QIJIAWAN, NANJING, MARCH 2013. We walk around in the Qijiawan area of Nanjing (a previous post dedicated to the upcoming destruction and new development of this area can be found here). Qijiawan is located in the Baixia District. “Qi” means “seven”, “Jia” means “family” and “Wan” means harbor or bay. A Nanjing local tells us about the origin of Qijiawan. One day Zhu Yuanzhang, the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty, visited the area incognito during the Lantern Festival. He saw a picture of a woman with big (unbound) feet and with a watermelon in her arms. This was an evident sarcasm referring to his wife and his big headed son. He got so angry that he killed all the people in the area, except for seven families who had no lanterns hanging out to celebrate the festival.
The name “Qijiawan”, however, comes from a true historical event. In 1413, General Zhang Ban succeeded in suppressing the Muslim rebellion in Ningxia. He settled the Muslim aristocrats in Shuiximen, a historical location in Nanjing. “Qijia” referred to the seven major family names of these Muslims; namely Tao, Ma, Ding, Yao, Ha, Mo and Bai. Hence, Qijianwan became the first gathering place of Muslims in Nanjing. These Muslims and their offspring have exerted significant influences on the culture in Nanjing. Good examples can be found in Nanjing’s cooking customs; the famous fried dumpling and boiled salted duck originate from Qijiawan.
We walk along the Dading Alley. “Dading” means “making nails”. The name of Dading Alley came from craftsmen who made nails during the Ming Dynasty. Once being a renowned business area in Ming and Qing Dynasty, and still bustling place during the period of the Republic of China, today this alley is no longer prosperous. It has turned into a residential area with muddy streets and a lot of graffiti on the walls of the residential buildings.
A middle-aged couple run a poultry shop in Dading Alley. They do not allow us to take photos of them as they are afraid that these photos could trigger city inspectors to visit them and ask questions about their business. They sell chicken for 22 RMB each, duck for 17 RMB and pigeons for 25 RMB each. They tell that their monthly income of selling poultry is nearly 2,000 RMB, which is as much as the salary a labor worker earns per month. Yet Mr. Ma, the interviewee we meet later claims that the couple lie about their real income. He says that they can earn 8 RMB per kilo, so guesses that their monthly income is a multiple of the stated 2,000 RMB.
Opposite of the poultry shop we see several fruit peddlers. Among the peddlers, there is a family from Anhui and a man who has lived in Nanjing for 20 years. They sell sugarcane and the man boasts about the quality of his sugarcane. Referring to my background he says: “Your country is much wealthier than our country.” We reply that a lot of Chinese people have become very rich as well over the last 10 years. The man disagrees and claims that only the upper class people are rich. “Most Chinese, like us, do not have a lot of money,” he adds. He then points to the new houses behind him and tells: “Only affluent people can buy these mansions, because they are sold at a price of over ten million RMB each one.” “Are these houses large inside?” we ask him. “Of course, they are all very large and expensive! Each square meter costs 50,000 RMB.”
Walking through the Dading Alley, we come to another alley named “Ganyu”, which means “dried fish”. Located near the Qinhuai River, this alley is well known for its specialty: dried fish. Deep into this alley, we meet Mr. Ma Deming at his home.
Mr. Ma, 65 year old, was laid off in 1998 and got divorced with his wife the same year. Since his mother’s death ten years ago, he lives alone in his small one-story house with two rooms. He has no income except for a 2000 RMB pension every month. Mr. Ma’s house, built 50 years ago, looks old and shabby. He is rather unhappy with his living conditions and complains: “The officials merely concerns about their own profits. For all the time, they have been busy with auctioning lands in the countryside – who cares about us?”
Mr. Ma invites us into his house and introduces us to the Muslim elements of his house. “My ancestors were all foreigners,” he shows us a genealogy book of his family. The book contains a chronological recording of all the generations of his family and stories about them. In 755 A.D., his Arabic ancestors first came to China to help the Tang emperor to suppress the An Lushan Rebellion. He then shows us a picture album made by the Islamic organization in Nanjing. A number of his family members, including his father, once were imams and his cousin was the president of the Muslim organization.
Mr. Ma belongs to the Hui people. Unlike his mother who attends religious services every week, Mr. Ma only attends at times. “Due to my belief in Islam, I usually don’t eat meat,” Mr. Ma says, “However, lots of Hui people here no longer conform by the rule of not eating meat, because the mosques in Nanjing are not as strict as those in the Northwest area.“ At that moment, a neighbor wants to interrupt him. Mr. Ma stops him abruptly: “Shut your mouth! You are not Huimin at all!” His neighbor objects and they quarrel for a while.
At the end of our visit, Mr. Ma shows us some pictures of old buildings, especially of the largest mosque in Nanjing. He shows a photo with the emblem of the National Party on the gate of the mosque. Now, the Communist administration has changed it into the emblem of the Republic of China.
A couple runs a recycling station of waste material by Dingxin Road, together with their twin sons and two relatives. At first they are hesitant to be photographed for fear of the city inspectors, but later they agree it is all right. They purchase waste paper at 0.7 RMB per kilo, and then sell it out at 0.8 RMB per kilo to the recycling paper manufacturers in Ma Anshan, Anhui. Their monthly income is around 6,000 RMB, which is considered a very good income. They tell us: “Now that everything is increasingly expensive, few people are willing to do low-paying jobs today.”