Nanjing is the capital of Jiangsu Province in the southeast on the south bank of the Yangzi River. It has a rich history as a political center, as the capital of early regimes in the south and as the Southern Capital during the Ming dynasty, as well as the seat of the Nationalist Government in the 20th century. Today Nanjing’s three special economic zones are home to manufacturing and production facilities for some of the world’s leading multinational corporations.
Nanjing’s position on the Yangzi offered strategic protection and made it an important gateway for trade and shipping to the regions farther west. It is 2 1/2 hours west of Shanghai by tourist express train. Nanjing is hot and humid in summer, considered one of China’s four “furnace cities.” Winters are cold, with frequent rain or drizzle and low visibility.
Nanjing has an extremely rich and complex history, derived from its position as a political and economic center for the agriculturally rich southeast China region. Habitation in the area goes back some 5,000 years, documented by the discovery of several prehistoric, Shang and Zhou era sites. During the Warring States period there was a walled city that had an armaments foundry there. After the break up of the Han dynasty, Nanjing became the capital of a number of short-lived dynasties, especially for the southern dynasties during the 4th-6th century period of division between barbarian Northern and native Chinese Southern dynasties. At that time Nanjing was also a center for the propagation of Buddhism. When China was reunified under the Sui in the late 6th century, the Sui ruler established his capital at present day Xi’an and demolished all the old palace buildings at Nanjing. The building of the Grand Canal, however, aided the economic importance of the city, and it became a center of weaving, especially of brocade, and of metal foundries.
Nanjing’s decline lasted until the founding of the Ming dynasty, when it was established as the capital of the Ming by its founder, Zhu Yuanzhang (the Hongwu Emperor). Hongwu repopulated the city with in-migrant craftsmen and wealthy families from elsewhere in southeastern China, meanwhile deporting most of the resident population to far away Yunnan. He also undertook a massive building program, including an imperial palace and massive city walls, parts of which still stand. The city became an administrative center and the site of imperial examinations, as well as a manufacturing center.
The third Ming emperor, known by his reign title a the Yongle emperor, usurped the throne from his brother and moved the capital back to Beijing, close to his princely power base and the former capital during the Yuan. Nanjing continued as a secondary capital, with its own shadow bureaucracy, a site for an imperial university and metropolitan examinations, and an important textile production center. When the Manchus invaded north China Nanjing held out briefly as a center of Ming resistance, but eventually fell.
With the overthrow of the Manchus in 1911 and the establishment of a Chinese Republic, Nanjing again became the national capital. The unhappy and often violent history of the city continued, however, as it was the site of mass executions of Communists by Chiang Kai-shek in 1927, and of the infamous “Nanjing Massacre” by Japanese forces who occupied the city in 1937, when some 300,000 residents of the city perished. After 1945 Nanjing again became the capital of the Kuomintang government. After peace talks between the Kuomintang and the Communists held there in 1947 broke down, Nanjing was captured by People’s Liberation Army in 1949. Today it is an important industrial base for the automobile, electronics, and machine tool industries, petrochemical production and steel foundries, and aeronautical training.