KAIFENG AND YIN XU: CAPITALS OF THE SONG (960-1279) AND SHANG (1700-1100 B.C) DYNASTIES

KAIFENG

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Kaifeng Palace
Kaifeng (70 kilometers east of Zhengzhou) was the capital of China during the early Song Dynasty (960-1279) in the 10th century before emperors moved it to Hangzhou when the Song Dynasty Emperors were driven south. In 1020, Kaifeng was home to around a half million to a million people and featured stores that remained open all night, named streets and powerful merchants. Later it became the home of a community of Chinese Jews. Today it is a typical mid-size Chinese city with 850,000 people.

According to the South China Morning Post: Kaifeng “was visited by the 13th-century Italian explorer Marco Polo, and even had a small community of Jews who came to the city along the Silk Road in the 10th century. The Jews reputedly built a synagogue there. The daily life of the Kaifeng people was also depicted in one of China's most beloved scroll paintings, Riverside Scene at Qingming Festival by the 12th-century artist Zhang Zedun. [Source: South China Morning Post, August 13, 2012]

“In the past few decades, however, Kaifeng has developed at a slower pace than many mainland cities. Kaifeng party boss Qi Jinli recently said turning Kaifeng into an "international tourism centre" was one of the city's two development priorities. The other is to open an industrial zone.” Fewer people visit Kaifeng “than other major cities in the province. A government official said tourists have long complained about the lack of attractions in Kaifeng, other than an ancient iron tower.”

Web Sites: Travel China Guide Travel China Guide Budget Accommodation: Check Lonely Planet books; Getting There: Kaifeng is accessible by minibus from Zhengzhou and is on the Shanghai-Xian rail line and well-connected by train.Lonely Planet Lonely Planet

Sights in Kaifeng

Sights in Kaifeng include the Iron Pagoda, a slender 13-story octagonal pagoda made of glazed bricks not iron; the 6th century Xiangguo Monastery, which contains a 16-foot-high, 4-ton wooden statue of Avalokitesvara, carved from a 1000 year old ginkgo tree and containing four faces and over 1000 hands and eyes. The monastery also contains the Frost Bell of Xiangguo, a 10-foot-long, five-ton bell that is rung on the first frosty morning of autumn. The Kaifeng Museum is located on 26 Yingbin Rd, Gulou, Tel: 0086-378-3933624

Dragon Pavilion (in Kaifeng) sits on a 40-foot-high pink stone platform with three staircases with 72 steps. In the middle of these staircase is blue stone ramp with dragons carved on it. In front of the temple are Pan and Yang Lakes. In the east side of the building is China's first wax museum.

Kaifeng Jews

A small community of Jews still lives in Kaifeng. They look Chinese; don't speak Hebrew or celebrate Jewish holidays; have little contact with each other; and have lost most of their traditional customs and religious beliefs. Yet they still consider themselves Jews. Avoiding pork is about the only custom they retain. Some old timers recall celebrated in Passover and Yom Kippur as children with their families and having stars of David in their childhood homes.

About 500 to 1,000 people in Kaifeng claim to be Jews. No one knows exactly where they came from. They may be descendants of 500 Persian Jewish traders who came along the Silk Road and settled in Kaifeng when it was the capital of China during the Song Dynasty (A.D.960-1126). According to Chinese records the Persian Jews were welcomed by the Emperor, established a synagogue in 1163, performed circumcision and abstained from pork. During the Ming dynasty they were given seven family names: Ai, Lao, Zhao, Zhang, Shi, Jin and Li.

In 1615, the Jesuit Priest Matteo Ricci met a Chinese Jew who was on his way to Beijing to take an exam. The man said that he was an Israelite and he was familiar with the stories from the Old Testament but he was not familiar with the word Jew. He also said there were 10 or 12 Jewish families living in Kaifeng and the town had a 600-year-old "magnificent" synagogue which contained scrolls of the five books of Moses. The man told Ricci that some of the Jews in Kaifeng spoke Hebrew and more Israelites lived in the city of "Cequian."

