizens have differing attitudes towards the changes that they see around them.  For me, discovering those opinions, and the architecture itself of course, was well worth those trips.