The World of Chinese - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAVID DAW­SON

The white walls and tiled roofs of Nan­jing's Fuz­imiao district host a stag­ger­ing amount of his­tory. Take a wan­der through the im­pe­rial ex­am­i­na­tion cen­ter of ages past where can­di­dates roasted in hot stone cu­bi­cles, as mod­ern vis­i­tors en­joy the myr­iad lo­cal de­lights and the cool river breeze.

Within the heart of Nan­jing lies Fuz­imiao (夫子庙), a small district named af­ter the Con­fu­cius Tem­ple lo­cated within it. Aside from being a hotspot for his­tor­i­cal sites, it is eas­ily iden­ti­fied by the Jiang­nan-style of ar­chi­tec­ture that lends the area much of its charm, sur­round­ing the Qin­huai River (秦淮河) as it me­an­ders through the district. Vis­i­tors need only look at al­most any build­ing in the area to see what the ar­chi­tec­ture en­tails.

Nan­jing’s Fuz­imiao distr ict wraps shop­ping and his­tory in a pr is­tine Con­fu­cian pack­age


Tak­ing the “jiang” from “Changjiang” (长江, known as the Yangtze River) and mash­ing it with “nan” for south, you get Jiang­nan (江南), a ba­sic de­scrip­tion for the area south of the Yangtze where this ar­chi­tec­tural style orig­i­nated. It in­cludes Shang­hai and the south­ern parts of An­hui and Jiangsu prov­inces, along with north­ern Jiangxi and Zhe­jiang.

Al­though many of the build­ings in Fuz­imiao date back to the Qing Dy­nasty (1616 – 1911), much of the area was re­built in 1985 as part of a restora­tion project to give the area its his­tor­i­cal cred. Well-heeled tourists can look into prices of trips on river-boats; the same goes for ho­tels in the area, but un­like the river-boats, ac­com­mo­da­tion can be found cheaper if you book ahead.

But be­yond the at­mos­phere of the bustling crowds, clean white sur­faces, clipped ter­races, and lan­guid river­boats, a key at­trac­tion of the area is its his­tory of ro­mance and in­trigue. This lo­ca­tion was home to the Eight Beau­ties of Qin­huai, cour­te­sans whose his­tory has be­come in­ter­twined with leg­end to pro­duce some of the most com­pelling tales of the era.

The ques­tion of whether these women were pros­ti­tutes is not an easy one to an­swer; they were re­garded as pa­tri­otic, beau­ti­ful women whose com­pany was de­sired by men—though pre­cisely what “com­pany” en­tailed is open to de­bate. Lit­er­ary recol­lec­tions sug­gest that they pro­vided ed­u­cated con­ver­sa­tion and dec­o­ra­tion at social func­tions, and would later fall in love and in some cases marry.

The tragedies and tri­umphs of all eight beau­ties could oc­cupy thou­sands of words of prose (and have), but none more so than Li Xiangjun (李香君), who lived in the 17th cen­tury and be­came a key char­ac­ter in the Kunqu opera Peach Blos­som Fan《桃花扇》( ). The tale is a love story be­tween Li and her lover Hou Fangyu (侯方域) that uses the down­fall of the Ming Dy­nasty (1368 – 1644) as a back­drop. Per­haps un­sur­pris­ingly, given the way his­tory is used, the tale has be­come first and fore­most one of pa­tri­o­tism, with ro­mance as a key theme.

Hou was a mem­ber of a re­form move­ment that aimed to tackle cor­rup­tion in Nan­jing un­der the Ming, but in the opera, he be­comes caught in con­flicts and is sep­a­rated from Li af­ter their be­trothal.

Spoiler alert: though she is packed off to marry some­one else, she pre­vents the wed­ding with a failed sui­cide at­tempt. The two pro­tag­o­nists do get to­gether for a while but even­tu­ally opt for monas­tic lives be­cause they de­cide it’s self­ish to sa­ti­ate their own de­sires amid such chaos.

Vis­i­tors to Fuz­imiao can stop in at Li Xiangjun’s home, where much of her ro­mance with Hou Fangyu no doubt tran­spired. From the win­dows and bal­cony, vis­i­tors have views of the Qin­huai River and the tour boats that me­an­der past. While there, make sure you find the out-of-the-way hole in the ground, with a short flight of stairs lead­ing to the pon­toon where Li could board the boats com­ing along the river. Also, take note of the pic­tures on the walls—aside from stone carv­ings on the bot­tom floor de­pict­ing ro­man­tic scenes from the opera, there

are col­lec­tions of pho­to­graphs of the var­i­ous de­pic­tions of Li in pop­u­lar media over the decades.

