Nanjing History

Nanjing is an age-old city that was civilized some 6,000 years ago by farmers. It also served as China's capital throughout ten dynasties. It has been called by many names since its creation – historical records list more than forty names, including Jinling, Moling, Jianye, Jiankang, Jiangning, Yingtian and Tianjing.

In 472BC, Gou Jian, the king of the Yue State, built city walls at the southwest corner of present Zhonghua Gate. This area was historically called Yue City, and is the earliest record of a fortified castle in Nanjing (some 2,480 years ago). 

First Heyday in History

China entered an era of turmoil and internal division between nations that began in the Three Kingdoms period (220-280) and lasted through the Northern (386-581) and Southern (420-589) Dynasties. It was during this period that Nanjing City first experienced prosperity.

Wu Kingdom (one of the Three Kingdoms) established Jianye as its capital and Nanjing was vaulted from an ordinary county to a state capital. After that, another four states (Song, Qi Liang and Chen) in Southeast China successively moved their capitals here (which was, at the time, called Jiankang). Around 320 AD, Nanjing was made capital of six dynasties. Although the warring in Northern China persisted, relative tranquility gave Jiankang a good opportunity to develop, and it finally became a thriving economic and cultural center of South China. Xiao Yan, Wu Emperor of Liang (502-557), reigned for forty eight years from Jiankang, developing the city and its immediate surroundings into a hub of culture and commercialism. Unfortunately not much architecture remains from these six dynasties, and Architectures the Liang style buildings that do exist in Japan are national treasures. 


Following its 300 years of prosperity, Nanjing's era of much spiraled downwards during the Sui (581-618) and Tang (618-907) dynasties. During this time the Tang Court became worried about separatist regimes and downgraded the capital (then called Jinling) into a prefecture or county. Though no longer a capital city, relics of former dynasties were frequently visited by poets and scholars, and used in poems that meditated on the past.

During the Five Dynasties and Ten States Period of late Tang Dynasty, Jinling was made to be the capital of Southern Tang (937-975), and partly recovered. Nan Tang placed a strong emphasis on agriculture, commerce and art. Emperor Li Jing and his heir Li Yu were talented poets. Nan Tang's cultural and artistic endeavors laid a strong foundation for the Song Dynasty (960-1279). 

Another Boom

Zhu Yuanzhang, the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) ascended the throne in 1368. He changed Yingtian Fu to Nanjing and declared it to be the country's capital. This is when the name of Nanjing first appears in Chinese History. The following 21 years saw many new construction projects and renovations to old Yingtian Fu. A 34 kilometers (21 miles) brick city wall was completed around the city limits, and the city took on prominence in China and the world. The magnificent imperial palace was situated in the eastern portion of the city. Though the capital has since moved to Beijing (the move was directed by the fourth emperor) Nanjing was also maintained as a capital city and used as the blueprint for the design of Beijing's Forbidden City.

The shift in leadership from Ming to Qing (1644-1911) did no harm to Nanjing. In the early years of the Qing Dynasty, the silk industry boomed here. The court specifically established Jiangning Weaving and Fabric Manufacturing Official. One of the four great classical novels in Chinese History, Hong Lou Meng (Dream of the Red Mansions) was set in this background. 
Mausoleum of Zhu Yuanzhang
Stone Elephants Statues along the Sacred Way,
Mausoleum of Zhu Yuanzhang
Zhanyuan Garden,  Former Residence of the Taiping Rebellion Leaders
Zhanyuan Garden, Former Residence
of the Taiping Rebellion Leaders
Nanjing Aftermath

Taiping Kingdom, a revolutionary anti-Qing regime in late Qing, wrought havoc on its capital, Nanjing. After the Qing Regime was overthrown, Nanjing became the capital of the Republic of China led by Sun Yat-Sen and Chiang Kai-Shek. The Nanjing Massacre, which took place in 1937, has left a lasting scar on the city. A new page in city history, though, was turned in April of 1949, when the city achieved liberation.
- Last modified on May. 03, 2018 -
Questions & Answers on Nanjing History
Asked by Randy from CANADA | Aug. 08, 2015 20:09Reply
how many dynasties Has Nanjing been its capital
self explanatory really NJ has been the capital to how MANY Dynasties
Answers (1)
Answered by Sally from UNITED KINGDOM | Aug. 08, 2015 20:22

As I heard, it had been the capital airport for 6 dynasties, including Wu, Eastern Jin, Song, Qi, Liang and Chen Dynasty.
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