Nanjing and Suzhou


How to get from Lanzhou to Nanjing, where we intended to visit Cornelius' friend Julia? After our return from Labrang we devoted a whole day to this logistics problem. Flying was technically out of question, we would have had to change planes in Xian and did not want to spend another two days there. This time we were lucky, a friendly man at CITS bought us a first-class soft-sleeper in his own name — at the Chinese price! Once again we spent a night and two days crossing half of China on the railroad.

 It was cold, before the first of November the trains were not heated. But we had the compartment to ourselves.



 The entrance to the Ming tombs. Nanjing means Southern Capital, the Ming Dynasty (1368-1662) emperors had their residence here (see my Synchronuous History of China) until they were thrown out by the Manchu who founded the Qing Dynasty and moved the capital back to Beijing, the Northern Capital. 

The processional avenue to the Ming tombs in the rain. It rained for days. We found Julia in a large but bare room in a university dormitory. She was doing research for her doctoral thesis in political science, and very lonely. Why not join us for a few days in Suzhou? She accepted and we set out on a few quietly happy days in the heart of Old China. Julia bought the tickets and carried the Chinese conversations, and we soothed her despaired psyche.



Zhu Qingshi had told me to look in Suzhou for true Chinese beauty. It was not easy to find. The town may be soaked in Chinese history, but to Western eyes it is as dreary as any other city of China. Its fame are its old gardens surrounding the compounds of the families of former scholars and civil servants. They are all in a deplorable state of neglect, but if one overlooks the scuttling rats, cigarette boxes, and an occasional condom swimming in their ponds, they do preserve the settings of the lives of learned Confucian humanists. In the end I did find the answer to my long quest for Chinese beauty.

 Barbara and Julia having a heart-to-heart talk in the garden of the House of the Fisherman.


 Houses along Suzhou's many canals.


 A woman quite literally beating the laundry. Her hits could be heard through the entire quartier..


 Another typical canal scene, where we saw people brushing their teeth, women washing their laundry, and the night pots being cleaned by the "night-soil" brigade in the early morning.  

 Suzhou got rich on its silk manufacture. We surreptitiosly sneaked into a silk factory while the boss was at lunch. He threw us out when he returned, but we had twenty minutes of watching this man weaving a shimmering piece of brocade on his antiquated and complex British loom running on Hollerith cards.  

 Julia and Barbara framed by a trompe-d'oeil window in a wall that divided the garden of our hotel.


 My favorite Fisherman's Garden. Low houses and pavillions surround irregular ponds. There are no colorful trees like in Narita, a single lotus flower for color. A man-made landscape, shan-shui — Mountains and Water, the two characters for landscape in Chinese. As at Emei Shan, green and gray were the dominant colors.... 

In one pavilion hung a onyx tablet incised with the calligraphy of a poem. The highly polished surface of the tablet reflected the garden. In a flash I understood that this was the answer to my conundrum, the Quintessence of Chinese Beauty:... Poetry and Landscape, the calligraphy of the poem and the man-made garden reflecting on each other.

shushi fanshe shanshui