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The name Nanjing means Southern Capital, and for six dynastic periods, as well as during the country's brief tenure as the Republic of China, the city was China's administrative capital. It was never as successful a capital as Beijing, and the locals chalk up the failures of several dynasties here to bad timing, but it could be that the laid-back atmosphere of the Yangtze Delta just isn't as suited to political intrigue as the north.

Nanjing offers travelers significantly more sites of historical importance than Shanghai. Among the most impressive are the remnants of the colossal Ming Dynasty city wall, built by 200,000 laborers to protect the new capital in the 14th century. A number of important monuments, tombs, and gates reflect the glory and instability of Nanjing's incumbency.

The city lies on the Yangtze, and the Yangtze River Bridge or the more subdued park at Swallow Rock are great places for viewing the river. The sheer amount of activity on the water is testimony to its continued importance as a corridor for shipping and trade. Downtown, the streets are choked with traffic, but the chaotic scene is easily avoided with a visit to any of the large parks. You can also take a short taxi ride to Zijin (Purple) Mountain, where quiet trails lead between Ming Tomb and the grand mausoleum of Sun Yat-sen.

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