The city of Zhenjiang, Jiangsu Province, is situated on the southern bank of the Yangtze River, about 50 kilometers, as the dolphin swims :), downstream from (eastward of) the city of Nanjing (formerly Nanking). Shanghai, and the mouth of the Yangtze River, lie about 200 kilometers, as the crow flies, southeast of Zhenjiang, meaning that Zhenjiang is a central part of the Yangtze River Delta.
Native Zhenjiangers, unlike the majority of the natives of Jiangsu and Zhejiang Provinces, speak a Lower Yangtze variant of Mandarin Chinese that differs from the region's softer, Wu language variant (traditionally called the Suzhou dialect, though today it is as often referred to as the Shanghainese dialect) of Mandarin Chinese (the Suzhou/ Shanghainese dialect is considered Mandarin Chinese's prestige dialect). The "Wu" in question refers to the Wu State of the Spring and Summer (BCE 770-476) Period of the Eastern Zhou (BCE 770-221) Dynasty, though sometimes taken to mean both the Wu and Yue States (or simply the Wuyue State), since both were inhabited by Yue peoples of southern China during the period.
Once the capital of Jiangsu Province during the period of the Republic of China (1911-49), when Nanking was the capital of China (note that the sacking of Nanking by the Japanese during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-45 ) amounted to the sacking of China's capital), Zhenjiang is an old, pre-Christian-era city with a history intimately related to its strategic position near the mouth of the Yangtze River (indeed, the name Zhenjiang means "River Garrison"), as the next section illustrates.
A Brief History
From the 8th century BCE, present-day Zhenjiang - whose first known designation was Chu-fang-i - as well as most of what is present-day Jiangsu Province, was inhabited by a subgroup to the Yi, the Huai Yi, a reference to the river which empties into the Yangtze River about 20 kilometers east of Zhenjiang. Chu-fang-i later became K'uyang-i, as part of the Wu State that had wrested control of the area during the Warring States (BCE 475-221) Period, before it was changed to Tan-t'u in CE 221, immediately after the Qin (BCE 221-207) Dynasty had sat its stamp on all of the warring states of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty, which marked the end of the Warring States Period. The Qin Dynasty name change occurred as part of the upgrading of the village to a town, or county seat.
Zhenjiang languished in relative obscurity, even during the first major migration of Han Chinese from the north during the Western Jin (CE 265-316) Dynasty. The fleeing Han Chinese would found the Eastern Jin (CE 317-420) Dynasty, whose capital was Jianking (present-day Nanjing). Jianking would remain the capital of the new Han Chinese immigrants to the south throughout the Southern (CE 420-588) and Northern (CE 386-588) Dynasties period, a reference to dynastic states formed by the Han Chinese and the invading Turkic tribes, respectively, during the period in question.
Zhenjiang was made into a garrison town in CE 581, during the Chen (557-588) State of the Southern Dynasties, as part of the Han Chinese defense of its cities along the mouth of the Yangtze River (as well, Japanese piracy was a major concern). The town would be upgraded into a full-fledged prefecture under the name of Jun in CE 595, during the Sui (CE 581-617) Dynasty, when the northern and southern tribes were again united and the Grand Canal was completed, stretching from Hangzhou in the south to the area around present-day Beijing... it was surely no coincidence that the future capital of China would be situated at the northern extremity of the Grand Canal). The first of the large canals that would later become part of the Grand Canal were constructed in the vicinity of Zhenjiang.
All of Jiangsu Province at the time was administered as prefectures or subprefectures. Eventually, Zhenjiang, thanks to its position near the mouth of the Yangtze River as well as its proximity to the large canals that led northward, became a collection point for grain that was paid by local chieftains of the Yangtze River Delta to the emperor, as a form of tax.
The consolidation of the empire continued through the subsequent Tang (CE 618-907) Dynasty, though the garrison town of Zhenjiang would remain a political and commercial backwater until the Song (CE 960-1279) Dynasty, when Zhenjiang would reach its zenith. The city produced luxury items such as satin, silk and silverware for the emperor's palace, and surely also for the lucrative Silk Road trade that brought these exquisite luxury items to Europe's barons and Mesopotania's sheiks.
The wealth of the emerging merchant class not only in Jiangsu Province, but over all of southern China especially would result in many private residences, replete with preeminent scholar gardens, that would leave a lasting cultural legacy on southern China. The city of Zhenjiang shared in the new wealth created by a rising merchant class in southern China, and this emphasis on a burgeoning southern China would be reinforced by a further Han Chinese mass exodus from northern China during the Jin (CE 1115-1234) and Yuan (CE 1279-1368) Dynasties.
Zhenjiang found itself at the heart of the First Opium War (1839-42), when the city was attacked by British warships. Zhenjiang was also in the hot seat during the Taiping Rebellioin (1850-64), when the rebel leader, Hong Xiuquan, made nearby Nanjing (formerly Nanking, and before it was called Nanjing, it was known as Jianking) his capital, which Hong renamed Tianjing ("Heavenly Capital"). The existence of the Grand Canal had helped to promote the development of Zhenjiang, but with the Grand Canal's diminished importance due partly to the emergence of the railways and partly due to the severing of the northern portion of the canal as a result of the 1855 flooding of the Yellow River, Zhenjiang's light began to fade.
