Friday, March 4, 2011

Nanjing Normal University

After my Friday class this week, Jill and I set off to find Nanjing Normal University, located only about a half-mile from Nanjing University, and the successor to (a part of) Ginling College. Those of you in Grinnell will be familiar with the scholarship of Jin Feng who has written about Ginling and the women of Ginling. I won't pretend to be able to retail the entire, somewhat complicated history of Ginling, but, as I understand it, by 1952 Nanjing Normal absorbed most of what had been Ginling College, including the remarkable buildings constructed in the early 1920s.

Having spent its early years in the unsatisfactory "House of a Hundred Rooms," Ginling College and several of its patrons in the late 1910s embarked on a fund-raising program intended to secure land and buildings for a new campus. The result of several efforts was a brand-new campus that opened in October 1923 on the site of today's Nanjing Normal University.  Jin Feng's book, The Making of a Family Saga: Ginling College (SUNY, 2009), quotes Mathilda Thurston (Ginling's first president) describing the new college home: "The academic quadrangle opened on the east, looking directly toward Purple Mountain, with the roofs of the University of Nanking about half a mile away...The Recitation Building stood on the north side of the quadrangle, and the Science Building faced it on the south. The Social and Athletic Building, a gift of the Smith College alumnae, dominated the group, and was considered by many to be the best example up to that time of Chinese style in architecture adapted to modern uses" (72-73).  This core of Ginling remains visible today.

Although, like Nanjing University, over the years more buildings (many of less distinctive design) have been added to the growing campus, Nanjing Normal seems to be maintaining these buildings relatively well, and one can observe new paint on most of the original structures.

These buildings, still a marvel today, clearly provoked much admiration from the very beginning. Jin Feng quotes Ginling Professor of Sociology Mary Treudley on the impression she received from the new campus, describing it as "Chinese temples adapted to the use of Western science," and likening the entire complex to the Forbidden City in Beijing, "with their massive red pillars, overhanging curved roofs adorned with gargoyles, and ornate, brilliantly colored decorations underneath eaves" (ibid., 72). These details, too, remain which, along with campus lighting schemes and window designs, help create a quite delightful effect.

Almost a century after the college opened its new campus, it is still easy to appreciate what an impression the new facilities made, and the passage of time has only highlighted the way in which plantings have created a visually-pleasing backdrop. Indeed, we encountered here many elderly Chinese out for a stroll where they could enjoy themselves without the worry and noise of the usual street traffic.

 Students could be seen studying (or playing with the cellphones or iPods) in the walkway that stretches across a pond to the west, and the loggias that connect many of the university buildings helped join the various buildings into an architectural unit.
And on such a lovely day, one might even see some future Nanjing Normal students out for a "stroll" with their mother and grandmother.

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