Exploring Nanjing’s Fascinating History

Exploring Nanjing’s Fascinating History

The Hopkins-Nanjing Center is fortunate to be located in one of China's most richly historical cities, with important sites in several dynasties and in modern Chinese history. Student Blogger Eric Omorogieva takes us on a tour of his favorite historical spots around Nanjing!

One of the advantages of living and studying in Nanjing is the proximity to a sea of beautiful landmarks, museums, and the unique nature that surrounds the city. The city and its thousands of years of stories, whether inspiring, happy, or tragic, serve as an important marker throughout Chinese history for its status as the capital of several dynasties and the birthplace of China’s first republic. For those eager to explore the roots of a city, like me, your time in Nanjing will be filled with exciting opportunities to discover. Here I will introduce five of Nanjing’s many prominent locations that are worth visiting.

HNC students on a Purple Mountain hike

Purple Mountain (紫金山)

Many current HNC Students are familiar with parts of this historic mountain following the hiking event led by Professor Paul Armstrong-Taylor to usher in the new school year. The Purple Mountain, renamed several times throughout the course of Chinese history, was ultimately coined after the purple clouds that can often be seen around the peak of the mountain. The large area provides many activities and tourist destinations that could be split into several trips. 

When taking a metro ride from the Yunan Road station (located right next to the HNC building) to the Zijinshan Mountain station, a total of 4 stops, only a quick walk ahead reveals the sight and scale of the mountain. If you prefer to take a hike, the path up the mountain will take you through a variety of roads and steps that provide great exercise. From the dirt roads to the seemingly never-ending flight of steps, the fight to the top ends with a well-deserved sight of the city, the opportunity to take pictures, grab refreshments, and get ready to head back down after completing the hardest part.

Eric (middle-left) and friends at Sun Yat-sen's Mausoleum

Sun Yat-sen’s Mausoleum and Ming Xiaoling

Also located on a further area of the Purple Mountain are multiple mausoleums that serve as commemorations to former Chinese leaders. The efforts to link these monuments together make for a very convenient experience for tourists. Transit between them only costs 10 RMB and catching a ride is straightforward using WeChat. 

The first mausoleum is dedicated to Sun Yat-sen, the founding father of modern-day China whose efforts ended the dynastic period and established a republic. To modern China, he is the "Forerunner of the Revolution." This effort to commemorate Sun can be seen throughout the city’s popular shopping areas such as Xinjiekou (新街口), as well as other tourist spots, but nothing reaches the level of this mausoleum, built in the 1920s following the leader‘s death. Reaching this landmark requires a longer trip on the metro, as well as a less stressful walk up a road and to the base of the real climb. Once arriving in the main area of the base, the view up the extremely long flight of steps is marvelous. The walk upwards is long, but the enhancing scope of the main hall makes up for it. At the main hall, visitors can look at the statue and tomb dedicated to the leader, view the nearby garden, and relax. 

Similarly to Dr. Sun’s, the Ming Xiaoling is also dedicated to an important leader in Chinese history. The Hongwu Emperor, who was the founding leader of the Ming Dynasty and ruled for 30 years in the 14th century, is considered one of China’s most significant emperors. The mausoleum began construction while the emperor was still alive in 1381 and continued until 1405 after his death, and its age shows. It’s worth visiting to get a look at the infrastructure that has survived centuries and still maintains its old Ming-era appearance. 

The Presidential Palace (总统府)

In the heart of Nanjing also lies the former government offices and compound of the Ming Dynasty, the Qing Dynasty, the Taiping Rebellion forces, and the Republic of China (ROC). This palace is huge and, in fact, it’s one of China’s largest surviving complexes. Entering past the gate instantaneously takes you back to the feeling of old generations in Chinese history. Visitors can explore a variety of exhibitions covering the history of the palace under various governments, view art related to important moments in the Palace’s history, or take a personal look at gardens, residencies office spaces, and even thrones used by prior leaders. The entire experience is self-paced and provides many opportunities to simply enjoy the surrounding environment.

Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall

The Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall and Exhibit covers a dark period for the city but is filled with a phenomenal learning experience. During the early days of World War II, Japanese forces began encroaching on the then-capital city of China, before launching an attack that not only killed hundreds of thousands of civilians but led to numerous war crimes and the destruction of much of Nanjing. The museum itself aims to not only retell the story but constantly memorialize the victims, thousands of whose remains are buried beneath the museum itself. Everything about the experience is intentional from when you pass security, look at outside statues, and enter to graphics emphasizing the 300,000 lives lost and portraits of the survivors. The exhibit is both in English and Chinese and covers a wide range of history from the buildup of events to the legacy of the massacre. Like many of the landmarks listed, which are only a few of many, this museum is a must-see while you are in Nanjing and has important lessons for understanding not only the city, but modern China.

Written by Eric Omorogieva (Cert+MAIR '25)