The original synagogue in Kaifeng was destroyed by a Yellow River flood in 1642. The synagogue that replaced it was wiped out by another flood in the 1850s. The land was later sold to Canadian missionaries and is now the home of No. 4 People's Hospital. Scrolls in the last synagogue were "rescued" by Christian missionaries and taken to libraries in Israel, Canada and the United States. At present, there is no money to build a new synagogue. The October 1907 issue of National Geographic featured an an article about Chinese Jews.

Kaifeng Qingming Riverside Scene Garden

Qingming Riverside Landscape Garden (the western shore of Longting Lake) is a grand historic cultural-themed park. It was modeled after the painting "Qingming Riverside Landscape" by Zhang Zeduan, a famous painter in Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) of ancient China. The garden was built in July 1992 and opened to the public in October 1998. The most famous scenic spots in the park include the Imperial Garden, Rainbow Bridge and Fuyun Pavilion;

Qingming Riverside Scene Garden, also called as Millennium City Park, covers an area of over 600 mu (40 hectares), of which 150 mu are covered by water. The Zhang Zeduan painting depicts a scene during the Qingming Festival. It shows the buildings and true lives of the people during the Song Dynasty. When you enter the garden, you can find many replicas of historical spots such as the Rainbow Bridge and the City Gate Tower, which are famous for their elegant and unique architectural features from the Song Dynasty.

Visitors can also enjoy different kinds of local customs. The garden has a large number of local activities from the Song Dynasty including Chinese archaian football, gamecock, and women polo. There are over 20 restaurants in the garden, providing delicious local foods for visitors. At the Rainbow Bridge you will find many performances of folk arts and customs. You can buy local souvenirs at the shops of the garden. Travel Information: The best time to travel is from September to October. If you want to spend a night in the garden, you can find hotels inside the garden. Hours Open: 9:00am-10:00pm; Admission: 80 yuan (US$12.56) (high season); 60 yuan (low season); Location: No. 5, Longting Xi Road, Kaifeng City, Tel: +86-378-5663819, +86-378-5663633 (for complaint), +86-378-5668895 (for aid) Getting There: take bus No. 1, 15, 20

Qingming Riverside Scene Painting

Very few paintings from the Song period remain, One of the most famous is Spring Festival on the River (Qingming Riverside Scene), a 17-foot-long, 12th century hand scroll of ink and color painted by Zhang Zeduan. It contains over 800 figures and is so rare and delicate that it's hardly ever viewed by the public. In early 2000, Spring Festival on the River was shown at the Shanghai Museum in a special exhibition that cost $750 to see.

Describing the work, Sheila Melvin wrote in the International Herald Tribune, “It depicts a tranquil landscape of rolling mountains and leafless trees with thatched cottages scattered here and there along a riverbank. As the river meanders onward, donkeys, fishermen moor their boats and men carry buckets of water on shoulder poles. The river widens and is spanned by a gravity-defying, rainbow-shaped bridge mobbed with peddlers, pedestrians, coolies and idlers."

“A boat prepares to pass beneath, its crew hustling to lower the masts as dozens of passerby stop to watch and offer unsolicited advise. Just past the bridge lies a town, a snug and prosperous enclave of homes, restaurants, hotels and temples. Everywhere there are people engaged in the business of life; shopping for a new bow; slurping noodles; commuting by camel caravan, ox cart, horse, sedan chair and foot; listening to a storyteller; having their fortune told; sipping tea, or showing off a grandson to friends encountered in the street."

