Home to the world's most famous Buddhist monastery, Henan's Shaolin Temple also happens to be the birthplace of Shaolin Kung Fu. The world over, the mere mention of Shaolin conjures images of ancient Kung Fu warriors soaring through forests and engaging armies of ill-prepared enemy combatants. And while Kung Fu does include spectacular fighting skills, the beginnings of Shaolin stem from a far more tranquil resplendency.
Built during the turbulent 5th century, the origins of Shaolin Kung Fu began with the legendary Buddhist master, Dharma. Dharma arrived at the Shaolin Temple in 527 AD on a mission to spread the wisdom of Buddhism to the Chinese people. As an observance of stillness and meditation, Dharma's practice favored a locale marked by quiet elegance. With its inspiring springs, forests and hillsides, the Temple and its surroundings was the ideal atmosphere for this new Zen practice. Thus Dharma's work began and expanded deep into Chinese culture and beyond.
From these quiet and humble practices, Shaolin martial arts began as a simple solution to an unintended problem of monastic life. Because adherence to Zen requires countless hours of sitting in complete stillness, practitioners grew physically weary and weak. The first version of Kung Fu was merely a form of calisthenics to refresh the bodies and minds of the Shaolin monks. But from these beginnings, the infusion of the monks' devotion transcended their simple exercises into one of the most formidable martial arts the world has ever seen. Today, martial arts aficionados and interested observers visit the Shaolin Temple in Zhengzhou to admire its abundant natural beauty, appreciate the depth of Zen practice and, of course, to be dazzled by the astonishing feats of Shaolin's martial monks.
Just south of the majestic Songshan Mountain Range, the Shaolin Temple lies at the foot of its namesake, the Shaoshi Mountain. Covering over 30,000 square meters, the Temple grounds consist primarily of the Changzhu Yard, which is the Shaolin Temple's main building. Here the monks and deacons of the Temple live and carry out their practices. Built adjacent to the mountain, the Changzhu Yard consists of seven main buildings and a wealth of antiques and historic sites, including: the Progenitor Hut, the Forest of Steles, Daxiong Hall, the Hall of One Thousand Buddhas, the Pagoda Forest, Yugong Pagoda and Dharma Cave.
The practice of Buddhism focuses on attaining transcendence through relinquishing desire and ignorance. In China, Buddhism has gone through several ups and downs throughout its 2,000 years in this nation. Still riding the wave of the "Second Revival," about 20% of Chinese citizens identify themselves as Buddhists.
Several temples and monuments in Henan pay homage to this world religion. The most famous of which is, of course, Zhengzhou's Shaolin Temple. Recognized the world over as the preeminent Zen Monastery and the birthplace of Shaolin Kung Fu. Another well-known Zhengzhou temple is the Songyue Temple. Visitors frequent this Northern Wei Dynasty structure to see China's tallest brick tower.
In Kaifeng, the Xiangguo Temple sits as a monument to an earlier time where Chinese Buddhism enjoyed great popularity. Built in 555 AD, Xiangguo has seen its fair allotment of turbulence in the form of war and natural disaster. The imperial temple of antiquity, today Xiangguo hosts the annual Kaifeng Chrysanthemum Exhibition. Another Buddhist icon in Kaifeng is the Iron Pagoda. Built in 1055 AD, this remarkably resilient structure serves as a shrine to Buddhas and bodhisattvas, containing the preserved remains of the great Indian emperor, King Asoka.
In Anyang, the Wenfeng Pagoda stands amidst the ruins of the Tianning Temple. Famous for its unique structural style, the 38-meter-tall tower rests wider from the top to the bottom, taking the shape of an umbrella.
Hebi is home to the Dapi Hill Scenic Area, a celebrated resort for both foreign and local visitors. Between the Scenic Area's two hills, there are 9 Buddhist and Taoist temples. The Tianning Temple is famous for its 22-meter tall stone statue of the Buddha and the Qianfo ("1,000 Buddhas") Cave
The core of Taoism is to live in harmony with the Tao, which is alternately understood as the universe, the driving life force and, simply, "the path." Taoist practice is based in deep philosophical ideas as well as powerful magic. As the birthplace of Laozi, the founder of Taoism, Henan is an important geographical location for Taoist history.
Among the many monuments to the Tao is Zhengzhou's Zhongyue Temple. The grandest ancient structure of the Songshan Mountain, Zhongyue covers 100,000 square meters on an expanse of 6.5 kilometers. Meanwhile, in Hebi, the Dapi Hill Scenic Area is a shared sacred space of both Buddhist and Taoist relics. Dapi's Bixia Palace represents a holy place for Taoism where its palace walls present depictions of over 3,000 immortal figures. Hebi's Yunmeng Mountain Scenic Area is home to the Shangsheng Palace. Located in the temple area of North Hill, Shangsheng contains a giant statue of the Jade Emperor of Heaven, Taoism's supreme deity.
Situated in the open fields between the You and Tang Rivers, Youlicheng was China's first national prison. This historic facility is where Emperor Wenwang of the Zhou Dynasty wrote the Taoist classic: The Book of Changes (The I Ching). Renowned for its vast cultural connotations, Youlicheng continues to thrive as a hub for the study of The Book of Changes and its practical applications.
40 kilometers from Jiyuan City, Wangwushan Scenic Area is the site of the Jiuligou Resort. This Taoist influenced resort features over 80 magical scenic spots. Among these are the 108 Yanshou Steps, built to extend the climber's life as each step is traversed.
Confucianism is not actually a religion, but instead is a system of ethical beliefs and practices designed to bring order and success to society. Henan features several Confucian monuments, starting with the Zhengzhou Confucius Temple. Built during the Eastern Han Dynasty, this Temple has served as a sacred space to worship the venerable Confucius and other sages.
