Jiangsu Travel Guide
Last updated by xiaoyanzi at 2014/10/30
Jiangsu is the coastal Chinese province that is sandwiched in between Shanghai Municipality to the south and Shandong Province to the north. The coast here switches to a southeast-to-northwest orientation from the southwest-to-northeast orientation that characteristizes both Shandong Province and the Chinese coast below Shanghai. The origin of the name, Jiangsu (two characters in Chinese, jiang and su) is from the province's two major prefecture level cities at the time, Jiangning* and Suzhou, i.e., the character "Jiang" of Jiangning is combined with the character "Su" of Suzhou to form the name of the province.
Jiangsu's coast thus faces the Yellow Sea, while the mighty Yangtze River passes through the southern part of the province, and in fact through its captial, Nanjing (if Shanghai weren't an independent municipality, one would say that the Yangtze River empties into the Yellow Sea where the latter meets the coastline of Jiangsu Province - the city was indeed a part of Jiangsu Province until it developed into something of an autonomous political entity already during China's "colonial period", when China was forced to submit to trade and territorial concessions, including territorial concessions in the city of Shanghai itself).
The area of present-day Jiangsu Province has a relatively long history that dates back some 2500 years, as the next section reveals.
As far back as the Spring and Autumn (BCE 770-476) Period of the Eastern Zhou (BCE 770-221) Dynasty, China had a political arrangment with the Huai Yi ethnic group (i.e., the Yi ethnic people who lived near the Huai River, a tributary to the Yangtze River that empties into the Yangtze near the city of Zhenjiang, in Jiangsu Province) on its southeastern border who inhabited the territory that would later become Jiangsu Province. The presence of a powerful neighbor state often provokes the creation of a unified state where no unified state had previously existed, as the Hundred Years War (1337-1453) between England - who, as heirs of the Plantagenet crown, claimed the territory of what would later become the Kingdom of France - and the then "French" (a composite ethnic group consisting of remnants of the Franks, a Germanic ethnic group, the Normans (think: Vikings) and the Gauls, the original inhabitants whom the Romans had had such a difficult time taming (think: Obelix)) - who were the heirs of the rival House of Valois - so admirably demonstrated (the result of the Hundred Years War was a France that was unified and strong at least until the Protestant Reformation during the 16th century began to seriously undermine the Kingdom of France).
Similarly, the presence of the Han Chinese** neighbors to the Huai Yi people eventually caused the latter to form a state, the Wu State (BCE ca.584-473) near the close of the Spring and Autumn Period of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty, a state which vyed with the other neighboring states in a war that was fought either for a state's own continued existence or for supremacy over all the other states in the region, the latter period referred to by historians as the Warring States (BCE 475-221) Period of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty.
The Wu State emerged as part of a larger "chess game" aimed at limiting the power of the Chu State (BCE ca.1030-223), a state that was also ruled by Yi ethnic peoples who managed to check the influence and hegemony of the Han Chinese Eastern Zhou Dynasty. The Eastern Zhou Dynasty was in essence a weak confederacy, with the many smaller and larger Han Chinese states that were formed during the prosperous and relatively trusting Spring and Autumn Period of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty under the direct rule of family members of the rulers of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty. To this potentially volatile mix (it eventually became very volatile) was added the neighboring states of the ethnic tribes farther south, such as the Yue and the Yi.
The Wu State managed to crush and annex the relatively powerful Qi State, but was later crushed and annexed itself by the more powerful Yue State. The Yue State was eventually overtaken by the Chu State which had become even more powerful in the meantime. Alas, even the Chu State was in turn swept off the table, along with all of the other remaining states of the Warring States Period, by the supremely powerful Qin State which then re-formed itself, with the King of Qin declaring himself the emperor (Emperor Qin Shi Huang) of the newly formed dynasty, the Qin (BCE 221-207) Dynasty, becoming China's first emperor in what would become a dynastic period that would stretch into the future for another two thousand years.
