The last time I visited this fascinating site, it was worn around the edges and attracted very few visitors, but it had an authentic air of historical significance to it. Now, likely capitalizing on its location next to the big tourist attraction of 1912, the palace has undergone a massive renovation. Columns have been repainted bright red and there are new window frames with frosted glass in place. There are also more areas on display, like the rock gardens on the west and the Taiping Lake on the east. The palace was the seat of government of the Liangjiang viceroy's office (1671-1911), the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom (1853-64), Sun Yat-sen's provisional government (1912), and the Nationalist government (1927-37 and 1946-49). It has borne witness to all the important events and personalities in Nanjing's history. Though this presidential palace dates from the Ming dynasty, today's buildings were all built after 1870. Just inside the main entrance, the Great Hall marked by the words TIAN XIA WEI GONG (The world belongs to all) used to be the first in a series of nine magnificent halls during the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. On January 1, 1912, provisional president of the new Chinese republic Sun Yat-sen held his inauguration here.

After the second hall, the next series of rooms were used by Chiang Kai-shek, the leader of the Nationalist Party, to receive foreign guests, among them U.S. Gen. George Marshall, who was attempting to broker a truce between Chiang and Mao Zedong. In the back, Chiang Kai-shek's former office has an interesting old-fashioned hand-operated Otis elevator, which has now been restored. In Xuyuan, the garden on the western side of the compound, a stone boat is the only remaining original artifact from the days of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom.