Category Archives: History

Historical Attractions to Come

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Much of Changzhou’s history and heritage is an intellectual one. For more than a thousand years, this city has produced scholars who did well taking the grueling imperial exams. Even more, there have been luminaries from other parts of China who have passed through Changzhou — the poet Su Dongpo, for example. Many of these people lived in the same part of the city, too.

Qingguo Lane is a long, old alleyway connecting Jinling and Heping roads in downtown part of Tianning. It used to be a time saving shortcut when walking. Interestingly enough, there were historical plaques on the walls in Chinese and in English explaining what things were and who lived there. That was about the extent of it, however. None of the former residences of linguists like Zhao Yuanren or Zhou Youguang were open to the public, for example. Zhou helped create Pinyin, by the way. It would make sense to have the place open as a tourist attraction.

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And that’s what seems to be going on with Qingguo Lane. Access to this alley has be blocked off for a long time, now. Construction and renovation has been ongoing. For a time, I couldn’t quite figure out what exactly was going on there. Then, one day, I took a stroll on the opposite side of the canal Qingguo is adjacent to. I wasn’t able to see much except some of the more decrepit structures have been rebuilt. I did catch a glimpse through the window of one former residence though. I saw a statue of what I suspect is Zhou Youguang. This strengthens and bolsters my suspicions that the alleyway is being turned into a real historical attraction. So, this is definitely something new. Only, I haven’t been able to figure out when the expected completion date will be.

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Something is Happening with Li Gongpu’s Home

Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

 

In 1946 and in Kunming, Li Gongpu 李公仆 had just finished watching a movie with his wife. As he left the theaters, secret agents of the nationalist Goumindang government shot him dead. Li was not a member of the Chinese Communist Party. He was a member of the China Democractic League, which can be seen as a “third way” between the Goumindang and the communists. However, the CDL and the CPC were sometimes allies in agitating against the nationalist government. It’s important to note this. While Li wasn’t a party member, he is still remembered as a hero and a martyr by some Chinese people — both for his politics and for his acumen as a scholar and academic.

I say this because he once lived in Changzhou, and his home is a preserved historical site in Wujin. However, the state of his home, last time I visited was sort of sad. It sits on a road bearing his name, which intersects with Changwu / Heping Road in Hutang right before a big bridge to Tianning. There is also a school baring his name and a picture of his face. The first time I went there, I didn’t even think his former home it was open to the public. The gate was slightly ajar, but the front door was wide open.  I mustered up some courage and slipped in. Inside, I saw a bust of him, but all the Chinese informational displays were weathered and cracked. The place looked abandoned.The informational area was so tiny that it didn’t take long for me to snoop around. I tried to walk further in, but I saw a Chinese woman sitting behind a computer. I got scared. I said a quick ni hao 你好 and left. When I returned a week later, a metal chain bound the gate shut..

That was more than six months ago, and from time to time, I always drove by the area just out of curiosity. The metal chain stayed for a long time, but recently it vanished. I have come to a definite conclusion. The Changzhou municipal government, the Wujin District government, or somebody is clearly doing something here.  Every time I returned, something has been different. For example, new retail buildings and spaces — I think — has been added next door. Also, a new wing is being added to Li Gong Pu’s original home to double the size of the historical location. Obviously, there are plans and ongoing investment. If Li Gongpu is getting a bigger, higher tech memorial hall with informational displays that are not fading and cracked, that’s a very good thing.

An new wing to Li Gongpu's former residence?
An new wing to Li Gongpu’s former residence?

Sun Jinchuan in Qishuyan

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Chinese revolutionary monuments are sometimes difficult to find. Half the ones mentioned on Baidu maps are simply not there. I know because I’ve tried to find them and end up walking or riding in circles. Or wading through drainage ditches. Or looking at piles of garbage. So, it’s always fascinating for me to find one that is actually where the map says it is.

It’s in Huaxi Park 花溪公园 in the former Qishuyan district. The area within the park goes by the Martyrs Memorial Plaza 烈士纪念广场. The memorial itself contains two stone markers. One is of a more abstract shape, but the other is a bust Sun Jinchuan 孙津川. His life story, and the placement of his statue has an interesting correlation.

The railway industry is still a huge in Qishuyan, but it used to not always be that way. One of the big players was the Wusong Machinery Factory, who has since changed names several times. Before it relocated to Changzhou for national security reasons, the plant operated in Shanghai. At the time, the nationalist Koumintang ran the Chinese government.  Underground communist organization and agitation was ongoing at the time.

