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Exploring historical changes of names of Nanjing

Author  :  SUN HAIYAN     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2019-08-06

Historical Names of Nanjing

Nanjing has had more than 70 names during its 2500 year history, names such as Yecheng, Yuecheng, Jinling, Moling, Jiankang, Yangzhou, Jianye and Baimen. In Historical Names of Nanjing, Lu Haiming analyzes the origins of these names and their specific meanings, and he argues that the changes of the names of Nanjing reflect not only the long history of Nanjing, but also its changes in the political status.

Surrounded on three sides by mountains and the Yangtze River on the remaining side, the terrain of Nanjing is easy to defend and difficult to attack. The wars between the Central Plains in the late Eastern Han Dynasty (25–220) led to the first instance when Nanjing became a capital city of a local political power. In 211, Sun Quan, the founder and the first emperor of the Wu State of the Three Kingdoms Period (220–280), moved his ruling center from Jingkou (present-day Zhenjiang) to Moling (present-day Nanjing). In 212, he changed the name of Moling to Jianye, literally meaning “to establish a great cause.” In 229, Sun Quan established the Wu State and claimed to be the king in Wuchang (present-day Ezhou). In the autumn of the same year, Sun Quan moved the capital to Jianye, which was the beginning of Nanjing as a capital city. 

In addition to being the political and cultural center of local authorities, Nanjing has also been capital of a great unified dynasty, namely the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644). In 1368, Zhu Yuanzhang established the Ming Dynasty and claimed to be the king in Yingtianfu (Nanjing). In 1421, the Emperor Zhu Di moved the capital to Beijing, while maintaining Nanjing’s function as a capital at the same time. This left Nanjing as the political, military, economic and cultural center in south China, second only to Beijing.

Among the many names of Nanjing, some are more worthy of our attention, such as Guihua County of the Tang Dynasty (618–907). Guihua, literally meaning surrender, contains a certain humiliating connotation, named after a peasant uprising army that was forced to rebel against the Sui Dynasty (581–618) but finally surrendered to the central government of the Tang Dynasty. The Tang changed the name of the county from Jiangning County to Guihua County, which portrayed the Tang Dynasty’s condescending attitude towards the Jiangnan separatist regimes. It can be seen that the administrative levels and corresponding names of Nanjing in the past have been greatly influenced by political factors. 

Due to Nanjing’s economic and cultural strength, unified dynasties usually would try to suppress and regulate Nanjing in the early days of their founding, but in the middle and late periods of these regimes, Nanjing’s status would gradually recover and sometimes even be chosen as a reserve capital.



(Edited by YANG LANLAN)

Editor: Yu Hui

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