Typhoon dodging with the Nanjing Martyrs
3-3-3 Tour: Day 7
I knew it was coming. The night before I left Hangzhou I’d dreamt of deluges and floods, of trains being swept off tracks and being hounded by lightning strikes. It was summer, typhoon season, and the Philippine Sea was boiling up splendidly, sending swirling chaos towards China’s east coast just in time to leave me scrabbling to avoid it. Typhoon Vicente had already struck Hong Kong a few weeks earlier, leaving a force 10 storm’s-worth of damage and a massacre of dead umbrellas scattered across the city. Moving north, I thought I’d left all that behind.
Three weeks, three mountains, three provinces, I’d said. But there were already two other hell-storms brewing. Typhoon Saola was currently molesting Taiwan and would reach Zhejiang in the next couple of days, while Typhoon Damrey looked likely to make travelling to Shandong a write off until at least the following week. Putuoshan, all exposed off the Zhejiang coast, would probably have to wait. There was even a tropical storm threatening to mature into a fully-fledged raging maniac which I’d no doubt have to deal with at some point. Best maybe to stick to the cities and not stray too far. There was no sense in hanging round Hangzhou any longer and my antipathy towards Shanghai was still pretty resolute. The only other option within reasonable striking distance thus looked to be Nanjing.
Only two-and-a-quarter hours away on the high speed rail, Nanjing seemed the ideal place to wait out the next few days while everything blew over. It was perfectly positioned to get out and somewhere else without too much hassle. There was plenty of history and plenty to do. This was, after all, the place where Sun Yat-Sen established the Republic of China after the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty in 1912; a city with a recorded history stretching back to 472 B.C. and which throughout its existence has vied with Beijing as the capital of the nation. Nanjing is believed to have been the largest city in the world during its time as capital of the Ming Dynasty between 1368 and 1421, and the city walls, constructed by the dynasty’s first emperor Hongwu over the course of 21 years (presumably not entirely with his own two hands), remain the longest surviving city walls in the world.
Nanjing is also a city that has seen more than its fair share of turmoil and tragedy. Repeatedly conquered throughout its long history, Nanjing was razed to the ground when troops of the Sui Dynasty entered in 589. The British invaded during the First Opium War, which was ended by the Treaty of Nanking in 1842, while the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall, also known less catchily as The Memorial for compatriots killed in the Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Forces of Aggression, commemorates the horrors which befell the city’s population after it fell to the Japanese in 1937.
But it was the Yuhuatai Memorial Park of Revolutionary Martyrs where I ended up on my first morning in Nanjing. Having left my hostel with no more idea of where I was heading other than simply “out”, I set off south, passing through the 600 year old Zhonghua Gate, and as the rain began to fall and my shoes began to leak, I approached the entrance of the park on the run and seeking shelter.
The Kuomintang’s execution ground from 1927 until the end of the Republican era in 1949, the area was transformed into a memorial ground after the Communists came to power and is now part memorial, part glorification of the “sacrifices made by our brave comrades in the name of the glorious revolution”, or some such other tribute. The park occupies over 150 hectares within which can be found graveyards and tombs, memorials, sculptures and statues. There is even an engraving written by Mao Zedong himself on the 7 metre-high monument that stands on the park’s main peak reading “Long Live the Revolutionary Martyrs.”All this in the middle of a violent thunderstorm, however, is a little difficult to appreciate.
The downpour had started as I arrived, and by the time I’d walked as far as the martyrs’ sculpture a little way inside the entrance, the lightning was coming every few seconds. It was so close I was worried we’d get struck ourselves, huddled under a couple of leaking beach umbrellas next to a snack stand. The water was torrenting down the steps towards us like something out of Titanic, running so fast that it didn’t so much flow around our shoes but over them. If this was how the next two and a half weeks was going to be, I may as well pack up and head east now. This was a mere half hour tantrum. There were typhoons out there, and in two more days, I’d be heading straight for them.