While in Nanjing last November (2016), I visited the ‘Presidential Palace’, located on Zhongshan Avenue in central Nanjing. The Presidential Palace is a museum comprising numerous buildings, pavilions and well landscaped gardens. It is located on the site of a former Ming dynasty palace. Some of the buildings were used as offices by the Chinese Republican Government between 1912 and 1949 and these contain historical exhibits, photographs and paintings related to the Republic. Although I visited on a weekday, the site was very busy with many Chinese visitors, far busier than other museums I visited in Nanjing (though I did not manage to see all of them).
The Presidential Palace is also referred to on some Chinese maps as the China Modern History Museum, though few of the exhibits relate to the period after 1949.
The exhibits relate to three key periods:
- The period from 1927 (when Nanjing became the capital of Republican China) up to late 1937, when the Japanese attacked the city and Chiang Kai-shek moved his Kuomintang government to Chongqing
- The period from 1946, when the Kuomintang government and Chiang Kai-shek returned from Chongking until 1949, when the Communists won the Chinese Civil War, Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang government moved to Taiwan and the capital of China was moved back to Beijing
- The period from 1853 to 1864, when Nanjing was the capital of the “Taiping Heavenly Kingdom Movement” (the “Taiping Rebellion”), led by Hong Xiuquan
The most interesting exhibits in the museum are historical photographs relating to the pre-WWII Republican period and the Civil War period between 1946 and 1949. Some of these exhibits are shown below. There are no exhibits relating to the Japanese occupation and the Nanjing Massacre; those are in the ‘Memorial Hall of the Nanjing Massacre’ in southwest Nanjing.
The museum was very busy on the day I visited. Chinese women visitors seemed to be very interested in the many photos of Chiang Kai-shek’s wife Meiling (known as ‘Madame Chiang Kai-shek in the West). I heard a number of comments on her ‘beauty’ and ‘beautiful clothes’. The most popular exhibit was the wax figure exhibit of Chiang Kai-shek, of which there is a photo below. This exhibit is contained in a relatively small room and many people wished to get up close to take a photograph. I have had similar experiences elsewhere in China and realised that I needed to position myself at the back of the group and patiently await my turn. As people ahead get into position to take their photograph, they are given time to do so and then leave. Others take their place and eventually everyone is able to get the desired photo. It is quite a scrum, but everyone is good natured and there is no pushing or shoving.
It was interesting to find a museum about the Republican period in China so full of visitors. 68 years after the Communist takeover, many Chinese people have a continuing fascination for Chiang Kai-shek, his family and associates. I was also intrigued to see the photos of Wang Jingwei. Despite being China’s most notorious ‘traitor’ and leader of China’s ‘puppet government’ in the Japanese controlled areas during WWII, his photo appears alongside those of ‘respectable’ Republican figures like Cai Yuanpei, once the President of Beijing University.