The area of present-day Jiangsu Province became thereafter a political backwater and remained so throughout the Qin and Han (BCE 206 - CE 220) Dynasties. It was briefly reborn as the Kingdom of Wu (CE 229-280) during the Three Kingdoms (CE 220-280) Period. In spite of the area's inclusion in the Han Chinese dynasty, the area remained under the direct rule of the local ethnic Yi people until the influx of massive numbers of Han Chinese refugees from the north during the close of the Han Chinese Western Jin (265-316) Dynasty upset the ethnic balance. The Han Chinese refugees were fleeing the nomadic northern tribes, including the Xianbei, who were descending from Manchuria and knocking at the gates of northern China. The exodus of Han Chinese people from the north continued through the subsequent dynasty, the Eastern Jin (CE 317-420) Dynasty, which dynasty, built on the remnants of the defeated Western Jin Dynasty, was in essence a Han Chinese dynasty in retreat. In fact, the retreat pushed the rulers of the Eastern Jin Dynasty southward into Jiangsu Province, where the capital was established in the city of Jiankang (present-day Nanjing) in the south of the province.
The city of Jiankang remained the capital of the four successive Southern Dynasties: the Liu Song (CE 420-478), the Qi (CE 479-501), the Liang (CE 502-556) and the Chen (CE 557-588), though the northern part of Jiangsu Province served first as a buffer zone between the Southern (CE 420-588) and Northern (CE 386-588) Dynasties before it definitively fell to the Northern Dynasties. When the Sui (CE 581-617) Dynasty, which was based in Luoyang farther north - and which was a hybrid regime consisting of elements of both the "southerners" and the increasingly sinicized "northerners" - crushed the last remaining "southern" dynasty, the Chen Dynasty, Jiangsu Province ceased to be of much interest. In fact, the province led a rather unremarkable existence even during the time that it served as the capital for the mainly Han Chinese "southern" rule, i.e., from the advent of the Western Jin Dynasty until the close of the Chen Dynasty. The choice of Jiankang as the capital seemed to be based more on a "southerner" desire not to cede more ground to the encroaching "northerners" than on the merits of the city per se.
Jiangsu Province would first come into prominence again during the prosperous Song (CE 960-1279) Dynasty, but would be rebuilt and renamed to Jinling during the Tang (CE 618-907) Dynasty. It was during the Southern Song (CE 1127-1279) Dynasty that Jiangsu Province became a center of trade, specializing in textiles. It was also a time when royalty was losing ground to an emerging class of merchants, China's bourgeois class. The famous trade cities of Suzhou and Yangzhou were founded during this period, and though the city of Shanghai was first founded much later, it was modelled on the same Jiangsu merchant culture that had given rise to the burgeoning cities of Suzhou and Yangzhou.
The Huai River, which has since changed its course due to extensive flooding, once cut Jiangsu Province into two, with the northern part of the province under the rule of the sinicized Turkic nomads, and with the southern part of the province under the rule of the Han Chinese. The Jürchen Jin (CE 1115-1234) Dynasty that ruled northern China for a little over a century and which resulted in fresh waves of Han Chinese refugees southward, was initially based in the city of Shangjing in Manchuria not far from the present-day city of Harbin in China's Heilongjiang Province (Manchuria at the time stretched from Outer Mongolia in the west to the Sea of Japan in the east, and from Beijing in the south to the Sahalinski Bay just north of where the Amur River empties into the Tatar Strait between the mainland coast and Sakhalin Island).
As the Jürchens pushed southward, they relocated their capital, first to the city of Zhongdu (the site of present-day Beijing), then to the city of Kaifeng in northeastern Henan Province, near the border with present-day Shandong Province, when the Jürchens toppled the Northern Song (CE 960-1127) Dynasty and occupied its capital. The "southern" capital remained at Jiankang, the name the city had returned to after it had changed from Jinling to Jiangning during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (CE 907-979) Period.
During the Ming (CE 1368-1644) Dynasty, which arose in the Han Chinese south and as a Han Chinese revolt to the rule of Turkic nomads (the Mongols), China's capital was initially in Jiankang - which the Ming rulers had changed to Nanjing, meaning "southern capital", since Beijing means "northern capital" - but was soon relocated to Beijing so that the threat from the north could better be checked. It was during this period that the Beijing Great Wall was completely refortified and greatly expanded. The area corresponding to most of both present-day Jiangsu and Anhui Provinces, designated as Nanzhili (nan means "southern" while zhili means "directly governed") was given a special status directly under the rule of the central government.
