The Ancient City of Zhengzhou

One of the National Central Cities in China, Zhengzhou, located in east-central China, is the capital of Henan Province.

Situated along the southern bank of China’s famed Yellow River, Zhengzhou is the birthplace of the Yellow Emperor. As capital city of the Land of the Red Dragon, for a thousand years since the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BCE), it is no surprise that Zhengzhou is one of the birthplaces of Chinese Civilisation as well.

In recent years, Zhengzhou has undergone an economic revitalisation. As a result, the new metropolis is experiencing rapid development in the form of infrastructure and construction, as well as a boom to tourism.

Home to four of eight great Chinese ancient capitals, Zhengzhou is steeped in history and makes a wonderful travel destination for those who are interested in Chinese ancient history and architecture.

Young monks practise kung fu at the Shaolin Temple in Dengfeng in Henan Province, China. Photo: iStock
Young monks practise kung fu at the Shaolin Temple in Dengfeng in Henan Province, China. Photo: iStock

Human history
The best place to learn about prehistoric Zhengzhou and old China is probably at Henan Museum, one of the oldest museums in the country. With an impressive collection of 130,000 pieces and counting, of cultural relic treasures and exhibits, including those from the Shang and Zhou (1046-256 BCE) Dynasties, Henan Museum boasts a total floor space of a staggering 78,000 square feet, in an eye-catching pyramid-shaped building that was opened to the public in 1997.

UNESCO recognition
Zhengzhou is the gateway to Shaolin Monastery, located nearby at the foot of Mount Song. One of the best known international attractions, Shaolin Monastery was where Chinese kung fu was first established. Founded in 5th century CE as a Buddhist temple, according to records, Shaolin Temple is still the main temple for Buddhism today.

Travellers who specialise in the exploration of UNESCO sites will be happy to know that Shaolin Monastery was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010, along with its Pagoda Forest.

Songyue Pagoda. Photo:
Songyue Pagoda. Photo:

Other UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Zhengzhou are Dengfeng Observatory and Songyue Pagoda, while Mount Song is a UNESCO Global Geopark site, where the Shaolin Monastery sits.

One of four greatest academies
Together with Yingtian Academy in Shangqiu (Henan), Yuelu Academy in Changsha (Hunan), and Bailudong Academy in Jiujiang (Jiangxi), Songyang Academy in Zhengzhou was one of the four greatest academies for higher education in ancient China, teaching Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism.

Built in 484 as Songyang Temple, subsequently renamed to Songyang Taoist Temple, and finally as Songyang Academy in 1035, it was a classical educational institution which saw the birth of Neo-confucianism during Song Dynasty (906-1279).

Today, in the modern era, Songyang Academy, still maintaining its architecture from the Qing Dynasty (1636-1912), is a model for learning ancient academy architecture, ancient Chinese education system, and the Confucianism way of life.

Visitors to Songyang Temple should look out for the stele of Tang Dynasty (618-907) which was carved in 744, with 1078 Chinese characters. Another highlight is the stele of Mount Song Temple made in 535, featuring 94 Buddha figurines on one side, and a shrine on the other. Do also check out the stone carving of the map of Dengfeng County, a piece of art created in 1593, with detailed carving of scenic spots, landscapes, and towns of Mount Song and its surrounding areas.

Chinese Buddhist Art
Less than two hours’ drive west of Zhengzhou city is the Longmen (Dragon Gate) Grottoes, one of China’s three notable grottoes. It is home to some one hundred thousand statues of Buddha and his disciples, carved as rock reliefs, in various forms and sizes, from as small as 1 inch in height to a massive 57 feet. Longmen made it to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2000 for outstanding manifestation of human artistic creativity.

Pride of Zhengzhou
Meanwhile, in modern-day Zhengzhou, an icon of the city is the steel structure named Zhongyuan Tower, used as a television tower. This tenth tallest tower in the world, completed in 2011, stands at 388 metres.

Zhongyuan Tower. Photo:
Zhongyuan Tower. Photo:

A good view of the city can be had from the observation deck of Zhengzhou Tower, which also houses the largest panoramic painting in the world, with a height of 18 metres and length, 164 metres, as recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records.

The view from the top is enhanced as visitors enjoy a fine meal at its revolving restaurant.

Access to the rest of China
As Zhengzhou is a major transportation hub, easy access to the other parts of China is available via highway, railway, and airway. Being China’s biggest rail transit hub, two vital rail lines intersect in the city. They are Longhai Railway that runs from Lanzhou to Lianyungang and Jingguang Railway that connects Beijing to Guangzhou.

Note: An edited version of this article is published in the May 2019 issue of Malindo Air in-flight magazine. Photos used here are for illustration purposes only.

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