|Name||河南 (hé nán) ['river' 'south'] Old Name Honan WG|
|Population||100.377 million (7.30 %) [2nd] comparison table|
|Area||167,000 km2 [64,479 mile2] (1.74 %) [17th]|
|GDP||34,808 (13.97 %) [26th]|
Straddling the Yellow River that was the birthplace of Chinese civilization, Henan is an old province, within it are two of the ancient capitals of China: Luoyang and Kaifeng. Mountains to the west and center separate the Yellow River from the southeastern area (the Nanyang plain) which is drained by the Huai River. Floods from both the Yellow and Huai Rivers have punctuated Henan's long history. Indeed, Henan had cities right back in the Shang dynasty (1600 - 1046 BCE) with its capital at Jenshih (Anyang) just west of Zhengzhou. The meandering Yellow River in ancient times followed a course further north near to Anyang. Remains from even earlier, one of the earliest world civilizations - the ancient Yangshao Culture ➚ can be seen at a museum near Mianchi.
The modern provincial capital of Zhengzhou is on the site of another ancient national capital. The coming of railways made Zhengzhou an important center and it has greatly expanded since 1949. Henan is the second most populous province with just over 100 million people. Favorable soil and climate make Henan an area of rich harvests, although nowadays it has become heavily industrialized.
Luoyang just south of the river was the capital of China for ten dynasties before it was sacked by Jurchen invaders in the 10th century. The philosopher Laozi is one of the many great figures associated with the city. It is sometimes known as the ‘eastern Imperial city’ but has few remaining ancient buildings after centuries of plunder. The City museum has many fine exhibits of Luoyang's days of pre-eminence. There is an annual Peony Festival which was brought into being by famous Tang Empress Wu Zetian. The city has grown far beyond its ancient limits and is a modern industrialized city. Baimasi (White Horse Temple) at Luoyang claims to be the oldest Buddhist monastery in China dating back to 68CE. The name refers to the legend that it was founded by two monks who arrived on a white horse.
The Longmen Caves ➚, 7 miles [12 kms] south-west of Luoyang in Henan has a fine set of Buddhist carved figures dating back to Wei and Tang dynasties (500-900CE). There are over 1,300 grottoes with nearly 100,000 Buddhist statues of all sizes. Tang Empress Wu Zetian built the famous seated Buddha 56 feet [17 meters]; and this is the scene for the recent epic film Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame ➚. Longmen Caves provides evidence of China's long excellence in porcelain manufacture at the Jun Royal Kiln ➚, Xuchang; dating back to Song dynasty times. The area also contains the tomb of the Tang poet Bai Juyi.
Kaifeng, Henan became the capital city after the abandonment of Luoyang and was at its zenith up until the invasion of the Mongols in the Song dynasty when it was pillaged. Subject to periodic flooding many historic buildings of that time have been swept away leaving little trace. It has a viewing platform to allow the nearby surging Yellow River to be seen. The path of the Yellow River has changed over time, only a few centuries ago it flowed south-east reaching the sea to the south of Shandong. The Shanshan Gan Guildhall is a heavily decorated Qing dynasty hall built by merchants. The Prime Minister's Temple (Da Xiangguo Si ➚) has been rebuilt on the site of the main Buddhist temple in the Song capital city. It is most famous for a large statue of the Buddhist Goddess Guanyin. Longting Park has been built in the Song dynastic style for the benefit of tourists. More authentic is the Fan pagoda ➚ located south of the city which dates back a thousand years. It was at Kaifeng that the Yellow River's levees have been deliberately breached, once in 1644 to hold back the invading Manchu (unsuccessfully) and again in 1938 ➚ when Chiang Kaishek attempted to flood the land and impede the Japanese invasion, killing one million Chinese ➚ people in the process. The city is also renowned for a small isolated community of Jews ➚ who settled at Kaifeng hundreds of years ago. The Iron Pagoda ➚ (made of rust colored bricks rather than iron) is another interesting tourist site reflecting its ancient heritage.
Near Kaifeng is the Baogong Temple ➚ built in memory of Bao Zheng renowned for his fair administration of justice. Guanlin Temple ➚ commemorates Guan Yu of the Three Kingdoms period who has been worshiped as a 'god of War'. The Dragon Pavilion ➚ at Kaifeng is another ancient temple.
The sacred mountain of Songshan ➚ is a famous scenic site south east of Luoyang. At 4,902 feet [1,494 meters] it is an impressive peak with scary paths leading to the summit. The Temple of Songshan is the oldest stone pagoda in China as it dates back to Northern Wei times (523CE). The Daoist ‘Temple of the Central Mountain’ is older but has been rebuilt over the centuries since its foundation in Han times. On the foothills of Mount Song is the Gaocheng Observatory ➚, a World Heritage site, dating back to the Yuan dynasty which recorded accurate astronomical observations for centuries. A gnomon ➚ was erected in the Tang dynasty here to help measure the circumference of the Earth (the ancient unit of distance was derived from this). It allows for very accurate measurement of shadows and from this the date and length of the year. The measurements were not surpassed in Europe for hundreds of years. The main observatory was restored in the Ming dynasty. Songyang Academy has two ancient cypresses called the Lesser and Greater Generals believed to date back two thousand years and given by Han Emperor Wudi in 110BCE.
Close to Mount Song is the world famous Shaolin monastery ➚ (literally ‘Small Forest Temple’) immortalized by the 'Kung Fu ➚' series of the 1970s. It is a Zen Buddhist temple and dates back to the Wei dynasty when Indian Da Mo ➚ founded the monastery and instigated the Wushu martial art. Nearby is the Pagoda Forest (Talin) of 200 tombs dating back as far as the Tang dynasty. The tombs of the early Song dynasty emperors are close by at Songshan, between Zhengzhou and Luoyang. Not much remains now apart from the statues marking the sacred ways to the tombs.
Anyang is the most ancient of the cities, it is built on the remains of the Shang dynasty capital of Yin. There is a museum housing many remains from this period including the oracle bones inscribed with early Chinese characters. Nearby is the tomb of Yuan Shikai, the Marshall who tried to found a new dynasty in 1915.
Near Anyang is a more recent achievement of human labor, the Red Flag Canal ➚. It was built between 1960-1974 with the same large scale of labor as the Great Wall, it provides irrigation and transportation in the arid northern part of Henan.
The modern, provincial capital of Henan is Zhengzhou which has only a few old buildings but does have an extensive provincial museum. Yellow River Park to the northwest gives good views of the river. Zhengzhou has an annual Martial Arts Festival every September.
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