A Visit to Sun Yat-sen’s Mausoleum in Nanjing

During a recent visit to Nanjing, I visited Sun Yat-sen’s Mausoleum.  Sun Yat-sen was the first President of the Republic of China following the collapse of the Qing Dynasty in 1911.  He later founded the Nationalist Party of China (Kuomintang).  After he died in 1925 aged 58, the then Chinese government built a giant mausoleum in Nanjing, at the foot of Purple Mountain (紫金山 – zi jin shan), to honour him.  The Mausoleum is located in extensive parkland but is surrounded by the city of modern Nanjing.  Sun Yat-sen’s remains were buried at the Mausoleum in 1929.

Visiting the Mausoleum is straightforward.  You take the Nanjing subway to Muxuyuan Station, just a few stops from the centre of Nanjing, followed by a short bus ride to the Mausoleum itself.  Alternatively you can skip the bus and walk a mile and a half or so (up a gentle slope) to the Mausoleum.  You enter the Mausoleum grounds through a large memorial gateway, the Paifang (牌坊).  You then walk up a 392 step staircase to the main hall of the Mausoleum, the ‘Sacrificial Hall’.  I had seen photographs of the staircase and was a bit daunted by the prospect of climbing it.  However, the steps are broad and there are a few seats at intervals along the way where you can rest if you need to.


The ‘Paifang’, a grand arch at the entrance to the Mausoleum grounds

The Mausoleum was busy, but not crowded, on the weekday that I visited.  I sat down for a rest about half way up the grand staircase and got into conversation with some visitors from the Nanjing area.  I was accompanied by a friend from Shandong who was pleased to meet some visitors from her home area on the way up.  I have found that Chinese travellers are never happier than when they run into people from their ‘home town’ while travelling, though I suppose that is true the world over.


The entrance to the Mausoleum


The view from the top of the grand staircase. The city of Nanjing stretches as far as the eye in all directions (it has a population of over 10 million people), but is obscured by trees (many of the streets in Nanjing are lined by trees).

I finally arrived at the ‘Sacrificial Hall’, a large building at the top of the grand staircase.  It contains a large statue of Sun Yat-sen, plus a marble sarcophagus.  The ceiling is decorated with a large Kuomintang flag (the ‘Blue Sky with a White Sun’).  While the Sacrificial Hall is certainly impressive, it lacked the solemn atmosphere I had expected and have experienced in similar buildings like the Dome des Invalides in Paris, which contains Napoleon’s tomb.  That may because as a non-Chinese person I cannot fully appreciate the historical and cultural importance of Sun Yat-sen.  However, whatever the reason, I did not feel a sense of solemnity.

It is forbidden to take photographs in the Sacrificial Hall and it would be very unwise in China to break that kind of rule.  I did find a postcard of the marble sarcophagus (copy below).  However, I was not able to find any postcards of the brightly coloured ceiling.  That may be because the Kuomintang flag is the basis of the present day flag of Taiwan.  You can see a postcard of the ceiling in the Wikipedia entry on Sun Yat-sen’s Mausoleum.


Sun Yat-sen’s sarcophagus (described as the ‘coffin chamber’ on this postcard)




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