Exploring the ‘real’ China in Nanchang

By Andrea Mella Source:Global Times Published: 2017/1/5 20:18:39 Last Updated: 2017/1/6 21:06:58

Visiting the gateway to Chinese history that is Nanchang

The Tengwang Pavalion Photos: Andrea Mella

The Tengwang Pavalion Photos: Andrea Mella

Nanchang, capital of East China's Jiangxi Province, happens to be one of the central cities in the urban agglomeration of the middle Yangtze River; the core city of the Poyang Lake Ecological Economic Zone.

Often overlooked by traditional tourist circuits, Nanchang has a wide range of tourist amenities and high quality facilities, and is abundantly rich in natural resources, especially in minerals.

Generally, the most famous area of Jiangxi Province is Jindezhen. Called the porcelain capital of China, it has often relegated other cities to the background, but actually the province has much more to offer.

According to my experience as a foreigner living in China, we tend to visit the most famous and promoted places, often limited by language barriers and lack of information from tourist services, hence, we tend to often miss the experience of the "real" China.

And this is the case with Nanchang: I came across a modern city, but it maintains a great historical and cultural heritage.

Through its main tourist attractions it is possible to get to know its history and legacy.

On this trip, I learned the long history of this area. Being linked to the Yangtze River, the city is automatically connected to the in-depth origin of Chinese culture from about 6,000 years ago.

However, it wasn't until the Western Han Dynasty (206BC-AD25), that the area began to acquire more prominence, leading to Nanchang becoming one of the most important centers of East China.

From Beijing, there are several daily flights to Nanchang which only take about two and a half hours. For train lovers, there is also the option of taking the fast train which only takes 8 hours, although there are also other slower options.

The Tengwang Pavilion

The Tengwang Pavilion is a city icon. It is visible from several points around the city and looks especially beautiful at night when lights illuminate the building.

The pavilion was built in 653 AD during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), when King Teng, the younger brother of Emperor Taizong, was the governor of Hongzhou (now Nanchang).

The Tengwang Pavilion is one of the three best ancient pavilions south of the Yangtze River.

Originally three floors high and made of wood, this architectural gem has been rebuilt countless times over the past 300 years. Its renewed columns contain the soul of the people of Jiangxi; an ancient land that has been born, built and rebuilt from its own fusion of realities.

The Tengwang Pavilion has always been a place where scholars gathered to write articles and celebrate banquets.

A variety of bas-reliefs and frescoes made by talented authors can be found there.

The different plates, steles and ends of the saloon columns are a selection of famous pieces of literature. The musical instruments, bronze funerary instruments, ritual elements and bells exhibited there bring a classic elegance to this new pavilion.

The actual pavilion is even more spectacular and magnificent than its predecessors.

Connected by nine zigzagging bridges and surrounded by lakes and gardens on the rocks, it was built in the architectural style of the Song Dynasty (960-1279). It is not a stand-alone structure, but a complex of buildings.

The main building spans 47,000 square meters, has nine floors and is 57.5 meters high. Two small pavilions are to the north and south of it. The purpose of this pavilion was to admire the landscape and to enjoy good music and dance performances.

The true Nanchang experience is not found on the land, but on the water, specifically the Gan River.

Centuries ago, the waterways were important for commerce and that's the reason the city was founded in this place, while the Tengwang Pavilion was its letter of introduction.

You can imagine what the city was like at that time, with large boats carrying goods and a busy commercial life carrying on in the background.

Nowadays, every night, and only for an hour each time, you can navigate the Gan River on a cruise that takes people around the area.

The cruise is also accompanied by a show of lights. Large screens on the sides of buildings take the audience on a journey around the world.

The music projected from the boat's speakers helps make the experience a complete one.

Walking around the neighborhood near Tengwang Pavilion is quite an experience.

Unlike the traditional neighborhoods of Beijing, these popular neighborhoods consist of multi-story buildings, but still retain a cozy air that contrasts with the more modern buildings.

This is where I sampled some of the local delicacies such as Nanchang rice-flour noodles and Stone Street fried dough twists (this last one was my favorite).

Jiangxi Provincial Museum

Each region in China has a museum to display the region's heritage and history. It is really interesting to visit these museums because they house the best treasures of each region.

The Jiangxi Provincial Museum is no exception as it houses more than 100,000 relics.

Here you can find the treasures of Liu He. Also known as the "Marquis of Haihun," he was the grandson of Emperor Wu of the Western Han Dynasty,

The discovery of his tomb in 2015 made headlines around the world. A large number of gold and jade pieces, in addition to musical instruments, cauldrons and weapons, were found in the tomb, with most treasures in excellent condition.

One of the largest and best preserved tomb complexes ever found, it numbers among of the great discoveries of the 21st century.

The museum itself is quite ­complete and has explanations in English. You can explore all of Chinese history from its very beginnings.

For those who enjoy museums and archaeological relics (like myself), you will find several breathtaking relics.

We should remember that Nanchang was part of the ancient Silk Road and that during the Tang ­Dynasty, the Gan River was the hub of transportation from Beijing, so goods arrived from all over China, which was also great for cultural exchanges.

A pair of antique lanterns, each featuring a goose holding a fish in its mouth, are on display at the Jiangxi Provincial Museum in Nanchang.

A pair of antique lanterns, each featuring a goose holding a fish in its mouth, are on display at the Jiangxi Provincial Museum in Nanchang.

Porcelain museums

Although Nanchang is not the historical epicenter for porcelain, it has a Museum of Research and Development of Porcelain that has many impressive works.

Porcelain was "baptized" with this name by Marco Polo in the 13th century.

During the Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1279-1368) dynasties, Jiangxi's porcelain industry reached its peak. Major kilns could be found all across the province.

Brilliant white vases and dishes with blue decorations mostly came from the porcelain capital of Jingdezhen, but the province also had other famous kilns like the Jizhou, Qilizhen and Baishe kilns.

In the Museum of Porcelain Painting, you will have the opportunity to contemplate works of many different styles. There are some really great examples that show the true art of porcelain painting.

Red tourism

Moving away from the imperial past of Nanchang, there is another facet of the city: red tourism.

Although the signs and introductions are mostly written in Chinese, the August 1st Nanchang Uprising Memorial Museum is worth a visit if you are in Nanchang. It is not far from the Jiangxi Provincial Museum.

This museum has two sections, one old and one new. The old section was the original location of the Jiangxi Grand Hotel.

Built between 1922 and 1924, it was the most luxurious place in Nanchang.

The early founders of the Communist Party of China (CPC) chose this place as their headquarters as a form of disguise: By choosing such an ostentatious place, they wouldn't attract attention.

The Nanchang Uprising was planned within the walls of this hotel.­ It was led by Zhou Enlai and He Long - two important figures of the CPC - on August 1, 1927. 

The event, during which the CPC decided to end its ­alliance with the ­Kuomintang, became the origin of the People's ­Liberation Army and China's Army Day.

Nanchang Bayi Square

Nanchang Bayi Square is perfect for finishing the day, ideally around 8 pm, when locals gather to dance and play sports and games.

It is perhaps one of the best places to meet the citizens of Nanchang and do some shopping.

For those looking to journey through Jiangxi Province, Nanchang is a window to understanding the important legacy of this area within the history of China.

In the city, you will find beautiful places and sanctuaries of nature that complement the cultural experience.

Newspaper headline: Exploring the ‘real’ China

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