Zhengzhou, China’s ancient political, economic, and cultural center, epitomizes the growth of the Chinese nation from primitive stages to becoming a marvel of the modern era. Located on the southern bank of the Yellow River, the sprawling capital of the Henan Province is flourishing with a historical heritage that took shape 10,000 years ago.
The metropolis, one of the eight great capitals of ancient China and home to the world famous Shaolin Temple, has evolved from a primeval trading point into a prominent modern commercial and transportation hub, showcasing the economic might of the Chinese nation.
Zhengzhou’s most significant moment of historical magnificence came 3,500 years ago when the Shang family, the second of China’s feudal dynasties (well known for trade and merchants and in fact in China today the phrase for merchants is “Shang Ren”), established its capital in the city.
However, archeological evidence shows the city was an important center of Peiligang culture. Ruins of many ancient buildings in Zhengzhou’s Dahecun still bear testimony to the Yangshao architectural style, the first form of construction developed in China.
The ancient city of Zhengzhou came to be seen as the very heart of the Chinese civilization when the Yellow River basin became the center of authority during the period of Five Emperors. Xinzheng suburb of Zhengzhou was the birthplace and capital of Huangdi, the Yellow Emperor and initiator of the Chinese civilization. Yu the Great, who established the Xia or slavery dynasty, had his capital in the present-day Dengfeng suburb of the city.
Zhengzhou reached its pinnacle of glory during the Shang rule and continued to be an important seat of politics for over 500 years during the Zhou, Zheng and Han dynasties.
Indian Buddhist monk Bodhidharma, who was credited with bringing Buddhism to China, arrived in Zhengzhou in the fifth century AD and began preaching at the Shaolin Temple. The art of city wall construction in China started at Xishan area of the city, which still hosts remnants of ancient city walls, the precursor of the Great Wall. Xingyang suburb of Zhengzhou witnessed several epic battles prominent historical figures, such as Duke Wu, Zi Chan, Qin Shihuang, Liu Bang, and Cao Cao. During the Sui period, Zhengzhou was developed as a key economic and transport hub, and it continues to serve China in that capacity to date.
Located in the northern suburbs of Zhengzhou, 5,000-year-old Dahe Village is home to numerous symbols of Neolithic Yangshan and Longshan cultures. Spread over 300,000 square meters, the village is a testimony to the earliest society, economic conditions, and human evolution in the Yellow River Valley, the cradle of the ancient Chinese civilization.
Shang Ruins located in Shangcheng Road in downtown Zhengzhou reminds visitors of the great historical glory the city was endowed with when it was the ancient capital of China, from 16th to 11th century BC. Older than the Yin Ruins of Anyang to the north, Zhengzhou’s Shang heritage covers an area of more than 25 square kilometers and contains artifacts, ancient foundations, urbanization evidence, other historical relics, and a 3,600-year-old city wall more than 7 kilometers in length. It was the oldest city wall ever constructed in China and the forerunner of the Great Wall.
Ancient Tombs of Dahu
Zhengzhou held significant sway in national life during the Han Dynasty, and it was attested by the discovery of one of the largest Han tombs in the city. The massive stone and brick structure beautified with paintings on social and religious themes looks like a covered boat throws light on politics, culture, and economy during the Eastern Han dynasty period.
Zhengzhou Confucius Temple
Built about 2,000 years ago by Eastern Han rulers, the Confucian Temple of Zhengzhou is perhaps the oldest in China. Many see the site as the cradle of the Confucian thought that swept China in subsequent centuries and shaped its civilization during ancient, medieval, and modern eras. The impact of Confucian thought on China cannot be understated as during the Tang Dynasty, Confucian thought was help in high regard and all government scholars needed to show understanding of it before passing their entrance exams.
Shaolin Temple (see image at the top)
Situated on the slope of Shaoshi Mountain, Shaolin Temple is the most famous attraction in Zhengzhou. Built in 495 AD, the monastery played an important role in the evolution of Chinese civilization. In 527 AD, Bodhidharma, a Buddhist monk reached the temple from India and established the foundations of Chan Buddhism in China. It was said that he noticed that the monks were rather lethargic so taught them martial arts based on the “animal forms” like Tiger, Praying Mantis (many common martial arts forms today) all originate from this.
A number of martial art forms, including Shaolin Boxing and Kung Fu, were invented by monks living in the monastery. Spread over 30,000 square meters, the temple is an epitome of Chinese architecture of that era.
Pagoda Forest and Mount Song
About 250 pagodas of various sizes and styles dot the western flank of the Shaolin Temple on Mount Song. Built as tombs of temple abbots between 618 AD and 907 AD, these brick and stone structures highlight the architecture, sculpture, and art of engraving that dominated China from the Tang Dynasty to the Qings.
When visiting that area, we noticed that the graves have different markings which show the rank of the official that died. So some more important people had larger and more impressive graves. The Song Mountain also has many historical places, including the Han Imperial Palaces and the 2,000-year-old Songyang School of Classical Learning.
The Birthplace of Huangdi
One of the holiest places in China, the native place of Huangdi, the Yellow Emperor, in Zhengzhou, is the very place linked to the origin of the Han people. A legendary figure in Chinese mythology, the emperor is considered the progenitor of Han society and celebrated during the annual ancestor-worshipping festival. Over there, you can also see many stone tablets which feature the surnames of the 100 most popular surnames (last names) in China. A true sight to behold.
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