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New Cultural Attractions in Nanjing

With its ancient architecture and artifacts, Nanjing is alive with history. The recent opening of an art gallery in the Nanjing Museum, and the completion of the fabled Yuejiang Tower, are welcome additions to former dynastic capital.

Students of Chinese history now have additional reasons to visit: the newly opened Nanjing Museum art gallery and Yuejiang Tower. Nanjing Museum With a staggering 440,000 antiques, the Nanjing Museum is China's third largest in terms of collection, following Beijing's Forbidden City Museum where some 1 million antiques are in collection and Taipei's Forbidden City Museum of 640,000 antiques.

Unlike its modern Shanghai counterpart, the Nanjing Museum evokes the past. Surrounded by a beautiful pine garden, it was built in the style of the Liao (A.D. 916-1125) Dynasty, with the oldest gallery dating back to 1947. Originally called the Central National Museum, the museum's original plan comprised three galleries: Natural History, Humanities and Crafts. The War against Japanese Aggression in China prevented all but the first phase of the museum, the Humanities Gallery, from being completed. This Liao-style building was designed by renowned Chinese architect Liang Sicheng, and was finished in 1947. It took almost half a century before the commencement of the second phase of construction in 1993, when the Jiangsu Province government began building its new Art Gallery (originally called the Crafts Gallery) at the southeast corner of the former Humanities Gallery (now the History Gallery).

Xu Huping made sure that his new space had plenty of natural light: ``The dimly illuminated Shanghai Museum is depressing to me. I've designed spacious exhibition halls and introduced natural light so as to create a comfortable environment,'' he says. ``In addition, we've designed four courtyards within the building to display an ancient garden -- fashioned from authentic period material -- a residence, a kiln and sculptures, to bring life to our exhibition area.''

Perhaps the museum's most notable aspect is its interactivity. Guests can actually play the bronze serial bells, creating a sound that goes back 1,000 years. The entire process of jade production is demonstrated by small-scale models: at each section of the process, the corresponding sound it heard, be it cleaning or grinding. A museum artist will even make a jade plate for you, perhaps monogrammed with your name or a special message. Photography is welcome, except in the calligraphy and painting halls. Standouts among the gallery's dazzling array of treasures include the Qing (1644-1911) imperial carved lacquer throne -- dyed with pig's blood; the Qing blue-and-white Zun vase with 10,000 different ``shou'' (longevity) characters; and the bronze deer from the Warring States Period (476-221 B.C.), upon which are hung mirrors. The museum also offers a unique ``warehouse tour,'' which allows visitors to enter their private warehouse to view some of the rarest items in the collection. Of particular interest is an exquisite gold and silver inlaid bronze kettle with a nine-kilogram gold animal stopper, within which was a horde of gold coins, gold horseshoes and discs.

Yuejiang Tower Perched atop Lion Mountain in Nanjing's northwest, the new Yuejiang Tower is the realization of an emperor's unfulfilled dream. In 1360, the founding Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) won a dramatic battle that was key to the establishment of the Ming Dynasty. With an army of 80,000 soldiers in Lulong, he routed the 400,000-strong army of Chen Youliang, his most formidable adversary. As Emperor, with his capital in Nanjing, Zhu renamed the 72-meter-high Lion Mountain for its shape and planned to build a grand Yuejiang Tower at the top of the mountain to commemorate his victory. He wrote an article in 1374 describing the tower and ordered more than 100 scholars to write on the subject. Only one by Song Lian impressed him. ``Zhu, a former monk, was extremely superstitious. A meteorite fell as the foundation of the building was being laid, which he deemed a bad omen,'' says Yu Min, party secretary of Xiaguan District, where the mountain is located. ``In addition, Zhu was drained at the beginning of his rule by the construction of a second capital in his hometown, Fengyang, Anhui Province.'' Designed by Professor Du Shunbao of Eastsouth University, the seven-story Yuejiang Tower stands 52 meters high on Lion Mountain.

``During the construction we have dug out a section of Ming's city wall, bricks of the Northern and Southern dynasties (A.D. 420-550), ancient cannons, stone cannonballs and even a 1.6-kilometer-long military tunnel inside the legendary mountain,'' says Yu. Traditional vermilion doors and golden glazed tiles serve as a backdrop for a 500-kilometer rosewood throne patterned with 13 dragons, a 12.8-meter-long china fresco depicting the great explorer Zheng He's landmark voyages, and an ornate dragon, gracing the ceiling, fashioned from a whole camphor tree. ``Eleven kilograms of pure gold foil were used on both the interior and exterior tower,'' says Chen Jiming, general manager of the Nanjing Xiaguan Touring Co. Ltd. which manages the tower. ``On sunny days, the sun's rays seem to ignite the tower with gorgeous sparks of gold.''

(Eastday.com February 9, 2002)

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