Youguo Temple Iron Pagoda

Youguo Temple (in Kaifeng) is also known as the Iron Pagoda. According to China.org: “Actually it is not made of iron, but of red, brown, blue and green glazed bricks. As the main hue is reddish brown, the pagoda looks like iron from afar and has thus been called the Iron Pagoda for hundreds of years. The pagoda is located in the northeastern corner of Kaifeng. The predecessor of the Iron Pagoda was a huge octagonal, thirteen-storeyed wooden pagoda called Lingwei. It was once very famous, but for a very short time. In 1044 during the Northern Song Dynasty the wooden pagoda was struck by lightning and burnt down. Five years after the wooden pagoda was burnt down, the emperor of the Northern Song Dynasty ordered another one built on the same site. This time it was built of fire-resistant glazed bricks that remain today. It has been almost one thousand years since the pagoda was rebuilt, but it remains firm despite fierce winds, torrential rains and earthquakes. In 1841 the Yellow River overflowed and the city of Kaifeng was flooded. The thousand-year-old temple collapsed in the flood, but the towering pagoda survived and stood firm. [Source: China.org ***]

“The thirteen-storey brick structure, modeled after wooden counterparts, is 54.66 meters high. The glazed bricks are lined with ordinary bricks. The doors, windows, pillars, brackets, bracket supports, pent roofs and balconies on the pagoda's exterior are all modeled after wooden ones and pieced together from twenty-eight standard brick components. The outer walls, comer pillars, doors, windows and bracket supports are all composed of glazed bricks of various colors.

Carved on these component parts are more than fifty ornamental designs, including images of Buddha, bodhisattvas, flying apsarases, heavenly kings, celestial guards, lions, unicorns, musicians, peony and lotus flowers and figurines, making the pagoda the oldest and largest artifact of glazed bricks and tiles in China.Under the main body is a high stone Sumeru pedestal that has been buried by mud because of frequent flooding by the overflowing Yellow River. The present pagoda has doors on four sides, but people can approach the pagoda only by the steps on the north side.” ***

Kaifeng’s Plan to Build Fake Ancient City

In 2012, Alice Yan wrote in the South China Morning Post: “A historical city in Henan province is planning to spend the equivalent of 20 times its 2011 fiscal revenue to demolish slums and build a replica ancient town that it hopes will be a tourist hot spot, local media say. Kaifeng, one of China's ancient capital cities which served as the seat of power on seven occasions, will spend 100 billion yuan (HK$122 billion) over the next four years to relocate about 80,000 households-one-third of the population in its old district, the China Business Journal reported on Saturday. [Source:Alice Yan, South China Morning Post, August 13, 2012]

“The sprawling 20 square kilometers tourist attraction will be built in the architectural style of the Song dynasty (A.D. 960 to AD1279), when the then-capital reached its peak of urbanisation and prosperity. An official was quoted by the newspaper as saying that public transport kiosks and tourist information centres would be decorated in similar fashion. An official at the Kaifeng Communist Party Committee's general office, who declined to give his name, confirmed to the Post yesterday that slums in the old district were being bulldozed, but said he was not sure what the project was for.

“Local authorities are planning to issue debt or use bank loans to fund the demolitions, which will cost exponentially more than the city's fiscal revenue for 2011, which was 4.9 billion yuan. “Professor He Yunao, from Nanjing University's School of History, said the plan to build a copycat Song dynasty town, if true, was a "crazy and bad idea". "Maybe it will be attractive to some people, but this tourism hype will only last a short while. Only tourists with low-level taste like to see these replicas." He said many of Kaifeng's ancient buildings lay buried beneath meters of mud brought on by frequent floods over the past few hundred years. Professor Yao Kunyi, a tourism researcher in Shanghai, said more historical replicas were cropping up nationwide for tourism, but they tended to be in the wrong styles as the builders had a weak or "distorted" understanding of history.”

