China - A Planner's Journey


Zhongshan Scenic Area

One of the great tourist draws for Chinese to Nanjing is the Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum. Sun Yat-sen is considered the father of modern China - whether they be communist or nationalist in political persuasion. His death at a relatively young age set the stage for the Chinese Civil War which ultimately resulted in the victory of the communists in 1949.

The Mausoleum, along with the Ming tombs and various pavilians, towers and pagodas, is located in the Zhongshan Scenic Area. This vast park of mountain and forest draws millions from throughout China each year.

The sweep of stairs leading to the mausoleum is most impressive for the visitor. The approach seems to emulate that of the nearby Ming Tombs.

The actual building holding Sun Yat-sen's body seems to have been designed for smaller crowds. The actual tomb room was circular in shape with one small entrance by which those entering and exiting needed to squeeze past each other. I doubt that safety was high on the criteria set forth for the original designer. The stone sculpture in the foyer was not of a quality I expected for the likeness of China's founding father.

Looking away from the mountain, the City of Nanjing is just visible in the distant haze beyond the forested slopes of the mountain.

Fuzi Confucian Temple

This ancient Confucian temple is located within a pedestrian zone of the city across a plaza from the Qinhuai River. This is a newly restored version of a temple that has been destroyed and rebuilt many times since it was first constructed in 1034. It was rebuilt in 1869 during the Qin Dynasty and burned during the Japanese invasion. This most recent reconstruction was completed in 1986.

Qinhuai River & Fuzi Pedestrian Zone

Like many pedestrian zones in China, this one seems to have numerous exceptions for bicycles, motorbikes and cars seeking a place to park. Nevertheless, one feels safer than crossing a street elsewhere in the city. The image to the right was taken at an entrance to the zone. Enforcement of the ban on wheeled traffic seemed very inconsistent.

The area has become a magnet for the local Chinese population with its restaurants, shops, outdoor activities, and various attractions for all ages. The early evening time seems always to be profuse with people, whatever the day of the week.

The sad part is that much of the 'old structures' celebrated in this zone have been rebuilt numerous times over the centuries - the most recent rebirth following the widespread destruction of the Cultural revolution during Mao's final years. I was uncertain of the attention to historic detail in these most recent representations of China's past. My hope was that the designers had looked to historic documents, photographs and academics with thorough knowledge of the area for their research leading to final designs.

Click on the box to the right to generate a series of photos taken in the Fuzi Pedestrian Zone

Planned, Built and Nobody Came

Canals are common in this part of China. The restored segment pictured above is lined with relatively new housing. Nevertheless, the beauty conveyed by this scene hides a dark secret too often associated with planning that ignores the reality of human activity.

The riverside promenade had clearly been built of stone with great care, but is little used with litter and rivelets of water of undetermined origin.

The lack of commercial activity and a locked door further along the pedestrian way has left it bereft of people. No one was on the walkway between here and the closed door which prevents pedestrian access to the street crossing the distant bridge.

In contrast with this dead zone, an alley access 50 meters along the promenade connects to a commercial street teeming with activity.

The image above shows a restored section of the city wall and a newly constructed park with a beautiful stone promenade. At first glance it looks like a wonderful green present to the people of Nanjing.

In reality, virtually the only people using the park was our group of California tourists. The silence was deafening.

No commercial or residential activity bordered the park. The wall and a heavily traveled street, with no parking (Our bus had to park partially on the sidewalk and obstruct the bicycle lane), effectively separated the park and promenade from the people it was supposed to serve. Not exactly a grand entrance to welcome the people of the city.nYuyuan - Old TownYuyuan - Old Town

H Graem © 2007