Sunday, the 23rd of March, marked a significant milestone for all of us in Shanghai. In addition to being the first Sunday after the vernal equinox (day is longer than night again!), it also marked that we have officially spent one month living in Shanghai. As always, it seems to have passed by quickly in retrospect, but I assure you, four hours of Chinese class four times a week never seems swift.
This weekend also was our first group trip. The program offered four destinations for this weekend: Yangzhou, Wuzhen, Hangzhou, and Nanjing. I decided after careful consideration (by “careful,” I mean ruling out Hangzhou because I have been there and not even considering Yangzhou and Wuzhen) to travel to Nanjing. Nanjing was the capital of six dynasties and the Republic of China, and is also technically in the Southern portion of China (south of the Yangtze River), which is why it was given the amazingly creative name “Nanjing” (“Nanjing” literally means “Southern Capital.”) We visited some amazing places, like the old city gate built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)which was partially destroyed during the second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945, we know it in the west as “World War II.”). We also visited the presidential palace, which served as the seat of the government of the Republic of China from 1927 to 1937 (Japanese occupation of Nanjing, capital moves to Chongqing) and 1945 to 1949 (Communist revolution and birth of the People’s Republic of China, nationalist government flees to Taiwan).
But two destinations in Nanjing easily gave me the deepest impression. One was actually the last destination on our trip, which despite its importance and value ended our trip on a somewhat depressing note. This was the Nanjing Massacre museum, which documents the events immediately following the Japanese invasion of Nanjing, in which 300,000 people were killed in six weeks. I will not go into detail for the sake of time and personal happiness, but in retrospect I’m glad I went. The other destination that gave me a deep impression was Zhong Shan Lin, the mountain where Sun Yat Sen’s mausoleum is located. It also happens to be where my great-great grandfather is buried. After searching for about half an hour and getting lost, I, along with a teacher, found his grave. It was a very strange feeling to be standing there, almost like one of my central goals in China had been completed, visiting the grave of someone I had never known, but traced my lineage from. While I had not expected this, I found this very emotionally fulfilling.
What I found surprising about Nanjing is that even after being in China for a month it was the first city where I saw an abundance of what I would consider “authentic” Chinese culture. Shanghai is a modern city, which follows Thomas Friedman’s and Francis Fukushima’s predictions of globalization and Western hegemony. While Nanjing certainly has some Western influence (I along with some friends ate at China’s famous brand, “Pizza Hut”, which apparently also exists in the US), Nanjing still retains some of the architecture and customs that can be considered “authentically” Chinese.
As we pass the one month mark, both the workload and the weather have become surprisingly more aggressive, very different from the gentle introduction to schoolwork and relatively nice weather we experienced the beginning of the month. Shanghai, which is nearly sub tropical in climate, is both heating up and become much wetter, combining heavy rain with the sea’s humidity. While Shanghai’s warm spring rains are not the most ideal weather, I think I would prefer humidity and rain to Beijing’s spring Sha Chen Bao, when spring winds bring sandstorms from the Gobi Desert straight into China’s capital.
I’m battling a respiratory illness, which I believe is my body once again adapting to this new environment. I guess a month hasn’t been too long, but it surprising that we are so close to taking midterms. I still have barely scraped the surface of what Shanghai has to offer, but I think that simply offers more opportunity for discovery.