The Tianfeng Tower in Ningbo, China was originally built during the Tang Dynasty in the late 7th Century, then again rebuilt during the Song Dynasty in the mid 1th Century, and finally reconstructed for the last time in 1989. It is part of the Cheng Huang Temple Complex (or “city god’s temple”) that is largely reminiscent of the complex that resides in Shanghai. Ningbo is slightly less than 150 miles from Shanghai, the largest city in the Republic of China, and the most populated on Earth. Ningbo is no village though, it has over 7 million inhabitants. The Tianfeng Tower (sometimes referred to as the Tianfeng Pagoda) is the tallest ancient structure in the city at just over 50 meters, with seven stories being above ground and seven below. Its original construction was heavily dependent on large piles of silt to prop up the bricks used to make the tower; and due to the excess of silt brought in for the project, they created two streets bordering the infrastructure – both properly named in Chinese as “big silt street” and “small silt street.”
Ningbo’s history is rich. Since the Tang Dynasty it has been a key port for the nation, and it has also become a major center for technology and development. Geely, a Chinese car manufacturer, is set to build a $400 million dollar powertrain manufacturing center in the city with construction set to be completed by 2015. Geely is most well-known for its purchase of Volvo Cars in 2010. Another infrastructure project under way in the growing city is the Hangzhou-Ningbo high-speed railway. Set to begin operation this July, the railway will reach speeds of over 350 km/hour, reducing travel time by 36 minutes for those that commute the 150-km trek.
As alluded to above, the city has a history steeped in culture, change and revolt. During the Ming Dynasty in the mid-16th Century, what has become to be known as the Ningbo Massacre of 1542 took place. Portugal was heavily involved in the control of trade in many of the Asian countries at the time, and had created numerous settlements in the Ningbo area. The Portuguese treatment of the Chinese was far less than respectable, and it created an atmosphere of hostility between the two nationalities. The Portuguese’ practices included pillaging and enslavement, and the natives of Ningbo had had enough. A force of 60,000 Chinese troops came down upon the 1,200 Portuguese, and took Ningbo back for the motherland. This was not the only moment of conflict with Portugal, as later in the 1800s, there was the Ningpo Massacre, a collaboration with Cantonese pirates to attack Portuguese ships. The Portuguese had been raiding ships in the ports of Ningbo, and action had to be taken.
It seems obvious that relations between Portugal and China were at one time very strained, but as the decades have rolled by, the relationship appears to have improved. Portugal maintained its colony of Macau (the last remaining European colony in China) until 1999, and then returned its jurisdiction to China. After 450 years of colonization, Portugal took a major step to making amends with the eastern nation, and today their trade is largely based around cultural exchanges. In 2005, the two nations reaffirmed their ‘friendship’ through a formal doctrine.
Ningbo is a city that boasts both the old and the new. Home to the oldest wooden structure in Southern China, the Baoguo Temple, it was built around 1,000 A.D. Its origin is linked to Mahayana Buddhism, one of its two main branches. It is a structure that many with cultural or religious interests make pilgrimages to, and is the ‘other-side of the coin’ to the ever-growing industries that dot the Ningbo skyline. Progressive and timeless, Ningbo has a foot both in the past and in the future.