This carried into trade unions like the Shanghai-Nanjing Railway Workers Association. Sun Jinchuan was elected into a leadership role within that union. He helped organize strikes and even armed action around the Wusong factory before it relocated to Changzhou. As the story goes, the KMT eventually arrested him and repeatedly tortured him for information. The official story goes on to say the Sun Jinchuan remained defiant up to the end in October of 1928, shouting CPC slogans and singing while being dragged to his execution.

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Image courtesy of Dangshi.people.com

Old China Charm at Minyuanli

IMG_20160514_130336When I first arrived in Changzhou, Minyuanli 民元里 looked utterly deserted, crumbling, and overgrown with bamboo. It looked like an old, traditional Chinese building tucked away among the bustle of downtown Changzhou along Yanling Road. That’s what it still is. Back then, the completely empty Future City shopping center encircled it.The only thing of interest, back then, where these utterly weird statues of a fat guy playing golf

Times change. Future City’s storefronts have been slowly filling in, and Minyuanli has been renovated and openned to the public. It’s kept its centuries old charm, too, while now being put to more modern IMG_20160514_130317usage. There are three private residences here — as well as a cafe, a Japanese tea room, and a shop for expensive handicrafts like jade sculpture and carved bamboo. Some of the spaces may rotate their uses. The first time I came in, one building had a second floor calligraphy exhibit. I went there again recently with a friend, and that’s gallery was gone and the door was locked. That came as no surprise. Art displays are usually temporary with a limited runs.

Most of the charm of the place remains in some of the subtle details. One building is completely elevated on top of still pond with fish. Some of the walls showcase ornate dragons. In one narrow corridor, there is even a small gazebo set above water. Some of the bricks in the place is brand new, but they have been colored gray to look old. Even though new material has been brought in to restore the place, some of the older bits of wood and stone have been used. So, parts of the entire compound are hundreds of years old.

Sometimes, sitting in a place like this gives off that relaxed vibe. Minyuanli can feel like a sanctuary from modern China. Yes, you can still hear some car horns from Yanling Road. You can also hear some construction noise, too. But, for the most part, the place and its businesses and residences feels tranquil. It’s totally worth a walk through if you are passing by. Future City and this place are opposite of the Qu Quibai Memorial Hall on Yanling.

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Sun Zhongshan’s Whistle Stop

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A “whistle stop” used to be common in campaign politics or publicity tours. A candidate, celebrity, or national figure would board a train. Every time the train would pull into the station, the statesman would get off, briefly interact with a  waiting crowd, make a speech, or just simple wave to their supporters. Once finished, they would immediately board again and then quickly depart. The term “whistle stop” comes from the sound of steam engine’s whistle.

In an age of social media, blogs, and media appearances, the importance of these quick stops have lessened. You still see some version of this in American presidential politics, however — but its rarely trains now, but more like airplanes and their hangers. “Whistle stop,” however, can easily be applied to momentous moment in Changzhou.

The Nationalist Revolution in 1911 swept away the Qing Dynasty and put a definitive end to thousands of years of Emperors and their courts. To put it easily, it was the end of epoch and a start of a new era. In 1912, Sun Zhongshan (Sun Yat-sen) rode towards Nanjing to the eventuality of becoming the Provisional President of the Republic of China. Along the way, he had a “whistle stop” in Changzhou to wave at an enthusiastic crowd.

This moment has now been documented in a new Sun Zhongshan Memorial Hall downtown. It has been there for decades, but it looked abandoned and deteriorating. It was only until recently that the Changzhou municipal government put some money into restoring it.   This place is rather easy to find. It’s located close a KFC and the Qu Quibai former residence on Yangling Road — only it is in an alley behind the retail shops.

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Sun Zhongshan’s Memorial Hall just off Yanling Road.

 

Cao Zhongzhi and Charitable Wheelchairs

The story of Cao Zhongzhi engraved in stone. You also can see my new conversation buddy’s reflection.

When you are a foriegner in Changzhou, you sometimes get stopped by curious Chinese people who want to practice their English.  Usually, I will oblige for a short and polite conversation.  Depending on what I am doing, I might try to turn this into a “win-win” situation. If I am out looking for things to blog about, I will rather craftily ask them to translate something for me. This was the case a few weeks ago.

I was at Tianning Temple in Hongmei Park. At the time, I was looking at Guanyin “goddess of mercy” statues. A middle schooler stopped me, and after the standard “Do you like Chinese food” questions, I pointed at a nearby gazebo. Inside, a figure of a man pushing a wheelchair “Can you tell me who that is?” He struggled a bit.

“Famous man with big heart,” was all my new friend could manage. “I don’t how else to say in English.”