It was first during the Qing (CE 1644-1911) Dynasty that the area roughly corresponding to present-day Jiangsu Province was separated from Nanzhili - which had in the meantime been designated by the Qing government as Jiangnan Province - and made into the province as one knows it today, with roughly the same borders as today. The remainder of Jiangnan Province was renamed Anhui Province.
Jiangsu Province would again find itself at the center of Chinese history during the Taiping Rebellion (1851-1864), when this radical movement, part religious and part political (i.e., partly a Han Chinese revolt to Qing Dynasty, Manchu rule) - and which had started in Guangdong Province much farther to the south - spread with great speed northward, eventually making Nanjing its capital, but changing the city's name to Tianjing ("Heavenly Capital"). Nanjing served as the capital for Chiang Kai-Shek who had succeeded Dr. Sun Yat-sen as the head of the nationalist Kuomintang movement.
It was as the capital of the nationalist Kuomintang movement that the city of Nanjing was overrun, and many, if not most, of its citizens - including women, children and the old - were slaughtered by invading Japanese forces in what has since been thoroughly documented as the Nanjing Massacre during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), which war spanned the Second World War (1939 to 1945) in the Pacific theatre. Following the Japanese takeover of much of eastern China during this period, a puppet/ collaborationist Chinese government - the Chinese equivalent of the French collaborationist government of Vichy - was established in Nanjing under the Chinese puppet, Wang Jingwei (an argument can always be made that collaboration saves lives and reduces suffering, even if it is later deemed an odiously traitorous act, though a counter argument can as easily be made that resistance is not only the proper, dignified course of action, it is the only course of action that will lead to a riddance of the invader).
Jiangsu Province has a great deal to offer the tourist in the way of noteworthy natural, cultural and historical sites. Jiangsu is characterized by low-lying plains (most of the province is barely 50 feet above sea level) that cover about 68 % of the province's total area, not counting the lake, river and canal surfaces (the Hangzhou-Beijing Grand Canal passes through Jiangsu) that cover an additional 18 % of the province's total area and which have earned the province the moniker of "land of water". But the intimate beauty of Jiangsu Province lies in its famous cities, many criss-crossed by canals - including the city of Suzhou, dubbed the "Venice of the Orient" and home to numerous famous classical gardens (to learn more about Suzhou, click here). Besides Suzhou, cities such as Changszhou (to learn more about Changszhou, click here), Huai'an (to learn more about Huai'an, click here), Wuxi (to learn more about Wuxi, click here), Xuzhou, Yangzhou (to learn more about Yangzhou, click here) and Zhenjiang (to learn more about Zhenjiang, click here) stand out, and then there is of course the ancient southern capital itself, Nanjing.
The cities of Wuhu, Nanjing and Zhenjiang are linked together by the Yangtze River, China's longest, which snakes some 400 kilometers through Jiangsu Province in a roughly southwest-to-northeasterly direction, emptying into the Yellow Sea after sweeping around Chongming Island just north of Shanghai. The city of Xuzhou is now famous for its Han Dynasty era terracotta warriors (the Han Terracotta Army in Xuzhou) which, though they do not rival the famous Qin Terracotta Army (warriors, chariots, and horses) of Xi'an in sheer numbers and size (the Qin terracotta figures of the city of Xi'an are life-size while the Han terracotta figures of the city of Xuzhou measure only 40 centimters (15.7 inches) in height) are nonetheless splendid, representing the only major terracotta find in China besides the Qin Dynasty Terracotta Army that was unearthed in the city of Xi'an (to learn more about Xuzhou, click here).
The city of Nanjing, not surprisingly is filled with historical relics, buildings and monuments related to the city's long and turbulent history as the country's southern - and sometimes second - capital.