The area is a pop­u­lar shop­ping district, so take some time to wan­der the stores. For lunch, the vast ma­jor­ity of Nan­jingers will tell you that you sim­ply must try the duck’s blood and ver­mi­celli soup (鸭血粉丝汤). Orig­i­nally said to have been cre­ated when a lowly com­moner ac­ci­den­tally spilled some duck’s blood in his soup and found it quite tasty, other ver­sions say it started as blood soup, and the ver­mi­celli was the ac­ci­den­tal gar­nish.

The meal it­self is, well, much like a stan­dard noo­dle dish with a wa­tery soup. The duck’s blood forms con­gealed cubes which one can em­brace or re­ject, de­pend­ing on one’s squeamish­ness. In­gre­di­ents vary from place to place, with some cooks adding all kinds of in­gre­di­ents from tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine or duck or­gans. One thing most cooks can agree on is that the ver­mi­celli ought to be made from sweet potato starch.

For those not in­ter­ested in duck’s blood soup, fear not, the area is rife with restau­rants. There are also places specif­i­cally geared to­ward tourist shop­pers, so those in­ter­ested in find­ing sou­venirs and gifts have no ex­cuses.

These shop­ping streets are also home to the Con­fu­cius Tem­ple and Im­pe­rial Ex­am­i­na­tion Cen­ter. The Con­fu­cius Tem­ple, first built in 1034 (though it’s been dam­aged and re­built mul­ti­ple times since), has the world’s largest bronze Con­fu­cius statue, flanked

by two rows of stat­ues de­pict­ing Con­fu­cius’s dis­ci­ples.

While the tem­ple has its own his­tor­i­cal al­lure, the real his­tor­i­cal riches lie at the Jiang­nan Ex­am­i­na­tion Hall (江南贡院), now the Jiang­nan Ex­am­i­na­tion Mu­seum. This was once China’s largest an­cient im­pe­rial ex­am­i­na­tion cen­ter and is one of the few river­side spots not packed to the brim with tourists. It is in­stead jam­packed with fas­ci­nat­ing his­tor­i­cal tidbits.

Any­one with a ca­sual aware­ness of Chi­nese his­tory knows that for about 1,300 years, the best route to the top for an in­tel­lec­tu­ally-minded in­di­vid­ual of mod­est means was to try his hand at the im­pe­rial ex­am­i­na­tion. A good score on the test, which largely as­sessed knowl­edge of Con­fu­cian wis­dom, al­lowed them to en­ter the civil ser­vice and find a po­si­tion in gov­ern­ment. Plaques through­out the cen­ter (with English trans­la­tions) ex­plain the var­i­ous exam-re­lated im­ple­ments on dis­play and even the food that was on of­fer dur­ing the gru­el­ing process. Ap­par­ently, the exam was so pro­foundly im­por­tant it had dishes named af­ter it: care to try the “Prin­ci­pal Grad­u­ate” or “Golden Bill­board”?

And make no mis­take, this was no mere exam.

At the site, you can see the stone boxes by the river­side in which the civil ser­vice can­di­dates sat the exam. It is dif­fi­cult to com­pre­hend the full scale of the mis­ery ex­pe­ri­enced by these poor young men. These stone boxes were out un­der the hot sun and the exam took nine days and six nights. The ex­am­i­nees slept in the cells as well, which mea­sured 3 feet long by 4 feet wide, so ly­ing down was out of the ques­tion.

Throw in the mos­qui­toes that came up from the river, and you have the recipe for a mis­er­able ex­pe­ri­ence that was as much a test of en­durance as it was of knowl­edge.

Shang Yan­liu (商衍鎏), who scored third place in the exam in 1904, the last year it was of­fered (he then went on to be­come the cu­ra­tor of China’s Re­search In­sti­tute of Cul­ture and His­tory), re­marked: “Ev­ery time I re­mem­ber the days in the ex­am­i­na­tion cells, I can’t help laugh­ing at my mis­ery.”

At its peak in the Qing Dy­nasty, the Jiang­nan Ex­am­i­na­tion Hall had 20,644 of these cells, so it could test a truly stag­ger­ing num­ber of can­di­dates in one hit. One can only imag­ine the smell of sweat from 20,644 hot stone boxes lin­ger­ing in the air.

