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08/08/2014

Travel Guide - Presidential Palace and Meiyuan XinCun

In the heart of Nanjing's downtown China travel deals, amdist skyscrapers and bustling boutiques, the old Presidential Palace (Zongtong Fu) and its Xu Garden is a fascinating witness to some of the most tumultuous events of the last two centuries of Chinese history. The huge complex covers several city blocks, and ranges from classical gardens to neo-European villas and administrative buildings. The core of the building is the classical Xu Garden, built in at the start of the Ming dynasty as the mansion of an imperial prince. Designed in the style of Suzhou classical gardens, it has a small pond at its center, with a building designed to resemble a pleasure boat "floating" in the waters. Other pavilions and carefully arranged rock formations line the shore. To the south, a series of small courtyards framed by oddly shaped doors and elaborately latticed windows enclose a cluster of bamboos or narrow pine trees, placed so each creates a visual impact against the whitewashed walls and gray roof tiles. The garden was later expanded to become the administrative complex of the governor of the region around the lower Yangzi River.

In the 1850's Nanjing fell to the rebel armies of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom China Educational tours, and the leader of the rebellion, Hong Xiuquan, turned the area into his main palace. Hong Xiuquan, the leader of the rebellion and self-proclaimed younger brother of Christ, took over the complex and turned it into his main palace. His movement claimed that women had equal rights as men, and he staffed his entire palace with women who served in every function from cooks to attendants to guards. From here he ruled over much of China and made religious proclamations combining traditional Chinese philosophy and Christianity. After the rebellion was crushed by imperial troops, the complex once again served as a provincial administrative center.

But in 1911 the tumults of modern Chinese history once again thrust the palace into the spotlight. The 1911 Revolution overthrew the emperor and ended the Qing Dynasty and the revolutionary leader Sun Yatsen (also known as Sun Zhongshan) was named provisional president. He moved his capital to Nanjing and governed from here. In the midst of the traditional gardens he built several beautiful Western style buildings to house his new government. Although not grand, their arched facades, brightly painted canary yellow, evoke the optimism of China's first democratic government. The offices inside and Sun's nearby apartments are preserved with period furniture and decoration, while Sun's calligraphy adorns many of the palace's gates and buildings. When Chiang Kai-shek established the capital of his Republican government in Nanjing a decade later, he once again located the presidential palace here, to link himself with the memory of his mentor Sun Yat-sen. He built the grand arched gate in the front of the building, decorated with the gold characters meaning "Presidental Palace." He further expanded the complex to include the many stone, Western inspired administrative buildings. The interior of these buildings have been restored to the way they were when they were the busting offices at the heart of China's government.

Just down the street from the imposing grandeur of the Presidential Palace China Photographing Tours is another fascinating remnant of China's history, the Meiyuan Xincun (Plum Garden New Village). The streets narrow into a fascinating cluster of one and two story old brick houses, quiet and perfect for strolling. Built before the revolution as a neighborhood for government officials, the buildings are very well preserved, with a rich historical atmosphere. The old homes are quite nicely designed, with many interesting architectural details, like carved stone plum flowers tucked into balconies and archways, a small reminder of the neighborhood's name. The neighborhood flashed briefly into prominence in 1946, when Zhou Enlai and a delegation of Communist leaders came to negotiate a power sharing agreement with Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist government and try to avert a civil war. Although the negotiations broke down, several of the houses have been preserved as a memorial and are open to visit.

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