2016/03/16

History of Yangzhou

 

Yangzhou (simplified Chinese: 扬州; traditional Chinese: 揚州; pinyin: Yángzhōu; former spellings: Yang-chou, Yangchow, Yang-chow; literally "Rising Prefecture") is a prefecture-level city in central Jiangsu province, People's Republic of China. Sitting on the northern bank of the Yangtze River, it borders the provincial capital of Nanjing to the southwest, Huai'an to the north, Yancheng to the northeast, Taizhou to the east, and Zhenjiang across the river to the south. Historically it is one of the wealthiest of China's cities, known at various periods for its great merchant families, poets, painters, and scholars.

Its population is 4,414,681 at the 2010 census and its built up area is home to 2,146,980 inhabitants including three urban districts plus currently in the agglomeration.

History

The first settlement in the Yangzhou area, called Guangling (广陵, Kuang-Ling) was founded in the Spring and Autumn Period. After the defeat of Yue by King Fuchai of Wu a garrison city was built 12 metres (39 ft) above water level on the northern bank of the Yangtze River c 485 BCE. This city in the shape of a three by three li square was called Hancheng. The newly created Han canal formed a moat around the south and east sides of the city. The purpose of Hancheng was to protect Suzhou from naval invasion from the Qi. In 590 CE, the city began to be called Yangzhou, which was the traditional name of what was then the entire southeastern part of China.

Under the second Sui Dynasty (581–617 CE) Emperor Yangdi (r. 604–617), Yangzhou was the southern capital of China and called Jiangdu upon the completion of the Jinghang (Grand) Canal until the fall of the dynasty. The city has remained a leading economic and cultural center and major port of foreign trade and external exchange since the Tang Dynasty (618-907). At one time many Arab and Persian merchants lived in the city in the 7th century but they were massacred in the thousands in 760 CE during the An Shi Rebellion by the Tian Shengong's (T'ien Shen-kung) 田神功 rebel insurgents during the Yangzhou massacre (760). During the Tang Dynasty many merchants from Korea's Silla Dynasty also lived in Yangzhou. There were also Arabic inscriptions from the 1200s and 1300s.

The city, still known as Guangling, was briefly made the capital of the Wu Kingdom during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period.

In 1280 AD, Yangzhou was the site of a massive gunpowder explosion when the bomb store of the Weiyang arsenal accidentally caught fire. This blast killed over a hundred guards, hurled debris from buildings into the air that landed ten li away from the site of the explosion, and could be felt 100 li away as tiles on roofs shook (refer to gunpowder article).

Marco Polo claimed to have served in Yangzhou under the Mongol emperor Kubilai Khan in the period around 1282-1287 (to 1285, according to Perkins). Although some versions of Polo's memoirs imply that he was the governor of Yangzhou, it is more likely that he was an official in the salt industry, if indeed he was employed there at all. Chinese texts offer no supporting evidence for his claim. The discovery of the 1342 tomb of Katarina Vilioni, member of an Italian trading family in Yangzhou, does, however, suggest the existence of a thriving Italian community in the city in the 14th century.

During the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) until the 19th century Yangzhou acted as a major trade exchange center for salt (a government regulated commodity), rice, and silk. The Ming were largely responsible for building the city as it now stands and surrounding it with 9 kilometres (5.6 mi) of walls.

After the fall of Beijing and northern China to the Manchus in 1644, Yangzhou remained under the control of the short-lived Ming loyalist government of the so-called Hongguang Emperor, based in Nanjing. The Qing forces, led by Prince Dodo, reached Yangzhou in the spring of 1645, and despite the heroic efforts of its chief defender, Shi Kefa, the city fell on May 20, 1645, after a brief siege. A ten-day massacre followed, in which, as it was traditionally alleged, 800,000 people died. Shi Kefa himself was killed by the Manchus as well, after he refused to switch his allegiance to the Qing regime.

The city's rapid recovery from these events and its great prosperity through the early and middle years of the Qing dynasty were due to its role as administrative center of the Lianghuai sector of the government salt monopoly. As early as 1655, the Dutch envoy Johan Nieuhof described the city (Jamcefu, i.e. Yangzhou-Fu, in his transcription) commented on the city's salt trade as follows:

This Trade alone has so very much enrich'd the Inhabitants of this Town, that they have re-built their City since the last destruction by the Tartars, erecting it in as great splendor as it was at first.

Famed at that time and since for literature, art, and the gardens of its merchant families, many of which were visited by the Kangxi and Qianling emperors during their Southern Tours, the Qing-era Yangzhou has been the focus of intensive research by historians.

The Yangzhou riot in 1868 was a pivotal moment of Anglo-Chinese relations during the late Qing Dynasty that almost led to war. The crisis was fomented by the gentry of the city who opposed the presence of foreign Christian missionaries there. The riot that resulted was an angry crowd estimated at eight to ten thousand who assaulted the premises of the British China Inland Mission in Yangzhou by looting, burning and attacking the missionaries led by Hudson Taylor. No one was killed, however several of the missionaries were injured as they were forced to flee for their lives. As a result of the report of the riot, the British consul in Shanghai, Sir Walter Henry Medhurst took seventy Royal marines in a Man of war and steamed up the Yangtze to Nanjing in a controversial show of force that eventually resulted in an official apology from Viceroy Zeng Guofan and financial restitution made to the injured missionaries.

From the time of the Taiping Rebellion (1853) to the end of the Communist revolution (1949) Yangzhou was in decline, due to war damage and neglect of the Grand Canal as railways replaced it in importance. During the anti-Japanese War it endured eight years of enemy occupation and was used by the Japanese as a site for internment camps. Hundreds of civilian "aliens" from Shanghai were transported here in 1943, and located in one of three camps (A, B, and C). Camp C, located in the former American Mission in the north-west of the city, was maintained for the duration of the war.

Among early plans for railways in the late Qing was one for a line that would connect Yangzhou to the north, but this was jettisoned in favour of an alternative route. The city's status as a leading economic centre in China was never to be restored. Not until the 1990s did it begin to regain some semblance of prosperity, benefitting from national economic growth and a number of targeted development projects. With the canal now partially restored, and excellent rail and road connections, Yangzhou is once again an important transportation and market center. It also has some industrial output, chiefly in cotton and textiles. In 2004, a railway linked Yangzhou for the first time with Nanjing.

Extended Reading


Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou

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