“Can you write his name for me?” I handed him my phone.  He typed out 曹仲植 Cao Zhongzhi into my dictionary. I saved it for later research.

Turns out, Cao was a famous philanthropist. While originally hailing from Changzhou, he moved to Taiwan. Once, while returning to visit family in 1969, he saw a disabled man and became moved by his situation. So, he set up a charity that donated wheelchairs to the needy.

Once I read the story — badly machine translated from Chinese by Google, of course — the location of the his marker made a lot of sense. In both Buddhism and Taoism, Guanyin is considered a figure of mercy and compassion. To a lot of disabled people in China, Cao Zhongzhi was a humanitarian who embodied those qualities.  It is fitting to to draw this juxtaposition by placing him in a garden dedicated in Guanyin’s honor.

Zhang Tailei and the Guangzhou Uprising

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Detail from a painting inside the Zhang Tailei Memorial Hall

In France, radical socialists and working class activists took over the Parisian government for a few months. They refused to cede the city back to the French government. Brutal suppress followed, and what is often considered the first attempt at a communist government failed. This was The Paris Commune, and it happened back in 1871, These events greatly shaped the direction of Communism as an ideology. Karl Marx even wrote a book about it.

Sometimes there is a parallel drawn between this and event in Chinese history.  In 1927, the Red Guard seized control of the Guangzhou government. Back then, it bore the English moniker

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A bust of Zhang Tailei

Canton.  At the time, both Guangzhou and Hong Kong also had an international presence. The coup didn’t last long. Days after Communists took power on December 11, the Red Guard got militarily routed. The leader, Zhang Tailei, was ambushed and killed. This event went on to spur other uprisings across China. Some have called the events in Guangzhou “The Paris Commune of the East.” In a way, that has a patronizing western-centrist ring to it. Still, one can’t deny the similarities.

That’s well and fine, some might think — but what does any of this have to do with Changzhou? Zhang came from Changzhou. His former home, The Zhang Tailei Memorial Hall 张太雷故居 is now a preserved as a small museum in Tianning. There, you can a few modest rooms that are preserved to look as they would have nearly a 100 years ago. A small display space is next to the modest dwelling. Most of it is in Chinese, but there is a long introductory paragraph in English explaining the Guangzhou uprising and who Zhang was.

This preserved historical space is relatively easy to find.  The Number 2 bus passes it. It is also right across the street from Qingliang Temple. Computer City and Wandu Plaza are also nearby.

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Strolling Qianguo Lane

红星桥 aka Red Apricot Bridge

Somethings in Changzhou are hidden in plain sight, and this definitely the case for Qianguo Lane 千果巷. It’s right next to Nandajie, which is the busiest area in the city center. Even more so, it runs parallel to the bar street where all the dance clubs are located. A Walmart, a Starbucks, and a McDonald’s are also across the street. I happened upon this because I was at Micky D’s, saw how crowded the place was, and got my Big Mac as take out. I walked across the street thinking I sit on a park bench and eat my lunch.

The hamburger was, of course, unsatisfying, as McDonald’s usually tends to be. Afterwards, I went for a walk. There is a small canal here that’s an offshoot of the famous Grand Canal 京杭大运河 — which runs from Beijing to Hangzhou, and it basically cuts through Changzhou’s downtown.

There are two bridges here in the ancient style. In looking at them, I noticed historical markers. Quickly, I snapped photos of them and sent them to a Chinese friend. Thankfully, he read them, summarized them for me. During the Ming Dynasty, an official named Hu Ying built a house on a wharf. Another bridge inspired a Tang Dynasty era
poem, which is written on the marker itself.

In this small area, there are three walking routes to be had. Two are on both canal sides. Another is a narrow, subtly winding  foot path. This is the one closest to the bar street. that makes up the southern edge of the Landmark Mall in the greater Nandajie area. Here, you can find a few benches like where I ate my lunch. You can also find bamboo and the large, weathered, water-eroded rocks that seem popular in this region as public sculptures.

Nandajie — the road itself —  cuts this area in half. Once you cross the street, this small canal area continues on for a bit. There is large rock here with 千果巷 in the ancient, reversed reading order of 巷果千. The rock itself, my Chinese friend reported, also has a blurb about a cannon crafted during the Ming Dynasty.

Something more curious caught my attention behind this rock. There stones with symbols on them that I couldn’t understand. Since my friend was so generous with his help, I didn’t want to pester him anymore. So, I took to Wechat and posted photos. My thoughts, possibly, were that these were some sort of old, oracle bone Chinese characters. I was dead wrong.