Yin Xu: Shang Dynasty (1700-1100 B.C.) Capital

Yin Ruins (Xiaotun village in Anyang, 120 kilometers north Kaifeng, 150 kilometers north-northeast of Zhengzhou) is the home of the last capital of the Shang Dynasty (1700-1100 B.C.) More than 3,300 years ago, Shang King Pangeng moved his capital to Yin (known today as Yinxu, Yin Xu and the Yin ruins), which served as the capital for 12 kings of eight generations for 225 years, and created the splendid Yin-Shang civilization. After King Wu of the Zhou Dynasty (?-1043 B.C.) sent armed forces to suppress Zhou and eliminate the Shang, Yin gradually became the Yin Ruins in history.

The ruins of Yin, discovered in 1899, is one of the oldest and largest archeological sites in China. The ruins have yielded tombs, foundations of palaces temples, jade carvings, lacquer, white carved ceramics, and high-fired, green-glazed ware. The Yin Ruins became famous because of a large number of oracles bones — inscriptions on animal bones or tortoise shells — found that there that were used for divination by Shang kings and contains some of earliest known examples of Chinese characters, Excellent bronze wares were also excavated from the ruins, of which Simuwu recatangular ding (cooking vessel), weighing 437.5 kilograms, the largest ancient bronze ware in the world.

The Yin Ruins covers an area of 36 square kilometers, and is divided into the palace zone, royal tomb zone, graveyard, handicraft workshop zone, civilian residential zone, etc. It is the first site of an ancient capital city confirmed by historical documents, oracle bone inscriptions and archaeological excavations in Chinese history. Tens of thousands of bronze, jade and ivory wares excavated from the Yin Ruins show various shapes and postures, displaying the top carving and cast skills in the Yin-Shang period. They will make viewers gasp in admiration. Admission: 61 yuan (US$9.57]

Yin Xu: UNESCO World Heritage Site

Yin Xu was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2006. According to UNESCO: The archaeological site of Yin Xu, close to Anyang City, some 500 kilometers south of Beijing, is an ancient capital city of the late Shang Dynasty (1300-1046 B.C.). It testifies to the golden age of early Chinese culture, crafts and sciences, a time of great prosperity of the Chinese Bronze Age. A number of royal tombs and palaces, prototypes of later Chinese architecture, have been unearthed on the site, including the Palace and Royal Ancestral Shrines Area, with more than 80 house foundations, and the only tomb of a member of the royal family of the Shang Dynasty to have remained intact, the Tomb of Fu Hao. The large number and superb craftsmanship of the burial accessories found there bear testimony to the advanced level of Shang crafts industry. Inscriptions on oracle bones found in Yin Xu bear invaluable testimony to the development of one of the world’s oldest writing systems, ancient beliefs and social systems.

Situated on both banks of the Huanhe River to the northwest of the nationally famous historic and cultural city Anyang, in Henan Province of central China, the archaeological remains of Yin Xu dated from 1,300 B.C. and comprise two sites: the Palace and Royal Ancestral Shrines Area and the Royal Tombs Area covering a total 414 hectares with an enclosing buffer zone of 720 hectares. Yin Xu has been confirmed by historic documents, oracle bone inscriptions and archaeological excavations as the first site of a capital in Chinese history. The twentieth king of the Shang Dynasty Pan Geng, moved his capital from Yan to Yin (the area around Xiaotun Village of present Anyang) around 1,300 B.C., and established a lasting and stable capital. It spanned 255 years with 12 kings and 8 generations and created the splendid and brilliant Yin-Shang Civilization, which is of priceless value in terms of history, art and science.

Yin Xu was the earliest site to possess the elements of civilization, including more than 80 house foundations of rammed earth with remains of timber structures, ancestral shrines and altars enclosed within a defensive ditch which also functioned as a flood-control system. Numerous pits within the Palace area contained inscribed oracle bones considered to carry the earliest evidence of the Chinese written language. The Royal Tombs area on higher ground includes sacrificial pits containing chariots and human remains considered to have been sacrificial victims. Burial goods included decorated bronze ritual vessels, jade and bone carvings and ceramics.

