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One out of twelve: Zhong-Hua Gate, A Desolate Place

By Tianyi Chen

I stood solely on the citadel of Zhong-Hua Gate, a gate of the city-wall that was built to protect Nanjing’s wealthiest place from attack six hundred years ago. Now that this part of the city has long ceased to be the wealthiest, it has only miles and miles of cement houses remaining.


Long was the wall’s history, and a bleach world this place was. Looking from the citadel and only tiled roofs were seen. Stood desolately in the burning sum at noon, she, the antique city-wall, glimmered a kind of weird, blackened-gray light. After staring at it for a long time, the terra-algae attached to her body which have almost been weathered to dust suddenly glowed a mysterious green light under the seemingly combustible sunlight.


So dated were the bricks that they seem not so stern in the 37 centigrade weather. The bricks were alike, they duplicate themselves and from lines and surfaces and sprawl to the next hill and to farther places. The duplicating patterns of the city-wall and the seemingly twisted air lead me gradually to the edge of the citadel, that’s when I took a complete look at the little world under Zhong-Hua Gate, a bleak world embedded in the vigorous city, a world stood quietly in serenity and desolation in the burning summer sun.


This bleak place allured me in a different way than the boisterous places did. The region that I currently live in and the places I always went to were colorful and flamboyant comparing to the one under Zhong-Hua Gate, filled with sophisticated talks and beautiful sounds. But it was this one under the city-wall instead of the other noisy places that offered me a long-parted sense of a homeland, a cozy place to dwell my soul in. I’ve never been to this place before but she offered a mysterious affection, a strange comfort, an unexplainable tenderness, which made me accept it as one of my homelands.


No other people are able to explain why I love almost all stark places, since this feeling was buried in my soul from a young age, maybe from my impression of the first living place in my life. Ah my dear homelands which have long been desolated! Should one’s homeland always be a fixed place? My homelands which I can remember have already been a lot of places. Some of them have been changing fast, but it was always their bleached version that remain in my memories. The bleach places are mysterious in my impression, and aren’t those bleak places with pure serenity and complete cozy more likely to foster lovely, moving, tearful fruits of people’s thoughts?


The colors of desolation also form a fantasy. Smoky-gray, light-gray, the brownish yellow of a desert, the inky-blue glows of the horizon which is about to pass away, and the solitary brightness floating in the vault of the night-sky, have all been the most beautiful themes of human poetry. The arias about decent love-stories were merely the amusement of noblemen, only the poems about a feeling of wilderness belonged to the creations of admirable figures. Please read the lines by Yesenin “The rope tied my neck, and dragged me through the desert, I stepped on the wind-blown crinkles, and was led to the long desolated home. Please check “The Night Courier” by Паусто́вский, please listen to the calls from every part of human history in the wild, which express the desire and craving to the mysterious desolation, you’ll feel this craving, too.


Please take an unbending look at the relatively more outdated side of your city, like the one under Zhong-Hua Gate. The horizon was smoky-gray, and tiled, worn houses filled every inch of space, containing the most ordinary people struggling in the mud sill of work, debt and life. The walls were iron-gray, the doorbells were eroded and there might not even be a place to turn inside the room. The people inside it might be fixed in this commonplace living-path in their entire life, I was surely moved and touched by this scene, since I should have been one of them myself. I was not born in a modern city, it’s a coincidence in the unknown fate that brought me to Nanjing. I should have lived ordinarily, entering a featureless school in a small city, enrolling in a university within the province and replicate my parents’ life. Had my destiny never brought me here I might never know there is a lifestyle on the earth like my current life. I might never have the chance to enter my city and my high-school which is apparently very eminent to those in the city I was born in. I still remember the desolated yard which I have lived in, the experiences of the first few years in my life have embedded an ardent love for bleak places in my heart, creating a soul of a traveler. I have always been exploring desolate places around me and pry into bleach places in my own heart. Wandering without mundane disturbing means mooching, and I have been mooching since three or four years old. At that time, I rode a bicycle and dawdled on the untrodden playground, never recognized by any creature. That feeling of free roaming have been the first in all these years, and the sweatiest also.  


Since as a child I was short, so the sky seemed so high, since I could not see very far, the land seemed so broad, broader than all the other grasslands I have seen later. I casted out a boomerang, but was never able to reach the edge of the sky, could this not be called high? The tilted hill in front of my yard, the pines, the brooks, the sound of sawing wood in the locked backyard was all remembered by me, but all the people living in that neighborhood was so far from me now, and they continued their ordinary but serene life in that tiny old city. Then were the starting years of me and it still seems mysterious that the first few years have fixed a girl’s craving of her entire life, building a mooching soul. The one who loved the nature and loved wandering from the starting point of life was me, a little moocher. At the quiet desolate places, hides the first wandering steps of my feet, I am sure that this memory is true.


I heard a call on the wild, the wild is a forbidden fruit hidden afar rom city, dragging my heart to her. She is the comeliest place but could not be touched readily. When I was in that tiny yard the time seemed bizarrely long. I sat on the highest of the stairs and watched the college students marching by, the sunlight poured over my body like melted-gold. The sun moved quietly and I had possession over all the time in the world, without the slightest concept of days or months. And what is a year then? A year is an inexhaustible continuum which end is never viewable. Now a year is divided by eight school-tests. But who could escape this? As years went on the painstaking tasks have gradually stuck themselves to us!


Ah, I’ve at last become the slaves of this mundane world! Many times I thought of when I was not in a tangle with the cumbersome school tasks, what free, blissful days I was leading. In that homeland which has long been desolate were every type of beauty which could have been recognized by human censors, though there have never been any mundane enjoyments, anyway I’ve never paid attention to them. What mundane enjoyments would possibly exist in a desolate yard with only conifer, wood-sticks and clotheslines? I am not unaware of what mundane enjoyment is, but I hope to get out of them. They were only barriers between me and my long loved wild land.


Oh my lovely desolate lands, I should use all my power to praise your beauty. All that remain in the past days, have always been the pearl-like freedom which I’ll forever possess. When ruled by none and recognized by no body, the entire world in under my control. The congested world suddenly become empty and bleach, which is just my favorite realm, is the homeland of my heart, is where my soul has relaxed.


Why I have said so much about my feelings and memories instead of paying attention to the building styles and the historical background behind the city-walls of Zhong-Hua Gate? The magnificent building styles should be left for the architectures to study, the combination of the antique bricks should belong to the archaeologists to explore, and I can’t make so many differences out of these complicated things. Anyway if we add a few decorations on it and install a wooden fort, it may look like any other city gates in Nanjing, the city-gates themselves were almost all built by one group of people and in the same era. However, on Xuan-Wu Gate I could see the crystal surface of the Xuan-WU lake, on Liberation gate the golden glows of Ji-Ming Temple can be appreciated and here on Zhong-Hua gate gray tiles were seen. Tourists are going to remind themselves of a piece of love story, or a happy memory, or whatever goes into their mind. Every gate of Nanjing city-wall dwells in a different kind of scenery and people have developed distinct feelings when observing them. This is the most important difference of these gates, the true joy of visiting them, and the intrinsic value of the old city-gates.

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