Nanjing is known for its many bridges and for being the former capital of China. On the other hand, many may not know that it is home to the Zifeng Tower, one of the tallest buildings in the world. Or perhaps that it is the city that once occupied a Japanese military headquarters.
25-year-old expat from Scotland and art columnist for The Nanjinger, Francesca Leiper, has made it her goal to inform residents of Nanjing’s most hidden gems.
“I live in close proximity to a lot of historical places in Nanjing that are not well-known. After discovering these buildings, I realised there is a lot to see here and I want to share it with others,” mentioned Leiper.
During Leiper’s tour, one will take a scroll through Nanjing and learn fascinating details about the places to be visited. For example, the plain office building that has lost its appeal on Zhongshan Bei Lu was actually once the Supreme Court of National Government, back in 1928. She also explains that the Librarie Avant-Garde, which was named China’s most beautiful bookshop by the BBC in 2014, once served as Japanese military police headquarters during the Nanjing Massacre.
Leiper strategically uses her background in Chinese Art History to describe the designs and architecture of the buildings, in relevance to their history. She also uses items such as coins, postcards, and maps to keep the tourist interested and to help create an interactive learning experience.
Throughout the tour, one learns about how China was colonised by many different countries in the early-20th century and how each has left their trace. Facts that are mentioned include the creation of Tsingtao beer by German settlers in 1903, as well as the design of the Yuan dollar by an Italian engraver. Expats in Nanjing from different countries may learn how their country helped shape China in the early 20th century, and how it continues to have an impact on the country today.
Theater professor at Nanjing University, Bill Aitchison, talking with the Nanjinger, said, “There’s a shortage of tour guides here, so people don’t usually get this type of service, especially those who are not studying Chinese history. Buildings are just buildings but to have someone explain the history behind the building is a beautiful thing”.
Since this was only Francesca’s second tour, there are still tweaks and improvements that can be made to further benefit participants, especially in terms of creating a more organised story flow that will make it easier for the tourist to follow.
“There were a lot of names and dates thrown around. Setting up the tour so that the dates are in chronological order would really help create a narrative and make it easier for the tourists to remember the facts,” stated Aitchison.
Leiper’s goal is to have her tours open up parts of Nanjing that we may walk past everyday but know little about. She hopes to share these historical places with other people, especially those who are new to Nanjing and unaware of its invaluable history.
Contact Francesca Leiper in Nanjing via WeChat; ID: frleiper