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#AndrewSingerChina Newsletter Vol. 3, Issue 6

Henan Province, China: Home of My New Family


                         Longzihu Park in Zhengzhou (photo by Nie Donghan, www.english.henan.gov.cn)

I have not yet been to Henan Province in Central China. However, I now have family there.


The why is also the reason for my Newsletters being published less frequently recently. You see, I was deep in planning for this…



So, today, in honor of my new wife, Liana, and my new family, I am writing about their home province, Henan, a place that has and does say a lot about China’s past and present.




                                                   Map of Henan Province (www.hiddenchina.net)

Henan Province is central to many things China, from history and culture to society and economy. It is centrally located geographically and is home to ninety-eight million (98,000,000) people in an area approximately the same size as Florida (population a mere twenty-two million).


The province has played a central role in China’s long history, repeatedly serving as the site of Dynastic capitals.  Zhengzhou and Anyang were ancient capitals of the Bronze Age Shang Dynasty more than 3,000 years ago.  Luoyang and Kaifeng (Bianjing) served as capitals at various times, including during the Zhou, Northern Wei, Later Tang, and Northern Song Dynasties, and more.   


                       Wheat Harvest (photo by Lyu Chaofeng and Liu Xifang, www.english.henan.gov.cn)

Henan is also top of mind to the central government as a major microcosm (only in China and India can 98 million people be labeled a microcosm) of Chinese society. The province feeds China while producing nearly a quarter of China’s wheat, ten percent of its corn, and significant quantities of many other necessary crops. The province powers China’s economy as the site of major manufacturing, industry, and IT and other technology companies. As a whole, Henan accounts for almost five percent of China’s total GDP.


46 degrees C (114.8 degrees F) in Pingdingshan City, Henan Province on June 12, 2024
(photo by IC, www.globaltimes.cn)

Yet, the province has also historically struggled with poverty as well as natural and human troubles. Henan bakes in the summer and suffers, interchangeably, both terrible drought and flooding. Catastrophic and unprecedented rainfall led to fatal urban flooding in 2021, including more than a dozen deaths in trapped cars in a subway tunnel.


This year, 63% of the arable land in the province is currently suffering severe drought.


 “‘The fields are bone-dry, with dust rising like smoke,’ a 50-year-old farmer surnamed Zhang from Xinyang, southeastern Henan, told Sixth Tone. ‘The soil is so hard from drought, you can barely dig into it; when you do, it just crumbles away like powder.’

On the manmade ledger, in 2022, the province was the scene of mass protests when a series of banks failed due to financial corruption and hundreds of thousands of accounts were frozen. Also in 2022, thousands of FoxConn workers walked off the job in protest of unsafe conditions and wage changes.


What happens in Henan, good and bad, thus captures attention in the halls of power in Beijing.


                   Yellow Emperor Woodcut by Gan Bozong Tang Dynasty (www.wellcomecollection.org)

I asked Liana how she would describe Henan people in one word. She immediately responded that they are 淳朴, honest and simple. Henanren are proud of their position in China’s heartland. Three of China’s most renowned personages—the Yellow Emperor, Laozi, and the poet Du Fu, hailed from Henan.


The mighty Yellow River lies in the north of Henan. The name Henan means “South of the River.” It was the legendary Yellow Emperor who created, well, most everything, that resulted in China coming into being. He is credited with developing the wheel and boats; inventing handwriting and the arts; introducing husbandry, seasonal agriculture, and the calendar. He was a mighty military warrior who brought order from chaos. China’s civilization arose here in the Yellow River Basin because of him.


                                                   Yellow River (Xinhua, www.english.www.gov.cn)

Liana and her friends in Zhengzhou say that I seem to know more about the province than they do. This is not true, but I understand the sentiment. We often do not have the time to experience everything that is closer as we live our daily lives and hear more about historical and cultural sites farther afield.


So, what intrigues me about Henan, besides family and friends of course? I would like to see the Yellow River and the ancient capitals at Anyang and Luoyang.


                                                Longmen Grottoes (photo Ryan Carroll Usher-China Daily)

The stone-carved, Buddhist Longmen Grottoes near Luoyang are definitely on the list. Truth be told, I want to compare Longmen with my memories of visiting the Yungang Grottoes further north in Shanxi Province almost forty years ago. The Henan complex is of roughly equal vintage with its northerly neighbor (1,500+ years old), but are reputed to be the largest and “most impressive.”


                                                                 Laojunshan (photo by China.org.cn)

A shortish car ride south of Luoyang is Laojun Mountain and the Jiguan limestone caves. Here we move from Buddhism to Daoism. Laozi, the legendary philosopher who founded Daoism and was a contemporary of Confucius, is said to have come to this mountain to live in seclusion and meditate. The caves are more than 800 million years old. Here’s what may be most fascinating: the mountain is 2,184 m high, but the caves are 5,600 m deep!



                                   Shaolin Monastery Pagoda Forest (cemetery)(photo by Hiroaki Naka)

Henan is also home to the legendary Shaolin Temple. Its international fame is for kung fu. For China, it is also, and relatedly, the birthplace of Chan (Zen) Buddhism. During the same general timeframe as the Buddhist caves above were being carved, there came a man from India to China. His name was Bodhidharma, a Buddhist monk and a direct lineal descendent of the original Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama.    


                                                      Bodhidharma Statue (www.metmuseum.org)

Bodhidharma, aka Damo, introduced Chan Buddhism to the Middle Kingdom with an emphasis on meditation and ultimately (at least at Shaolin) martial training. In a famous tale, Damo was said to have been dismissed by the Emperor Wudi because he rejected the Emperor’s questions about acquiring merit. Instead, ‘Bodhidharma stated that good works performed with the intention of accumulating merit were without value, as they would result in favourable rebirths but would not bring about enlightenment.



And, I would like to visit Liana’s hometown in the eastern part of the province; meet her mother, brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces, cousins, and friends; and pay my respects at her father’s grave.


Henan, I now have family there.

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