Nanjing. It has been the seat of numerous dynasties and kingdoms since the third century, making it one of the four ancient Chinese capitals. Famous Tang and Song poets and writers congregated, lived, and honed their craft in this city, which saw the establishment of China’s first literary academy in 438 and the completion of the world’s largest encyclopedia, Yongle Dadian, in 1408. Nanjing was China’s most important publishing center, providing European readers with the first translations of the Confucian canon some five centuries ago.

Largely considered the inspiration for the classic work of literature Dream of the Red Chamber, Nanjing also featured prominently in Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth. In fact, over 10,000 literary works have been created in, or written about, Nanjing—more than any other Chinese city. This continuous 1,800-year literary tradition prompted its designation as a UNESCO City of Literature in 2019.

Now the capital of Jiangsu Province, Nanjing is home to Phoenix Publishing and Media Group (PPMG), which ranked ninth on the 2021 Global 50 publishing list. So it is most appropriate that PPMG’s first volume of Jiangsu Translated Literature, a new series launched in December 2021, pays homage to the city’s rich history and culture with the inclusion of Ye Zhaoyan’s Nanjing: The Story of a Chinese City. This 588-page nonfiction work is now published in English, Malaysian, Russian, Thai, and Vietnamese.

A versatile third-generation writer who has penned 28 books, including a seven-volume set of collected works, Ye has a unique understanding of Nanjing derived from writing about the city for over 40 years. His work ranges from historical fiction to detective stories and avant-garde literature, with many of his books translated into English, including Nanjing 1937: A Love Story, published by Columbia University Press, and A Flower’s Shade, How Stubborn Our Hearts, and Other People’s Love, published by Simon & Schuster.

For Nanjing: The Story of a Chinese City, Ye mined China’s historical records and looked at China through the lens of Nanjing in different eras. So when he wrote about the city during the Tang dynasty, for instance, poet Li Bai’s influence and romantic mission to get the dynasty’s capital moved from Chang’an to Nanjing was a part of the story. Ye sought the answers to questions such as: How has Nanjing developed since 211? What is the historical significance of the ancient names of sites such as Moling, Jianye, Stone City, and Jiankang? How did the urban system evolve from bamboo fences to the Ming city wall? What kind of legacies and legends did figures such as emperor Sun Quan, poet Li Bai, Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci, and statesman Sun Yat-sen leave behind in Nanjing?

In the course of translating the book into English, Fernando Arrieta says that he “had the opportunity to learn a great deal about the long history of the city of Nanjing. What impressed me the most about Ye’s work was the great human perspective that he put into his writing and the great concern one sees for the common people, for the perseverance of the common people, and for what the common people value the most, which are peace and prosperity.”

The book, says editor-in-chief Chris Robyn of California-based Long River Press, “is the story of a Chinese city and it is also the story of China, which has undergone a constant cycle of rise, decline, and rebirth. Ye provides an intimate and revealing look into the ancient origins of Nanjing after a century of conflict. With great patience and a grand vision, Ye’s portrait of Nanjing is not only of a place frozen in time but also a grand vision of the Chinese experience writ large. For anyone interested in Chinese history, this book is a must-read.”

Aside from Ye’s nonfiction, PPMG also offers several one-of-a-kind titles focused on the city. A Handbook of Nanjing: Architectural Gems of the Early 1900s, for instance, is an illustrated guidebook featuring 600 historic buildings accompanied by a starred visit recommendation index, suggested routes, and neighborhood maps. Then there is The History of Nanjing City, a compilation of nearly 50 maps of past dynasties, 20 pictures of cultural relics, 45 ancient paintings, and 100 images old and contemporary, providing a visual history of the city’s urban growth and change over time.