National Geographic : 1938 Feb
THE RISE AND FALL OF NANKING* BY JULIUS EIGNER TEN years ago Nanking had roughly 300,000 inhabitants; more thana million people were making their homes in the Chinese capital when the exo dus began last November. In 1928 the city had no lighting system worthy of the name, no water works, no sewers; normally, now, its wide thorough fares blaze with neon lights, modern sani tation has been installed, and water runs from the tap instead of being sold in the streets by the caskful. From a straggling, overgrown village, tucked away behind its immense encircling wall, Nanking fast de veloped into China's most progressive me tropolis. This amazing evolution was achieved in the face of bitter scepticism among those Chinese and foreigners who resented the re moval of the Nation's capital from Peiping, with its rich tradition of bygone grandeur and its comfortable amenities. Upstart Nanking was seen as a mere militarist stronghold, doomed to extinction so soon as a mightier man than Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek should arise. This attitude gave way to a feeling of confidence, and within the past two or three years most of the large Chinese banks erected buildings and opened branches in the capital. Land values in the business section skyrocketed by as much as 700 per cent, compared with the prices prevailing less than a decade ago. CENTER OF RAILS AND ROADS Nanking has always been a city of his torical interest, scenic beauty, and strategic importance. Situated on the right bank of the Yangtze River, about 200 miles from Shanghai, it is connected with other important centers by river as well as by the Tientsin-Pukow, Shanghai-Nanking, and Shanghai-Hangchow-Ningpo railways. In recent years it has become the terminal point also of a vast network of interurban and interprovincial highways. Figuring prominently in Chinese history for more than 2,000 years, Nanking has ex perienced many periods of glory, alternat ing with eclipse and tragedy. It has been the capital of several dynasties, and has been known by different names. As Nanking, literally "southern capital," it dates only from the founding of the Ming dynasty in 1368. First called "Ginling" (preserved to this day as the name of a women's university established in Nanking under American missionary auspices), the name was changed several centuries before Christ to "Tanyang" and later to "Kiang nan" and "Shengchow." The last emperors to reside in Nanking were the early Mings, whose dynasty was founded here in 1368 by Hung Wu, a bold soldier of fortune who began life as a Buddhist monk. Ruins of their tombs, pal aces, and imperial pleasances still remain as picturesque mementos of Nanking's golden age. The third Ming emperor, Yung Lo, deserted the city for Peking (now Peiping) in the early 1400's to exert more effective control over the northern part of his domin ion, threatened at that time by invading Mongol and Tatar tribesmen. In addition to persistent destruction by constant warfare, floods, storms, and earth quakes, Nanking has twice suffered almost complete annihilation. The first time was at the end of the sixth century when conquering hordes razed every important building and ploughed up most of the land inside the city walls so that no trace of its former beauty should remain. The second destruction took place be tween 1853 and 1864, when Nanking fell a prey to the fanatical vandalism of the Tai ping rebels, who swept the country, mas sacring, pillaging, and burning as they went. When finally driven from the city, they left behind them little more than a smoldering heap of ruins from which half of the popula tion had fled in terror. An Englishman who visited the city in 1861 wrote of the terrible desolation: "The city of Nanking, as well as the suburbs, the old tombs of the Ming Emperors, and the famous Porcelain Pagoda, are utterly destroyed. The walls are very high, 20 miles in circuit; but the once wide and well paved streets are merely roads leading through heaps of bricks. The palaces of * The occupation of Nanking by Japanese troops is a historic event of our time. A seat of the Ming emperors, the shrine of the Republic's founder, and center of the new nationalism, Nan king also was the boom city of modern China. THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE presents this picture of Nanking as it was observed when the exodus began last November as a remarkable docu ment of current historical geography.-The Editor.