Being one of the most important capital sites in early China, its planning and layout had an important influence on the construction and development of subsequent capitals of China. The Royal Tomb Area of Yin Xu is the earliest large-scale royal graveyard in China and the source of China’s system of royal and imperial mausoleums;oracle bone inscriptions are the earliest known mature writing in China and constitute evidence for the history of the Shang Dynasty in China, helping to track recorded Chinese history nearly one thousand years earlier, and the Site of Yin Xu conveys the social life of the late Shang Dynasty, reflecting highly developed science and architectural technology including bronze casting and a calendar system.

The site is important because: 1) Yin Xu, capital of the late Shang Dynasty, exhibits an exchange of important influences and the highest level of development in China’s ancient bronze culture, including the system of writing. 2) The cultural remains at Yin Xu provide exceptional evidence of cultural traditions in the Late Shang Period, and are testimony to many scientific and technical achievements and innovations, such as the solar and lunar calendar system, and the earliest evidence of systematic written Chinese language in oracle bones. 3) The palaces, ancestral shrines and the royal tombs of Yin Xu are outstanding examples of early Chinese architecture. They have great significance in establishing the early prototypes for Chinese palace architecture and royal tomb complexes. 4) The material remains discovered at Yin Xu provide tangible evidence of the early history of the system of Chinese writing and language, ancient beliefs, social systems, and major historical events, which are considered of outstanding universal significance.

To better conserve the excavated cultural relics, the Yin Xu Garden-Museum and Museum-Exhibition Hall have been built in the Yin Xu Palace and Ancestral Shrine area, so that the important cultural relics could receive the best care in a museum environment.

Discovery of the Oracle Bones in the Yin Xu Area

Dr. Robert Eno of Indiana University wrote: “In 1899, China was in chaos. Four years earlier, it had been stunned by Japan, which had virtually annihilated the Chinese navy in a single day, aided by their Chinese opponents, whose first cannon shot of the war landed squarely on their own commanding admiral. The political uproar that followed this unmasking of China's weakness had led to a program of ambitious reform, adopted by a young emperor who daringly gave power to a party of radically progressive Confucians. But the leaders of that party were killed or driven into exile by a coup led by the aging Empress Dowager, and the young emperor was banished to an island prison within the imperial palace grounds in Beijing, where he awaited his eventual death by poison. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ]

“In the midst of this turmoil, Wang Yirong, a mid-level official who had recently come out of a period of filial retirement in honor of his mother's death, arrived in Beijing seeking to revive his career and help pull his country out of its desperate trials. Wang was well known as a scholar of ancient script and antiquities, but prior to his mother's death he had become a political activist as well, raising troops in his home region to help strengthen China against its wealth of foreign adversaries. Upon his arrival in Beijing, Wang secured an appointment as libationer at the Imperial Academy, and he was seeking to use this scholarly position as a means of conveying his patriotic ideas to the Empress Dowager. Then he suddenly fell ill with malaria. It was through Wang Yirong's illness that the history of the Shang Dynasty was discovered. /+/

“Earlier that year, a small waterway near the city of Anyang called the River Huan had flooded. The flood had worn away portions of the riverbank near the little village of Xiaotun, and when the peasantry went to clean up the damage, they found that a quantity of old buried bones had been laid bare. It was not unusual for old bones to turn up in this area, and over the years local people had come to believe that these bones had magic medicinal properties. Upon occasion, some of these bones had been observed to have mysterious symbols carved in them, and though no one could understand just what they were, these inscribed bones were known to work wonders on a fever if ground up and added to more standard prescriptions. They became known as “dragon bones," this name reflecting their auspicious properties. /+/

“An enterprising merchant named Fan Weiqing had discovered that the reputation of these bones from eastern Shanxi Province had spread widely, and he had speculated that it would be profitable to transport them to distant places for sale to the local apothecaries. By cultivating his contacts with local farmers, Fan had become the foremost dealer in the magic bones, but he was always careful to conceal from potential competitors the source of his goods. Now, in 1899, the flood near Xiaotun yielded his biggest shipment of merchandise ever, and he hurried his goods to Beijing for sale. /+/

