Presidential Palace Museum in Nanjing, China’s former Capital
40 yuan gets you into the whole complex.
Hours: spring, summer, fall (daily) 7:30am-6pm; winter (daily) 8am-5pm
The Presidential Palace was the most crowded place we went to on this trip in Nanjing—-hordes of people milling around the plaza at the entrance, traffic roaring by, taxis and cars stopping to let people out, a few policemen trying (vainly) to regulate those vehicles and the crowds. People try to find a good vantage point for a photo of the entrance gate—difficult with the crowds flowing—so they often retreat to the street, to hell with the traffic! Miraculously, no-one was hit, not while we watched anyway.
It’s an enormous complex and would require many hours to view properly. Unfortunately, we didn’t have long, plus we were all a bit tired from the long morning walk to the Ming Tombs. So, TIP: come in the morning, when it’s cooler and you’re still fresh.
There is a large wall map at the entrance, and you can pick up a pamphlet with a map. In addition, most of the information boards in the rooms and on the exhibits and special pictures are also written in English, so it’s possible to follow some of what’s going on.
It’s a sprawling place, with inter-leading rooms and complexes that have been added onto over the years, so it’s easy to explore one exhibit off to the side and end up in a completely different section of the complex. So, maybe it’s best to just wander like we did and try to get a general feel for what the palace was and is now.
The complex has gardens, courtyards and lakes; many buildings joined by long covered corridors or open courtyards; some furniture and many huge painted canvases. Some of the buildings are one-storey and in the old style, with rooms around a courtyard, radiating out like a warren. Some are taller, more blocky buildings, more recent. The newer buildings remind us of older British-Colonial style buildings—high ceilings, wooden floors, plain walls, formal leather furniture arranged around the edge of the room, big wooden desks, white antimacassars on the chairs. But, the older buildings, the linking corridors and the gardens with small lakes are all more ‘typically Chinese’.
All have history attached to them, focusing on Nanjing, but also touching on the history of China because Nanjing has always been an important place in Chinese history, and has been the capital a number of times. Much of the focus is relatively recent (after 1880-ish) but one section is devoted to some of the old dynasties (Taipei Heavenly Kingdom, and Qing Dynasty).
The whole complex was very crowded, especially with tour groups of older Chinese people (many of whom were giving me a very thorough once-over—quite funny, and terribly obvious!), so in some places we were shuffling along, waiting for a break in the crowd to view a painting, an exhibit, or an information board. I think we got a general feel for what this museum complex is showing, but what was very clear to us is that our knowledge of Chinese history is very sparse and that we especially don’t really know, or understand, the recent history (after 1900) and how those turbulent times really changed and tore apart the country. The Chinese visitors seemed to be especially fascinated with that period, even our two student guides, taking photos of themselves in front of paintings and pictures of dramatic events. I wonder if ordinary Chinese people also don’t have a clear knowledge and understanding about those times but need and want that information now?
The palace museum has lots of information about Sun Yat Sen and how his story fits into Nanjing history—his office and house are here. See an article here on his Mausoleum http://www.helium.com/items/1021904-travel-destinations-nanjing-china .
And another here with photos http://www.justsaygo.com/destinations/sunyatsen.html
We also read information about Chou en Lai and Chiang Kaichek (both of whom the Chinese pronouce so differently that at first we didn’t recognize the names!)