In Xinxiang, the Sumen Mountain is noted as an ancient retreat for Sun Qifeng, the distinguished Qing Dynasty Confucian scholar. The Scenic Area's beautiful scenery has always attracted luminaries seeking replenishment and inspiration. Meanwhile, inside the Temple of Bi Gan, a number of precious relics are preserved including the stele carved by Confucius himself. This inscription is the only known example of the Master's actual handwriting. Said to have been carved with his sword, this stele is honored as "the First Stele Under Heaven."
In other cities: Shangqiu is home to the Wenya Terrace, a memorial to Confucius, and Zhoukou is where Cheng Hao, the great Confucian thinker, established Zhoukou's Confucian Academy.
The second most practiced religion on earth, Islam is characterized by the worship of Allah, Islam's one true God. Followers of Islam are referred to as Muslims, and their houses of worship are called mosques. In China, the Hui People represent a primarily Muslim ethnic group.
With a long history in the Henan Province, Muslim residents have been documented in Henan since the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD). By the end of the Yuan Dynasty, in 1368, Henan had become the main region for Muslims in China's central plains.
By the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Muslim residents lived in approximately 100 Henan states and counties. By the 2010 census, Henan's Hui population reached nearly one million, most of whom live in Zhengzhou, Kaifeng and Luoyang.
With 620 mosques, there are many houses of worship available for Henan's Islamic followers. Among these sacred temples is the Kaifeng Grand Mosque, famous for its "Stone Locks" martial arts practice. Also in Kaifeng is the Zhuxianzhen Muslim North Grand Mosque. Other important mosques in Henan include the Zhengzhou North Grand Mosque, the Qinyang North Grand Mosque and the Boaixian Xiguan Mosque.
Judaism is the religion of the Jewish people. Generally understood as both cultural heritage and spiritual practice, Judaism can be found in many parts of the world and includes many different forms. It is also relevant as the parent religion to Islam and Christianity.
Though few in number, there are some Jews living in China. In Henan, the Kaifeng Jews are a particularly well-known group. Though hotly debated, some believe that this Jewish community has existed since the Han Dynasty, arriving as early as the 2nd century BC. The theory is that a small group of Persian Jews immigrated to China along the Silk Road.
Stele inscriptions in Kaifeng pay tribute to the history of this unique people. The oldest stele is from 1489 and describes the construction of the Jewish Temple in Kaifeng in 1163 as well as an account of how the Jews arrived in Kaifeng. Two other steles describe Jewish practices and other historical incidents. Of particular interest are stele references to General Yue Fei's famous tattoo: "Boundless loyalty to the country." These inscriptions describe the "boundless loyalty" of the Chinese Jews, quite a testament to the Kaifeng's Jewish ancestors.
Despite their isolation, the Jews of Kaifeng preserved their traditions and customs for many centuries. Eventually intermarriage and assimilation eroded many of these practices. But recent efforts to acknowledge and promote Judaism in China have begun to gain traction. As China has developed diplomatic relations with Israel, the Chinese began to show interest in Judaism, driven perhaps by historical records of Shanghai's 25,000 Jewish World War II refugees. Still, it wasn't until 2009 that the first group of Kaifeng Jews were actually able to arrive in Israel. Their story is told in the documentary film: Kaifing, Jerusalem. Interested visitors can make a stopover at the Kaifeng Jewish History Memorial Center. Run by a descendent of the original Kaifeng Jews, the Memorial Center is also the site of the Kaifeng Synagogue. The Center's mission is to preserve and restore Kaifeng's Jewish heritage and eventually rebuild the ancient temple.
Christianity is a global religion based on the teachings of Jesus Christ. Founded as a sect of Judaism in the early 1st century, some trace Christianity in China back to 316 AD, a date based on the 2009 discovery of Henan's Assyrian Church burial ground. The Assyrian Church, also known as the Nestorian Church, is regarded as China's earliest Christian movement.
Christianity is now considered the fastest growing religion in the country. Henan in particular is believed to have the largest Christian population of all China's provinces.
The history of Christianity in China has seen many ups and downs. In 1899, the bloody Yihetuan Movement ("the Boxer Rebellion") arose in Henan as an anti-Christian uprising. These nationalist crusaders sought to repel western imperialism. Since then, Christianity has slowly rebuilt its presence in the region, ultimately seeing the rise of various Christian communities, including house churches, Protestantism, Roman Catholicism and the Three-Self Church, the official Protestant Church of China. In Zhengzhou, the Henan Bible School serves as a seminary for the Three-Self Church, instructing their students on the values of church and country.
Christianity's largest sect, the Roman Catholic Church, has dioceses in Zhengzhou, Xingyang, Weihui, Nanyang, Louyang and Kaifeng. The Archdiocese of Kaifeng is the most of significant, serving the Roman Catholics of Henan. It was established in 1916 and conducts worship ceremonies in the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Kaifeng.
Henan province of China has one of the largest Christian populations of East Asia.  There are believed to be several million Christians in Henan, most of them attending Chinese house churches.  Henan is thought to have one of the most significant proportions of Christians of any Chinese province.  Henan has one of the largest Protestant populations of the country.  Many Protestants of Henan live in rural areas.  On August 6, 2004, a hundred house church members were arrested in Henan.  During the Boxer Rebellion, Christians were killed in Henan.  The Henan Mission, up to 1925 of the Presbyterian Church of Canada, was founded in 1888.  The Shouters are active in the province.  There is persecution of Christians.  Bishop Li Hongye was arrested in Luoyang in 2001.  A Henan Bible School exists.