Warring States Era Currency

A host of Chinese friends, via social media, nearly immediately informed me that these are representations of ancient money. Before unifying into one nation, China used to be seven kingdoms. Six of them eventually went down to defeat, as the Qin consolidated everything and everyone into an empire.  Each of these seven states had their own form of currency that cam in irregular shapes. I should have expected this because the more familiar, round ancient coin design were placed in the ground amidst polished and black river stones.

Thousands of years later, and it seems fitting, given its location. Nandajie is the commercial center of the city. There are a lot of shops, boutiques, restaurants, and more here. A lot of money is spent here, and these carvings are a subtle reminder of that.

Jintan’s Genius

In the memorial hall at Yuchi Park.

If humankind ever receives a signal from an alien species, that signal would likely be in something like prime numbers or an equation of some sort. This is something that scientists often argue, especially the ones at SETI.  Math, it has been said, is the only universal language. While true, it’s also one of a many clever ways math nerds can argue the importance of the their academic field. As for me, simple arithmetic can be agonizingly frustrating. I have trouble with numbers when I don’t have a calculator nearby. Even then, I’m still pretty stupid. I realized this because, well, mathematics from a humanities perspective is still fascinating. Recently, I was confronted with this while trying to figure out a prominent figure in Jintan’s history.

Huo Luogeng hailed from Changzhou’s Jintan district. He made significant contributions to number theory, but trying to figure out what “number theory” actually is made my head spin. Eventually, I gave up and just started doing Google searches on SETI’s hunt for aliens, instead. Once I regained courage to look at math theories again, I found myself distracted more by Huo Luogeng’s biography. Again, this would be looking at academic field from a humanities perspective.

The statue in a park named in Hua Luogeng’s honor.

Huo was born in Jintan in 1910. Like most prodigies, he excelled early and was nurtured by a teacher. He then went on to teach himself math and the corresponding advanced theories. The word for this type of person is “autodidact.” Huo was an autodidact. Most of these people, in my reading and studies, have been writers. The famous American playwright Arthur Miller, for example, had no formal training or college education. Same with Huo. He never got a PHD in mathematics, but he went on to make significant contributions.

Think about that. He never got a doctorate. And he ended teaching at Tsinghua University in Bejing. That’s China’s Ivy League. Speaking of that, he also taught at Princeton in the USA. And Cambridge in the UK. Over his career, he was lauded with many honorary degrees, but he never really earned a real one. Eventually, he died from a heart attack after finishing a lecture in Japan.

Jintan remembers this man well. There is a park named after him in the district’s center. There, you can find a statue of him sitting and holding a mug of some hot beverage. This is Hua Luogeng Park 华罗庚公园, and it’s not that far from the district’s intercity coach station. And, by the way, it takes an hour to get there from Changzhou’s downtown station on an express bus.

Much farther away, you can find a memorial hall in his honor. Its in a different place altogether —  Yuchi Park愚池公园. In theory, you can walk there from the bus station, but its a long distance and a taxi would be much easier.

Kong Rong and Small Pears

A younger sibling gives a pear to an older sibling.

The Chinese is 孔融让梨, or in Pinyin without the proper tone markers: kong rong rang li. If you translate the characters verbatim, you get “Kong Rong yeild pear.” In the picture, you can barely make out the characters, but I sent the photo to a Chinese friend who is native to Changzhou’s Jintan District.  Turns out, many Chinese people could probably figure this out, due to how famous the expression is.

Kong Rong was both a scholar and a descendant of Confucius. His literary achievements likely outlive his acts as a minor warlord. Once, he spoke ill of Cao Cao, a Chancellor of the Eastern Han Dynasty. Both Kong Rong and his entire family were executed as a result, and their corpses were left in the street  As ancient Chinese history goes, this was during the Three Kingdoms period.  The killing of the family is strangely a reminder of a different part of Chinese culture.

Family is important in The Middle Kingdom in a way it just isn’t in the west. Honoring your father and following his orders are paramount. That’s filial piety, two English words seldomly used in the USA or UK. But it even gets into sibling hierarchy.  Younger brothers are supposed to respect older brothers — the same with older sisters and younger sisters.

As legend goes, as a boy, Kong Rong would only pick up or pick small pears to eat. This would be from or around the trees near his home. Why? He felt it was his duty to leave the plumper, juicier fruit for his elder brothers. Hence, 孔融让梨, or “Kong Rong yeilds pears.”

As for this sculpture, it’s in Jintan’s Hua Luogeng Park 华罗庚公园. It’s one of three statues dedicated to Chinese idioms.  The park itself is in walking distance from the long-distance bus terminal.