Henan Province, China

August 2nd, 2015

Since my flight back to Hong Kong wasn’t until Monday morning, I decided to take the train back from Luoyang on Sunday morning, and spend one day sightseeing in Zhengzhou. The train trip this time was uneventful and very quick, and yes, trains in China really are fast:

Located on the southern bank of the Yellow River, Zhengzhou is the provincial capital of the Henan Province. Zhengzhou is only slightly larger than Luoyang in terms of population (around 10 million), but it is a much more modern, commercial and fast growing city. The city itself does not have any famous tourist sights like the Longmen Grottoes in Luoyang, but it is definitely worth spending a day there. If you have more than a day in Zhengzhou, the main tourist attraction is about 50 kilometers outside of the city, which is the famous Shaolin monastery. I had to leave that for another trip.

After checking in at the hotel, I took a taxi to the Er Qi square, which is the main and busiest square in the city and famous for the slightly odd looking memorial tower in its centre, which is the most recognizable landmark of the city. It is a 14 story tower that was built to commemorate the start of the Beijing-Hankou Railway Workers Strike of 1923, which ended in a massacre in which over 30 people died, but also lead to a massive increase in popular support for the communist party at that time.  

Like in many Chinese cities, there are thousands of little (usually battery powered) scooters, but this is the first place where I have seen many scooters having these homemade contraptions of sun umbrellas attached to the scooters. The sun is really hot here, probably makes the ride a lot more comfortable.

From here I walked for about 30 minutes towards the one site, I was very excited about, and which was the main reason I had decided to spend an extra day in Zhengzhou - the ruins of the Shang City. Along the way I found this very beautiful small Buddhist Temple, which wasn't mentioned in any of the guide books or maps. I later found out that it was called the Chenghuang Temple.

Just around the corner from the temple, I found what I was looking for, the enormous remains of the Shang dynasty city walls.

OK, I admit these may not be the most photogenic ruins, and there really was not that much else to see, but if you are a major history and archaeology geek like myself, then these giant earth mounds are about as exciting as it gets. From a historical point of view these walls are incredibly significant, and among the oldest man-made structures I had ever seen. (Since I have not been to Egypt yet, I think only trumped in age by Stonehenge and some of the other Neolithic sites I have visited in Europe.) These walls are over 3,500 years old and were once protecting and surrounding a Shang dynasty capital city.

For a long time the Shang dynasty occupied a place somewhere between myth and actual historical evidence in Chinese history. According to ancient texts the Shang dynasty ruled the Yellow River area in the second millennium BC (around 1600 to 1000 BC, following the mythical Xia dynasty and succeeded by the Zhou dynasty). It wasn't until the middle of the 20th century that newer archaeological discoveries (mainly in Anyang and here in Zhengzhou) established the Shang dynasty firmly into Chinese history.

While the last Shang capital in Anyang had been excavated in the 1920s and 30s, the Zhengzhou Shang City was only discovered and first dated in the 1950s. It was found that the Zhengzhou site was built 3,570 years ago, which made it even older than Anyang. The excavations here were interrupted for two decades by the Cultural Revolution and only continued in the 1970s, when the true extent of the very large ancient city was revealed. Although most the site had by then been buried under the modern city of Zhengzhou, substantial remains of the huge city walls were uncovered. The perimeter of the wall was almost 7 kilometers forming a rectangular space, inside of which the ruins of many buildings of different sizes were found.

At their base the walls were about 20 meters wide, which narrowed to between 5 and 10 meters at the top. A large section inside of the walls is now a city park, where people walk their dogs, exercise and fly large and elaborate kites (which seems to be particularly popular past time for elderly men here).

The discovery of the Shang City also got Zhengzhou added to the list of ancient capitals of China. There used to be only four of them, but with more archaeological discoveries more and more cities are revealed as former capitals of imperial dynasties. Zhengzhou is now officially recognized as the eighth ancient capital of China.

When in strange new cities I always like to spend some time just strolling around and exploring parts of the city that are not described in any of the guidebooks. So, I decided to take the rather long walk back to the hotel. It took me a bit over an hour walking mostly along an ancient canal, but it was beautiful weather (although very hot) and a very interesting walk. My hotel the JW Marriott is located in the super modern business district about 10 kilometers to the east of the old city centre. It is a large area laid out in a circle around an artificial lake, which some very interesting and bold modern architecture.

I ended my short but very interesting stop-over in Zhengzhou with a nice dinner in the hotel, and flew back to Hong Kong on a direct flight on China Southern Airways the next morning.


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