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Exploring Henan’s rich historical cultures

Author  :  ZHANG JIANYING and CAI YING     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2020-08-06


A Brief History of Henan Province

Located in central China, Henan Province has a long history and many splendid cultures. It was the main birthplace of the Huaxia people (ancestors of the Han people) and a core area for China’s major ethnic group—the Han people. In Chinese history, Henan’s political situation was often highly related to the destiny of the country; its economy occupied a leading position; and its profound cultures were the mainstream of traditional Chinese culture. As the political, economic and cultural centers of the country shifted after the fall of the Northern Song Dynasty (960– 1127), the Henan region gradually lagged behind the coastal areas south of the Yangtze River.

In the two volumes of A Brief History of Henan Province, Cheng Youwei, former director and a professor of the Institute of History and Archaeology at the Henan Academy of Social Sciences, focuses on Henan’s major historical figures, events and symbols from primitive society to the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. The author displays the basic development trajectory of Henan’s long history and reveals the Central Plains’ political, economic, social and cultural situations, demonstrating the local people’s spirit of constant self-improvement.

The spirit of innovation ran through the history of Henan, reflected in the making of prehistoric pottery, the smelting of bronze sacrificial vessels in the Shang Dynasty (c. 1600–c. 1046 BCE), the origin and development of Chinese scripts, and the compilation of the Shijing (the Classic of Poetry) in the Western Zhou Dynasty (1046–771 BCE). From the invention of production tools to the establishment of political systems, this spirit has been deeply integrated into the blood of the local people, leaving behind a splendid cultural heritage to future generations.

Henan’s long history has accumulated rich Central-Plains culture. There was an old saying that among all the Chinese celebrities, more than half came from Zhongzhou (an ancient name for Henan). A lot of important historical figures were from Henan, such as the statesman Shang Yang (c. 395–338 BCE), the scientist Zhang Heng (78–139), the medical sage Zhang Zhongjing (c. 150–c. 219), the writer Han Yu (768–824), the philosophers Cheng Hao (1032–1085) and Cheng Yi (1033–1107), and the famous hero Yue Fei (1103–1142). In addition, the province has preserved many famous historical sites such as the site of Yin Xu in Anyang city, the Longmen Grottoes in Luoyang city, the Iron Pagoda in Kaifeng city, the Songyang Academy in Zhengzhou city, the Wolong Gang in Nanyang city and the Erqi Strike Monument Tower in Zhengzhou.

The history of Henan before the Northern Song Dynasty allows readers to understand the vital role of Henan in the origin of Chinese civilization and its far-reaching influence on Chinese history. As for Henan after the Southern Song Dynasty (1127–1279), the author focuses on the collision and fusion of China and the West during the social transformation period, analyzing the reasons for the slow progress of Henan in modern times.

Editor: Yu Hui

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