Some of the highlights of Nanjing include: the Yangtze River Bridge, the first bridge to be built over the Yangtze, and though not a modern suspension bridge, it was still a great source of pride for the government of the PRC when the bridge was inaugurated in 1968; the Mausoleum of Dr. Sun Yat-sen (born Sun Zhongshan), located at the foot of Mount Zijin (see below) - Dr. Sun is the George Washington (and perhaps the Thomas Jefferson as well) of China; the Ming Dynasty Xiaoling Mausoleum, built to house the remains of Emperor Taizu (aka the Hongwu Emperor, the founder of the Ming Dynasty, who reigned from 1368-98) and his wife, Queen Ma, who was given the title of Queen of Xiao Ci (meaning "Queen of Filial Piety and Kindness") by the Yongle Emperor, Emperor Chengzu, whose Ming Dynasty reign was from 1402-24 - hence the name of the mausoleum (the word ling means "tomb"); and Mount Zijin, a small, bell-shaped mountain, sometimes called Mount Bell ("Zhong Shan"), which name takes on a double meaning given that "Zhongshan" is the birthname of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, and given the role that the city of Nanjing and Mount Zijin/ Zhong Shan played for Dr. Sun and his Kuomintang movement.
The name zijin means "purple-gold", a reference to the fact that Mount Zijin is frequently and mysteriously enveloped in purple and gold clouds, both at dusk and at dawn. Despite its modest size, Purple-Gold Mountain is home to hundreds of heritage sites inescapably linked to Nanjing's historical significance as China's former "Southern Capital" - in fact, almost every square meter of Nanjing and its environs is intimately linked to the city's historical role (to learn more about Nanjing, click here).
Lake Tai, which produces the strangely eroded limestone rocks that adorn most of the rockeries of China's scholar gardens, and Slender West Lake (Shouxi Hu) are the province's two most famous lakes, while Mt. Yuntai and Mt. Zijin/ Purple-Gold Mountain are the province's most prominent mountains. Other notable lakes in Jiangsu Province include Lake Gaoyou, Lake Hongze, Lake Luoma and Lake Yangcheng. Note that Lake Gaoyou and Lake Hongze were formed when the Huai River's normal course was "plugged" due to silting indirectly caused by the flooding of the Yellow River. Before the Huai River could chart a new course (the new course flowed southward into the Grand Canal before reaching the Yangtze), it too flooded, thus creating Lake Gaoyou and Lake Hongze. As a result of the frequent "encounters" with the Huai River (i.e., as a result of the flooding of the Yellow River that caused the link-up with the Huai River and the concomitant silting of the latter river), the Yellow River also eventually changed course.
There are two main dialects that characterize Jiangsu Province: the Jianghuai (the jiang part being a reference to the Yangtze River (the Chang Jiang, sometimes referred to simply as Jiang, or "The River") and the huai part being a reference to the province's Huai River); and the Wu. The Jianghuai dialect (i.e., the northern dialect) spans the area north of the Yangtze River and west of the city of Zhenjiang, and parts of the cities of Nantong and Taizhou, while the Wu dialect (the southern dialect), which is characterized by the language spoken by the inhabitants of the city of Suzhou, spans the rest of the province, i.e., southern Jiangsu.
Jiangsu Province is rich in cultural heritage not necessarily related to war, such as the province's longstanding opera traditions. Accordingly, the main opera form in the province is the Kunqu Opera. Local opera that may incorporate elements of Kunqu Opera, but which have their own peculiarly local flavor, include: Huaihai Opera, Huaihe Opera, Suzhou Opera, Wuxi Opera and Yangzhou Opera.
As earlier indicated, southern Jiangsu Province is historically linked to textile production. The city of Suzhou is still renowned for its embroidery, its various articles woven of straw, its exquisitely crafted sandalwood fans and its jasmine tea, while the city of Yixing is famous for its purple pottery, the city of Wuxi is known for its clay figurines and the city of Yangzhou is justly famous for its lacquerware.