During the latter half of the Republic of China (1912-49) period, i.e., during the Nationalist regime of Chiang Kaishek (1928-49), Nanjing became the capital of the republic and Zhenjiang was made the capital of Jiangsu Province. The Chinese Communist victory in 1949 would see the transfer of the nation's capital from Nanjing to Beijing, Nanjing would again revert to being the capital of Jiangsu Province, and Zhenjiang would again slip into relative obscurity, albeit, with the status of a prefecture-level city nonetheless. However, like many other prominent cities of southern Jiangsu Province - not to speak of neighboring Zhejiang Province and Shanghai - the city of Zhenjiang still bears the hallmarks of its past opulence.
Celebraities in the History of Zhenjiang
Liu Xie - who served as Emperor Xian of the Eastern Han (25-220) Dynasty from CE 189-220 and who was also a devout Buddhist who helped to edit the sutras of Donglin Monastery ("East Forest Monastery") near Mount Lushan in Jiangxi Province
Wang Anshi (CE 1021-86) - renowned economist, statesman, chancellor and poet of the Song Dynasty who fought for many major, albeit controversial, socioeconomic reforms, Wang was a visionary who was before his time. For example, as chancellor he expanded the use of money (which in turn expanded commerce), he broke up private monopolies, introduced government regulation in order to combat corruption, he strengthened the examination system and keyed it to hiring in order to eliminate cronyism and nepotism, he introduced simple social welfare policies, and he favored the use of local militias instead of a top-down imposed military as a way to win the loyalty of local tribes, all of which was opposed vehemently by conservative elements within the government, led by a certain Sima Guang who eventually won the sympathy of the emperor, replacing Wang Anshi as the new chancellor (one can well imagine that the emperor was himself guilty of cronyism and nepotism!)
Shen Kuo (CE 1031-95) - an all-around scientist and mathematician (think: agronomist, archeologist, astronomer, botanist, cartographer, encyclopedist, ethnographer, geologist, meteorologist, pharmacologist and zoologist, to name more or less the whole kit 'n kaboodle) of the Song Dynasty who served as an academy chancellor, finance minister, state inspector and diplomat. Shen also served as the head of the Song court's Institute of Astronomy and as the Assistant Minister of Imperial Hospitality. In addition, Shen had earlier served a stint as a hydraulics engineer, and was an avid, life-long hobbyist inventor, poet and musician. He never slept (just kidding). During the latter part of his life, Shen became a sort of recluse (after all that activitiy, who wouldn't want a rest?!), living in a garden estate on the edge of Zhenjiang where he wrote his renowned Dream Pool Essays, which were published in CE 1088.
Zhenjiang remains one of China's busier ports, albeit, a port that centers on domestic trade, mainly as a center for trade between Anhui and Jiangsu Provinces, and Shanghai - in particular trade in cotton, grain, oil, lumber, and, to a lesser extent, trade in copper, iron, lead, silver and zinc. The city is also a production center mainly for paper pulp and foodstuff products that go into the manufacture of end-user, or consumer, foodstuffs. In addition, present-day Zhenjiang is a beautiful tourist attraction characterized by its many waterways and its rolling hills. The Ningzhen Mountain Range roughly extends from the east to the west while the Maoshan Mountain Range extends roughly from the north to the south.
Zhenjiang is the hometown - either by birth or by choice of residence - of a number of famous personages extending far back in time. Three of the most ancient "sons" of Zhenjiang are in fact not from Zhenjiang itself, but from nearby Danyang, 25 kilometers southeast of Zhenjiang. These are: Sun Quan (CE 182-252), who served as the King of Wu from CE 229-52 during the Three Kingdoms (CE 220-280) Period; Xiao Daocheng, the founding emperor of the Qi (479-502) Dynasty of the Southern (CE 420-588) Dynasties (of the Southern and Northern Dynasties Period); and Xiao Yan, the founder of the Liang (CE 502-556) Dynasty of the Southern Dynasties Period.
Tourist Highlights of Zhenjiang
highlights of Zhenjiang include: a natural spring which, during the Tang Dynasty was described as Jiangsu's best water source for making tea, and marketed today as the "Number One Spring Of Life Under Heaven"; Shaozong Library near Zhenjiang Museum in Boxian Park, which contains a 100-volume collection of proverbs that date from the 7th to the 11th centuries; Ancient Street, in the style of the Song and Yuan Dynasties; and the Silkworm Breeding Research Institute, a branch of China's Academy of Agricultural Sciences. Other sites worthy of a tourist's visit include: Baohua National Forest Park; Mount Beigushan; Mount Maoshan; Mount Nanshan; Jiao Hill; and Jinshan Hill, all of which "Attractions" you can find links to in the Table of Contents column (left column) above.
Not surprisingly, the hilly and watery landscape scenes surrounding the city of Zhenjiang have served as the subject matter of many a Chinese landscape painter's endeavors, and thanks to the city's efforts to preserve its pristine natural environment, the city's landscapes are an asset that the inhabitants of Zhenjiang prize to this day.