They say Shanghai is known to be the Modern China, Beijing is known for the Great Wall, and Nanjing, the former capital of China, is known for being home to some of the most celebrated emperors in the Chinese history.
Nanjing is also the city I was born.
My earliest memory of childhood was my grandpa picking me up from school on his bike. As soon as the school bell rang at 5pm, I would dash outside the door, and there would be my grandpa waiting by the gate. “Yéyé!” I would run towards him as his face lights up like a candle. He would pick me up, put me on the back of his bike and we would enjoy the beautiful sunset of the Yangtze River on our way back. And if I happened to have aced all my tests that day, he would even buy me a red bean popsicle stick on the way back!
These distant memories seem like almost a lifetime ago. After my family came to the U.S. in 1998, I have only been back to visit China once in 2005. Last month, my dad and I decided to take some time off from our busy schedules and visit again. For me, this was the first time back to Nanjing in 15 years.
As soon as we landed in Shanghai Pudong Airport, a familiar feeling came over me. Except this time, the local airport food courts were replaced by “Xīngbākè” – “Starbucks”, and “Kěndéjī” – “KFC”, aka the most popular fast-food joint in China. So much has changed and I couldn’t wait to explore the new modern China! We hopped on our layover flight and within an hour, we were back in Nanjing. Bring on the jet lag!
The first day at Nanjing we visited the Confucius Temple. Built in year 1034 A.D., the Confucius Temple was constructed to worship Confucius, one of the greatest philosophers of China. Confucius was revered for his social virtues such as sincerity, righteousness, personal and political ethics, and the importance of social relationships. His collected thoughts gained worldwide recognition as they were inherently compatible with traditional Chinese values rooted deeply in the concepts of filial piety, proper social hierarchy, and respect for one’s ancestors. Confucius basically became one of the most iconic figures of Chinese teachings.
When you first arrive at the Confucius Temple, you’ll see the Qin Huai River and the antique boats that once helped transport the local residents who lived by the river. The south bank of the river is where you’ll find the majestically arched entrance to the temple with the words “Tian Xia Wen Shu”. This is the entrance to the temple grounds.
One of the biggest focal points of the temple is Dacheng Hall, or the Hall of Great Achievement. The inner chambers of the hall house China’s largest statue of Confucius. There is also a magnificent display of gold, jade, and silver panels depicting the ancient philosopher’s life!
Some of the areas that was not originally part of the Confucius shrine are “Jiangnan Gongyuan” and “Xue Gong”. This was where over 20,000 students from all over China came once a year to take the Imperial Exam. The 9-day-test would determine top scholars of the country, which were then assigned government positions and social prestige. If you were a poor peasant growing up in ancient China, this was the only way to social mobility.
At night, the Confucius Temple transforms into one of the most popping destinations for locals and tourists alike! It is a shopper’s paradise. Streets are lined with shops full of gifts, souvenirs, and delicious snacks! My absolute favorite are these large juicy pork dumplings that I grew up eating as a kid!
Stay tuned for my video coverage of my adventures in China and more from the Nanjing travel series!