“As Wang Yirong's fever grew worse, he decided to send a member of his household to consult an apothecary and purchase the appropriate medicine. Among the items that the apothecary prescribed was a packet of Dr. Fan's Fresh Dragon Bones, ready for grinding. On the day that the bones were delivered, Wang was enjoying the company of a house guest, Liu E, a reform-minded Confucian official of great energy who was, like Wang, a fine antiquarian scholar (and the most famous Chinese novelist of his day).When Wang and Liu spotted these bones, they were instantly struck by the resemblance between the carved signs on them and some of the ancient script forms they both had studied in the past. Although they could not decipher the etchings they were convinced that they were Chinese characters, and of a form so ancient that they had never before been recorded. /+/

Early Archaeological Work at Xiaotun (Yin Xu)

Dr. Eno wrote: “In the 1920s, the “Shiji” story of the Shang Dynasty seemed to the newly critical young historians of China to be filled with improbabilities. Xie's miraculous birth suspiciously resembled the birth of Prince Millet, the founder of the Zhou line. The account of Tang the Successful's conquest of the wicked Jie seemed to be no more than a recycling to an earlier time frame of the story of the conquest of Zhòu, the last Shang king, by the founders of the Zhou Dynasty. The regency of Yi Yin resembled the role of the Duke of Zhou. The long lists of featureless Shang kings, who seem to do little more than move their capitals, appeared to be only unimaginative filler highlighting the few passages of ethical drama that are the literary core of the Shang annals. Surely, the entire notion of a dynasty predating the Zhou was a fictional one, a tale fabricated during the middle years of the Zhou to give pedigree to the theory of the Mandate of Heaven and to provide the Zhou founders with a moral tale to explain precisely why their descendants deserved to rule. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ]

“In 1928, just after the close of the civil wars that had for over a decade hampered further exploration of the Anyang area, a group of young scholars trained in the “new” science of archaeology traveled to the village of Xiaotun to see where the dragon bones had come from, and decide whether it would be fruitful to test their skills in excavations at neighboring sites. Casual digging near Xiaotun convinced them that the supply of dragon bones had not been exhausted, and they began what became a nine-year archaeological dig that ended permanently all speculation that the Shang Dynasty was a fictional construct. /+/

“Soon after they began work, the Xiaotun archaeological team began to uncover ruined foundations of great antiquity. Their density was consistent with a city of substantial size. Then, among the foundations, floor plans of enormous dimensions were discovered, the ruins of great palaces or ceremonial structures. There could be no doubt: Xiaotun was the site of an ancient city of royal scale. /+/

“When archaeologists crossed north of the River Huan, their findings were even more surprising. There they uncovered huge cruciform tombs with subterranean chambers up to forty feet deep and fifty feet on a side – tomb excavations the size of a large four-storey building. The floors and ramps of these graves were littered with skeletal remains of dogs and sheep, of horses whose bones lay beside chariot to which they had clearly been yoked at the time of their burial. And these remains were not limited to animals. Side chambers of these palatial tombs were stocked with human skeletons, many decapitated with their heads buried together in a group apart from their bodies. In many cases the central chambers of these tombs had long since been looted, and the grave masters’ remains were no longer in evidence. But other graves were still intact, and some of these were filled with enormous caches of richly ornamented ritual vessels of bronze, jades, and other luxury goods which lay packed around the central corpse. The archaeologists had found the cemetery of the kings and queens of the Shang. The village of Xiaotun had, as Liu E and his followers had guessed, been built over the ruins of the last capital of the Shang Dynasty." /+/

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: CNTO (China National Tourist Organization), China.org, UNESCO, reports submitted to UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, China Daily, Xinhua, Global Times, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2020

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