China realized the importance of preserving its natural treasures and thus, joined the International Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage in 1985. Since 2004, China has made great effort in renovating and preserving its heritage sites. Of the 45 world heritage sites to date, three can be found in Henan Province: the Longmen Grottoes, Yin xu and the "Historic Monuments of Dengfeng."
Being deemed the "Cradle of Chinese Civilization," no visit to Henan is complete with visiting the Longmen Grottoes. The Longmen Grottoes, considered one of the four Major Grottoes in China, is located in the beautiful and serene mountains of Luoyang. Construction began in the year 493 by Emperor Xiaowen of the Northern Wei Dynasty and was continuously built for the next 400 years until the Song Dynasty. The grotto measures almost 3300feet in length, containg more than 2,300 holes and niches, 2,800 steles, 1,300 caves and 100,000 statues. Most were carved during the Northern Wei Dynasty and the flourishing age of the Tang Dynasty, representing the peak of Chinese artistic stone carving.
The most imposing and magnificent of all the caves, the Fengxian Temple Grotto was carved during the Tang Dynasty and contains the most beautiful and best examples of sculpture, despite weathering and erosion. The three-dimensional figures have natural expressions and the largest statue, a seated central Buddha, towers at 17m high.
Wanfo Cave was completed in 680, a typical chronological cave of the Tang Dynasty. The namesake is from the more than 15,000 small statues of Buddha chiseled in the southern and northern walls of the cave. A composed and solemn faced Buddha Amida sits at the center of the cave atop a lotus Sumeru throne. Lifelike reliefs of charming singers and dancers are also depicted on the wall.
Guyang Cave is the earliest of the caves, with three tiers of niches filled with hundreds of statues, most engraved with the name and dates of the artists. The sculptures are of diverse shapes and patterns, representing the Gandhara Art style. Nineteen of the 20 most famous calligraphies can be found in this cave.
The Yin Ruins Museum
In 1899 several ancient relics were discovered in Anyang. Dating back to the Shang Dynasty, these ruins are now preserved in the Yin Ruins Museum. This location is considered the birthplace of Chinese archeology and one of the 100 Patriotic Education Centers of China.
Large quantities of relics were found here including bone and shell inscriptions, bronze and stone wares, jade and rare cultural relics from over 50 ancient palaces. Archeologists describe these finds as the unearthing the glorious achievements of ancient Shang civilization as well as their cruel and morbid slavery practices.
Fuhao is a particularly important find. Excavated in 1976, this tomb is one the largest and most intact remnants of the Shang Dynasty. Housing numerous valuable artifacts of jade, bronze and ivory, Fuhao is also the final resting place of 16 slaves. Buried alive to serve their masters in the afterworld, the remains of these poor souls is evidence of the nefarious Shang practice of human sacrifice.
Another important archeological find is the Chariot Pits of the Yin Ruins. The earliest chariot and road remains found in Chinese archeology, these ruins point to the likelihood that the Chinese invented animal drawn carts. Excavated by the Archeology Research Institute of China's Social Science Academy, these pits are largely intact and demonstrate both technological advances as well as the archaic cruelty of slave culture. In each pit a chariot is buried along with two horses and one immolated human slave.
Many of the cultural relics found here originate from the Palace of the Yin Ruins. These artifacts show the creativity, wisdom and workmanship of the ancient Chinese. According to famed historian, Guo Moruo, the Yin Ruins are the starting point of Chinese central plains civilization and touring here is more enlightening than reading ancient books. Among these great historical relics are the Oracle Bone and Shell Inscriptions. Marked with early Chinese characters, these Yin Dynasty inscriptions are known as ancient China's earliest "archive." With over 4,500 single Chinese characters recorded on 150,000 bones and shells, these artifacts reveal the political, military, scientific and cultural practices of their time.
Also represented in the Yin Ruins Museum are pieces from the Chinese Bronze age. The various bronze wares include sacrificial vessels and weapons, showcasing the workmanship of the Yin people. Among the most important bronze relics found here is the Simuwu Quadripod. The largest bronze sacrificial vessel in the world, the Yin Ruins Museum displays a reproduction, as the original is housed in the Museum of Chinese History.
Historic Monuments of Dengfeng in "The Center of Heaven and Earth"
Historic Monuments of Dengfeng comprises of 11 buildings, including the Architectural Complex of Shaolin Temple, Three Que of the Eastern Han Dynasty, Zhongyue Temple, Songye Temple Pagoda, Huishan Temple, Songyang Academny of Classical Learning and The Defeng Observatory.
The Three Que of the Eastern Han Dynasty is the earliest and sole Que temple preserved in China. The intricate inscriptions and stone carving art engraved in the temple exemplify valuable data for the study of architectural, art and social history of the Eastern Han Dynasty.
According to legend, Emperor Hanwudi arrived at what was then called Taishi Temple to a chorus of cheers from Songshan Mountain itself, proclaiming, "Long Live Your Majesty!" Thus began a multi-generational effort to venerate and expand what would come to be known as the Zhongyue Temple. Hanwudi's vision was continued through the Tang and Song Dynasties, where the Temple reached it cultural and architectural epoch. It then experienced a lull in its prominence until Emperor Qianlong endeavored upon a major remedy of this iconic spiritual center.
The grandest ancient structure of the Songshan Mountain, Zhongyue Temple covers 100,000 square meters and features eleven separate establishments laid out over an expanse of 6.5 kilometers. Within these establishments, over 400 individual buildings are contained along with 335 cypress trees. Sculptures, relics, steles and artifacts from ancient eras call Zhongyue Temple home. These cultural treasures hail from as far back as the Han Dynasty and as recent as the Qing Dynasty, a wide historical range of 205 BC to 1368 AD. Of particular spiritual and cultural value are the over 100 ancient woodcarvings of Taoist classics and the 1000 board carvings depicting the history of the Temple and its surrounding region.