Republic of China culture wakens in former capital

Story highlights

  • Nanjing, a city of 8 million in eastern China, was previously the Chinese capital
  • Chiang Kai-shek headquartered his nationalist Kuomintang government here until 1949
  • Now the city is making a comeback thanks to its links with its republican past
  • Tourists flock here to sample the food, music and culture of this era
Nanjing, a city of 8 million in eastern China, is the capital of the coastal Jiangsu Province.
But some 80 years ago it was the capital of China.
The revolutionary Sun Yat-sen founded the Republic of China (ROC) here in 1912 after playing an instrumental role in overthrowing the Qing dynasty, the last of the Imperial eras in China.
Sun's successor, Chiang Kai-shek, headquartered his nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) government here from 1927 until the Communist Party pushed them from the mainland in 1949 and moved the capital north to Beijing.
This gave Nanjing, whose name literally means the "southern capital," something of an identity crisis.
But 64 years after the end of the KMT's rule, the city seems to have found its place again as a legacy of Minguo, or the Republic of China. From tourism to dining to real estate, many Nanjing businesses are selling themselves with a nod to the former capital's nationalist past.
The city's main center of nightlife, known simply as 1912, is named and themed after the founding year of the Republic.
Located a stone's throw from the KMT's Presidential Palace, century-old villas are revamped and dolled-up to house bars and restaurants. The complex boasts of its "classic Minguo cultural significance" on its website.
Walking around the city's commercial center, Xinjiekou, it's common to see billboards and video screens advertising new real estate known for its "Minguo flavor."
Yihe Road was the city's Legation Quarter in the early 20th century and is lined up with distinctive Minguo-style architecture -- exquisite and painstakingly intricate Chinese carvings decorate the otherwise European façade.
The quiet 500-meter strip has in recent years been renovated by authorities to resemble its former Republican glory.
While culture-lovers swarm here to trace Nanjing's olden-day charms, university graduates are often seen taking graduation photos in retro Republican-style outfits. Instead of run-of-the-mill black robes, male students don Chinese tunic suits, known as Sun Yat-sen suits, while females wear ocean-blue, wrap-up tops and black cotton skirts.