Suc­cess brought es­teem for the ex­am­i­nees fam­i­lies, who would hang up dec­o­ra­tions in their house­hold as a means of brag­ging about their off­spring’s tri­umph. In many ways, there are sim­i­lar at­ti­tudes to­ward to­day’s col­lege en­trance ex­am­i­na­tion. Seen as a shot at the good life and a boost in sta­tus for the en­tire fam­ily, par­ents, both then and now, put mas­sive ef­fort into en­sur­ing a good re­sult. And as with to­day, sig­nif­i­cant mea­sures were used to pre­vent cheat­ing, such as a wall of thorns around the test­ing premises to pre­vent out­side as­sis­tance.

The ex­am­i­na­tion cen­ter was first built around 1168. It first served as a pro­vin­cial ex­am­i­na­tion site, but when Nan­jing be­came the im­pe­rial cap­i­tal it was com­men­su­rately ex­panded. To­day, the mu­seum on the site is much smaller than the 30 hectares the ex­am­i­na­tion cen­ter once oc­cu­pied, and prob­a­bly has fewer dis­trac­tions—a gov­ern­men­trun brothel once op­er­ated di­rectly

op­po­site it across the river.

When vis­i­tors have checked out the parks and sites within the few blocks of Jiang­nan-style build­ings, they will also want to take the five-to-10-minute walk south to­ward Zhonghua Gate (中华门). Al­though the route takes you out of the tourist area, if you stay within a stone’s throw of the river you can’t miss the gate—it’s es­sen­tially a fortress.

Some­times re­ferred to as Zhonghua Cas­tle, the site comes com­plete with ram­parts and a num­ber of court­yard ar­eas, some of which were de­signed to al­low in­vaders part-way into the fa­cil­ity so the sol­diers on the wall could rain death upon them.

Nan­jing has China’s largest and ar­guably most in­tact city wall, al­beit as with all his­tor­i­cal sites, much has been re­con­structed. The wall that sur­rounds the city, in­clud­ing Zhonghua Gate, took 21 years to build, start­ing in 1360. Most of the struc­ture of the gate it­self has not been changed for 600 years.

Zhonghua Gate was a key point of en­try to the city and se­cu­rity was most cer­tainly tight. The gate was first called Jubao Gate (聚宝门, Gath­er­ing Trea­sure Gate) and was re­named “Gate of China” by the Kuom­intang. This was be­cause the op­po­si­tion Beiyang Gov­ern­ment in Beijing had named their south­ern gate “Gate of China”, and this, nat­u­rally, had to be coun­tered.

From the top of the outer wall, vis­i­tors can look down upon the river and bridge, and en­vi­sion the chal­lenges any in­vader would have faced. The river acted as a moat, pre­vent­ing at­tack­ers from get­ting close, while weapons of war in­flicted ca­su­al­ties from the ram­parts.

A se­lec­tion of these weapons is on dis­play at the top of the wall. Aside from can­nons, there are also giant cross­bows on wheels, de­signed to fire four giant ar­rows at one time over a large dis­tance. There are also de­vices that re­sem­ble spiked bar­rels, which de­fend­ers could roll down stairs to wound those who sought to as­cend. Vis­i­tors can also wan­der across the wide open space at the top of the gate for out­stand­ing views of the city.

And from that van­tage point, spare a glance back to­ward Fuz­imiao. There, view­ers can make out the el­e­gant Jiang­nan rooftops and mar­vel at how so many im­pres­sive his­tor­i­cal sites and shop­ping streets can so com­pactly be or­ga­nized along the sides of the river. Take a mo­ment to won­der what de­fend­ers of the gate must have felt as they first looked out be­yond the city lim­its as in­vad­ing armies ap­proached, then back across their gor­geous city.

Lo­cated on the north­ern bank of the Qin­huai River, the Con­fu­cius Tem­ple at­tracts many col­lege en­trance exam hope­fuls who pray for a good score

The Jiang­nan Ex­am­i­na­tion Hall, now the Jiang­nan Ex­am­i­na­tion Mu­seum, was once the largest im­pe­rial ex­am­i­na­tion cen­ter in China and could test over 20,000 ex­am­i­nees at the same time

A Qing Dy­nasty il­lus­tra­tion depicts the en­gage­ment of Qin­huai cour­te­san Li Xiangjun and Hou Is­sue Fangyu,6 / from the play Peach­blos­som­fan

A night view of the Qin­huai River, fea­tur­ing typ­i­cal Jiang­nan-style ar­chi­tec­ture along its banks

Zhonghua Gate, also known as the “Gate of China”, looks much more like a cas­tle than a mere gate from its in­te­rior

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