Steeped in history, Beijing East and West Roads have since 1949 been home to the city’s most important government bodies and military bases. Considered to be the centre of Nanjing, sits the splendid Nanjing City People’s Municipal Government, located off Beijing East Road.
Walking past the Municipal Government gates, one could be forgiven for mistaking it as an ancient palace of sorts, as the structure of the buildings beyond depict a somewhat Ming or Qing dynasty style; sweeping Chinese pointed roof tops sit adjacent to hundred year old trees.
From here, head west onto Beijing West Road and you will discover possibly one of the most pleasant places to take a stroll in the city of Nanjing; the old consulate district. Behind the French Planer trees flanking the road and cooling the area from the city’s long and sweaty summers, sit some of Nanjing’s most interesting buildings; the once the majestic homes of diplomats and officials or the villas of foreign visitors.
Before these homes were built, the area used to be a deserted ravine of cultivated land. During the early years of the Republic of China, Jinling University (now Nanjing Normal University) was built on the southwestern side of the Drum Tower, while sections of the road began to form one after another from 1933 on.
When the “Western styled garden houses” were built, circa 1933-34, the road was known as Beiping Road. After the war against the Japanese ended in 1947, it was extended to accommodate the US Advisory Group Apartment Building (now the Huadong Hotel) on its southern side. Interestingly, it wasn’t until 1958 when construction of the Ninghai eastern section and Gulou square began, adding an asphalt pavement by 1959.
Impressively, Beijing West Road is home to the Nanjing Public Security Fire Station (the former Japanese Embassy), Purple Mountain Observatory, the former Indian embassy, Department of Justice, the former site of the Chinese-English Association, Jiangsu Provincial Government, Sicheng Modern Art and Creative Park, Nanjing Institute of Technology and the Jiangsu Institute of Education, to name a few.
Take a stroll down Beijing West Road in a westerly direction from its intersection with Ninghai Road and delight in the yesteryear that was China pre Mao. Colonial homes of English, French and German architecture still stand tall, telling us stories of the Republican Era, of the glitz and glamour enjoyed by military officers and cigar-smoking diplomats.
The street stretches on, flanked by vast walls that enclose these very European structures. No doubt, at some point, there will be a gate left open, offering a peek beyond that reveals, in most cases, life for their occupants these days is not so glamorous. Little reconstruction has been done on the majority of homes; cold, dark concrete steps lead to doorless openings that shield nothing inside from out. With no mod cons for the majority of properties, we are forced to ponder whether people really live within.
It is common knowledge that much of this area is now owned by the military and that each property is so expensive, only billionaires can entertain thoughts of a purchase. To be sat on such a gold mine, the fact that they have been left as cold empty shells speaks to a secret agenda as well as a reminder of Nanjing’s distant past.
Recently, I found myself wandering down Shanghai’s Fuxing Middle Road; not only has it very similar colonial buildings to Nanjing’s Beijing West Rd, but all of them have been gloriously restored, each one spick and span, shiny and new. Vines creep up the sides of one of the buildings that at one stage in its life was home to none other than Mr. Chiang Kai Shek himself.
Back here in Nanjing, it now being Autumn is the most splendid time to catch the leaves beneath your feet as they fall one by one from the trees beside the homes along Beijing West Road.
Located in Gulou District, Beijing West Road runs east to west and totals 3,412 metres in length.