Jiangsu Province is a rich province with boutiful natural resources, including coal, oil and gas as well as well-developed manufacturing, agricultural and fisheries sectors. Manufacturing industries include automobile production, both light and heavy machinery production, electronics and a burgeoning chemicals industry. Agricultural output includes cotton, jute, rice, soyabeans, wheat, rape, peanuts, hickory nuts and various other edible nuts, numerous oils such as tung- and tea oils (i.e., furniture oils) as well as cooking oils. The province is also a tea-growing region famous for its Biluochun and Longling green teas. Silkworm husbandry and silk production is concentrated near Lake Tai, and on the province's many hectares of pasturelands graze cattle and sheep. Both the coastal and indland fishing is unparalleled in quality and quantity, thanks to the province's abundant, oxygen-rich waters.
The province's extensive transportation infrastructure is the envy of all of China, with regional airports that connect to every major regional city in China, and key airports that connect to every major international airport beyond China's borders. The highway and railway infrastucture of Jiangsu Province is equally impressive, most especially the railway infrastructure, which, via the Longhai Railway, links the city of Lianyungang in northern Jiangsu Province with Russia to the north and with Holland to the west, making the Longhai Railway a new, modern "Orient Express".
Modern-day Jiangsu Province is also mindful of the the risks of adverse climatic change due to global warming that results from the excessive use of energy sources that exacerbate the problem of greenhouse gas emissions. Accordingly, the governor of Jiangsu Province, Governor Luo Zhijun, has entered into an environmental agreement with the governor of the U.S. state of California, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, to work jointly to reduce CO2 emissions in their respective regions, to promote sustainable, renewable energy sources in their respective regions, to foster global energy security and to advance the cause of global technological exchange in the exploitation of current and future sustainable energy sources.
Jiangsu Province enjoys a semi-humid, subtropical climate with four distinct seasons, including a cold winter and a very hot (and often humid) summer, the latter of which suggests that the best time to visit the province if one is contemplating an active vacation is either during the spring or autumn. This being a coastal province on the border between cooler and warmer air and water masses, typhoons, often with heavy rainstorms, are frequent during the spring and summer.
With its abundant resources, its convenient coastal location, its resourceful people and its fortuituous proximity to China's supreme coastal showcase city, Shanghai, it is no wonder that industrious Jiangsu Province has become not only China's most populous but also one of its most prosperous provinces.
* Now named Nanjing, but note that the city had many earlier names, including the older names of Jianye and Jiankang, the latter of which began to be employed from CE 313 toward the end of the Western Jin Dynasty, was renamed to Jinling during the Tang Dynasty, then to Jiangning during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period, then the former name of Jiankang was revived during the Song Dynasty, and finally, during the Ming Dynasty, the city's current name, Nanjing, came into being.
** It is more appropriate to think of these people as being pre-Han Chinese, or the forefathers of the Han Chinese, since the term Han Chinese is used to describe the Chinese people who lived in and ruled the area we now call China during the Han Dynasty. They were in reality a mix of various local and regional ethnic groups who had become assimilated into a single culture of mixed race by the time of the Han Dynasty. One of the arch enemies of the pre-Han Chinese people of the Zhou Dynasty were the Rong ethnic group who were never assimilated, as a large group (though perhaps some individuals were), into mainstream Chinese society - the majority of them probably perished in the various battles with their more numerous and more powerful pre-Han Chinese neighbors. One might also speculate on the ethnic origin of the Rong, who, according to a 7th century historical reference, had "green eyes and red hair, and are like a macaque [i.e., a monkey]". Except for the latter attribute, the Rong might well have been a displaced Celtic, or Irish, tribe (a not-so-absurd idea, given the fact that the Yuezhi and the Tocharians some 800 years later had fair skin, blonde or red hair, and blue or green eyes).
Top Things to Do in Jiangsu
Major Tourist Cities in Jiangsu
Jiangsu Travel Guide
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- Suzhou Travel Guide
- Yangzhou Travel Guide
- Changzhou Travel Guide
- Xuzhou Travel Guide
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- Nantong Travel Guide
- Yixing Travel Guide
- Wuxi Travel Guide
- Zhenjiang Travel Guide
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- Taizhou Jiangsu Travel Guide
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