There is no shortage of sights to visit in Henan Province. We have compiled a list of the Top 5 Must see Attractions in Henan for the first time visitor to the Province. Advanced travelers may venture to the lesser known sights, which can be found in each of the city pages.
Quite likely the most well known Buddhist Monastery on the planet, the mere mention of the Shaolin Temple conjures images of ancient Kung Fu warriors soaring through forests and battling armies of ill-prepared enemy soldiers. An amazing and illustrious part of the Temple's history, no doubt, but the noble abbey's origins come from a far more tranquil resplendency.
Built in the midst of the turbulent 5th century Northern Wei Dynasty, the legendary Buddhist master, Dharma, arrived at the Shaolin Temple in 527 AD.This Indian guru came to China 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 circling springs, flourishing forests, and rolling hillsides, the Temple and its surroundings provided the ideal atmosphere to establish this new Zen monastery. Thus Dharma's influence began the ever-expanding interest and influence of Zen Buddhism in Chinese culture. The Shaolin Temple is now regarded as the birthplace of Zen Buddhism, while Dharma is considered its founder.
From these contemplative practices, Shaolin martial arts humbly arose as a practical solution to an unintended side effect of the monastic life. Because adherence to Zen requires countless hours of sitting at a wall in complete stillness, practitioners inevitably began to succumb to weariness and physical deterioration. The first iteration of Kung Fu was merely a form of calisthenics to refresh the bodies and minds of the Shaolin monks. It was perhaps the pervasive influence of their devotion to Zen that transformed these 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 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 Temple's main building. Here the Temple monks and deacons reside and carry out their practices. Built adjacent to the mountain, the Changzhu Yard consists of seven main buildings. The major structures are featured along the middle line with several ancillaries along their wings. Within these halls, visitors find a wealth of selected antiques and historic sites, including sculptures, frescos, steles, and pagodas. Among the more renowned sites are the Progenitor Hut, the Forest of Steles, Daxiong Hall, the Hall of One Thousand Buddhas, the Pagoda Forest, Yugong Pagoda, and Dharma Cave.
Longmen Grottoes is considered one of the four great Grottoes of China, located 13km south of Luoyang. Construction began in the year 493 during the reign of Emperor Xiaowen of the Northern Wei Dynasty, completed 400 years later. The extensive and intensive labor resulted in more than 2300 holes and niches being carved, created more than 2,800 steles and 1,300 caves with over 100,000 statues. Among the numerous caves chiseled, the Guyang Cave, Middle Binyang Cave, Lianhua and Shikusi Caves are most notable for its intricacies and delicate artwork.
Of the key grottoes, the grand cluster Vairocana Buddha statues are the most impressive, centered by the imposing yet graceful giant statue of Vairocana Buddha at Fengxiang Temple. The sculpture complex is a perfect artistic integration of virtue, rich sentiments and elegance.
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.
Yellow River Scenic Area
As the second largest river in China, the Yellow River flows for nearly 5,500 kilometers. Its prominent presence in China's central basin provides deep historical significance as the originating region of Chinese civilization. It is also here that nature's splendid manifestation surrounds all visitors with unforgettable sight and sounds.
An ideal location for experiencing the Yellow River's central basin is the Yellow River Scenic Area. 30 kilometers northwest of Zhengzhou, the Scenic Area is located in-between the Yellow River and Yueshan Mountain. Hillsides, greenery, pavilions and waterways abound in this exemplar of Central Chinese natural beauty.
The Yellow River Scenic Area features five prominent scenic spots, most notable of which is the Five Dragons Peak. The "Dragons" in actuality are a series of five mountain peaks. Scattered along this range are numerous ancient pavilions. Other featured sights include the Camel Mountain Range, the Yueshan Temple, the Stone Figures of Yandi and Huangdi, and the Ancient City of Liu Bang and Xiang Yu.