The Fuzi Miao market and historic district has drawn people to Nanjing for centuries. Amidst the narrow alleys and historic buildings, now converted to handicraft and souvenier shops and restaurants, several small museums commemorate special aspects of the neighborhood's unique history. In the imperial period, Fuzi Miao was the one of the country's main testing centers for scholars who hoped to pass the imperial examinations. To try and prevent cheating, the scholars were locked inside a large walled compound made up of rows and rows of small booths where the scholars toiled through their essays. Much of the testing ground was destroyed during the 20th century, but one entrance gate and a section of the writing booths have been preserved. You can see the cumbersome luggage each scholar brought into the test center, containing food, tea, candles, and writing supplies, and even try out one of the tiny booths where they had to compose their essays.
Gongyuan Xi Street winds through the back alleys of Fuzi Miao, lined with curio shops and seal engravers. However, in the Ming dynasty it was famous for the rather more salacious goods offered for sale. The two story houses that line it were once the heart of China's most famous courtesan district. Hardly seedy bordellos, they were the homes of educated courtesans whose clients were among the intellectual and political elite of China. Fuzi Miao was once the location of the imperial examinations that allowed scholars to join the bureaucracy, and many of them looked for intelligent female company to pass the time in various ways while the prepared for their exams. To better entertain their sophisticated clients, the courtesans were well versed in poetry, literature, and music. Classical Chinese literature is full of stories of promising young scholars who fell deeply in love with beautiful and talented courtesans. The most famous of these is the play "Peach Blossom Fan", set amidst the turmoil of the fall of the Ming Dynasty. The supposed home of the play's heroine, Li Xiangjun, has been restored and turned into a small museum, giving visitors and idea of what the world of the high class courtesans was once like.