"Nanjing's Ming and Qing Architecture" by Yang Xinhua, Lu Haiming et al.

A Ming era stone tortoise from near the Linggu Temple. Can be seen on p. 274 in NJMQJZ, in black-and-white of course This is my review of"Nanjing's Ming and Qing Architecture" (''Nanjing Ming-Qing Jianzhu'', NJMQJZ) by Yang Xinhua, Lu Haiming et al. An earlier version of the review, without hyperlinks (I don't know how to insert them there), is on Google Books.

I like traveling, particularly to places with some history to them. At the same time, it seems that, due to planning and logistical reasons, I would often end up missing the most important sight of the city of region I visit. I went to Barcelona's Sagrada Familia, but failed to notice the famous turtles holding the columns around the main entrance. I've been three times to Beijing without ever making it to the Great Wall; passed through Xi'an without visiting the Stele Forest or the First Emperor's Mausoleum; crossed the Liujaxia Reservoir by ferry, while other people at the same harbor were bargaining with boatmen about the passage to the Bingling Temple. And in Nanjing... well, I only was there for 2 days, so let's say that I've hardly seen 10% of what I'd like to see there.

It looks like I will be in Nanjing again next month, and hopefully for longer than on the previous trip - so I wanted this trip's sightseeing to be a but different. I've been aware, e.g. thanks to Segalen and Paludan, about some of the most interesting sculptural ensembles there, such as the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, or the surviving funerary statuary from the Six Dynasties' period. Mentioned passim elsewhere were some other wonders, such as the giant stele that the Yongle Emperor made for his grandfather, but which, due to its size had to be abandoned at the quarry. But would not it be nice to find out in advance where all those things are - in modern geography's terms, not Segalen's - and what they look like?

When searching at a nearby university library for a good book about Nanjing's antiquities I certainly did not expect to find anything as comprehensive and well printed as "Nanjing's Ming and Qing Architecture" (南京明清建筑, Nanjing Ming-Qing Jianzhu), produced in 2001 by a teams of around 80 experts led by Yang Xinhua (杨新华) and Lu Haiming (卢海鸣). This monumental book, as big as a volume from Encyclopedia Britannica, is of course way too heavy for any tourist to consider taking with him on an overseas trip. But it's certainly a pleasure to leaf through it at the stage of "armchair travel". It seems that each site worth writing about is written about, complete with its history, geometric dimensions (Chinese guidebooks love those, in general), location, and a few photos - some modern (though still black-and-white), some historical. I wish I could actually read Chinese well, but even if I am just looking at picture captions and scanning pages for dates and locations, it is still a worthwhile experience.

As the title indicates, the book is dedicated primarily to the monuments of the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911); but, in fact, it has several detailed chapters on the relics of Nanjing's pre-Ming history (a thousand years old, too!). As to the post-1911 sites, the same authors have a separate book on them. When using this volume - if you can get it - you'd probably want to have a chronological table (to look up emperors' eras) and a good map (to look up locations) nearby. The book contains a number of interesting old maps for particular sites, as well as detailed maps of some archaeological sites. However, I am a bit surprised that a volume that big and that location-specific does not have a modern map in it, as it is such a natural thing to have (and, in fact, can be seen in much smaller books on the same topic). For a European reader, the absence of an index in a scholarly reference work of such a size would seem rather strange, but one has to admit that Chinese books rarely have indexes, period. (I guess the issue is, they can't decide how to index things...) This minor shortcoming is compensated, to an extent, by a detailed and comprehensive table of content, chronologically arranged.


  1. If you ever make it Hanoi, be sure to see the Temple of Literature where the turtle-mounted-steles record thousand year old thesis exam results.