2016/03/16

History of Kaifeng


Kaifeng (simplified Chinese: 开封; traditional Chinese: 開封; pinyin: Kāifēng; Wade–Giles: K'aifeng), known previously by several names (see below), is a prefecture-level city in east-central Henan province, Central China. Nearly 5 million people live in the metropolitan area. Located along the southern bank of the Yellow River, it borders the provincial capital of Zhengzhou to the west, Xinxiang to the northwest, Shangqiu to the east, Zhoukou to the southeast, Xuchang to the southwest, and the province of Shandong to the northeast.

The Chinese Postal Map Romanization for the city is "Kaifeng". Its official one-character abbreviation in Chinese is 汴 (Biàn). Historically it has also been known as:

Dàliáng (Chinese: 大梁)
Biànliáng (Chinese: 汴梁)
Biànzhōu (Chinese: 汴州)
Nánjīng (Chinese: 南京)
Dōngjīng (Chinese: 东京)
Biànjīng (Chinese: 汴京)

The name "Kaifeng" first appeared as the area's name after the Qin Dynasty's conquest of China in the 2nd century BC and literally means "expand the borders".

Kaifeng is one of the Seven Ancient Capitals of China. As with Beijing, there have been many reconstructions during its history.

In 364 BC during the Warring States Period, the State of Wei founded a city called Daliang (大梁)as its capital in this area. During this period, the first of many canals in the area was constructed linking a local river to the Yellow River. When the State of Wei was conquered by the State of Qin, Kaifeng was destroyed and abandoned except for a mid-sized market town, which remained in place.

Early in the 7th century, Kaifeng was transformed into a major commercial hub when it was connected to the Grand Canal as well as through the construction of a canal running to western Shandong Province.

In 781 during the Tang Dynasty, a new city was reconstructed and named Bian (汴). Bian was the capital of the Later Jin (936–946), Later Han (947–950), and Later Zhou (951–960) of the Five Dynasties Period. The Song Dynasty made Bian its capital when it overthrew the Later Zhou in 960. Shortly afterwards the city underwent further expansion.

During the Song Dynasty when it was known as Dongjing or Bianjing, Kaifeng was the Chinese capital with a population of over 400,000, living both inside and outside the city wall. Typhus was an acute problem in the city. The historian Jacques Gernet provides a lively picture of life in this period in his Daily Life in China, on the Eve of the Mongol Invasion, 1250-1276, which draws on Dongjing Meng Hua Lu (Dreams of Splendor of the Eastern Capital), a nostalgic memoir.

In 1049, the Youguosi Pagoda (佑国寺塔), or Iron Pagoda (铁塔) as it is called today was constructed measuring 54.7 metres (179 ft) in height. It has survived the vicissitudes of war and floods to become the oldest landmark in this ancient city. Another Song Dynasty pagoda, Bo Ta (繁塔), dating from 974 has been partially destroyed.

Games in the Jinming Pool, an early 12th century painting depicting Kaifeng, by Zhang Zeduan.

Another well-known sight was the astronomical clock tower of the engineer, scientist, and statesman Su Song (1020–1101 AD). It was crowned with a rotating armillary sphere that was hydraulically powered (i.e. by waterwheel and a clepsydra clock), yet it incorporated an escapement mechanism two hundred years before they were found in the clockworks of Europe and featured the first known endless power-transmitting chain drive.

Kaifeng reached its peak importance in the 11th century when it was a commercial and industrial center at the intersection of four major canals. During this time, the city was surrounded by three rings of city walls and probably had a population of between 600,000 and 700,000.

It is believed that Kaifeng was the largest city in the world from 1013 to 1127.

This period ended in 1127 when the city fell to Jurchen invaders (see Jingkang Incident) and subsequently came under the rule of the Jin Dynasty. While it remained an important administrative center, only the city area inside the inner city wall of the early Song Dynasty remained settled and the two outer rings were abandoned.

One major problem associated with Kaifeng as the imperial capital of the Song Dynasty was its location. While it was conveniently situated along the Grand Canal for logistic supply, Kaifeng was militarily vulnerable due to its position on the flood plains of the Yellow River.

Kaifeng served as the Jurchen "southern capital" from 1157 (other sources say 1161) and was reconstructed during this time. The Jurchen kept their main capital further north until 1214 when they were forced to move the imperial court southwards to Kaifeng in order to flee from the Mongol onslaught. In 1234 they succumbed to the combined Mongol and Song Dynasty forces. Mongols took control, and in 1279 they conquered all of China.

Earth Market Street, Kaifeng, 1910. The synagogue of the Kaifeng Jews lay beyond the row of stores on the right.

At the beginning of the Ming Dynasty in 1368, Kaifeng was made the capital of Henan province.

In 1642, Kaifeng was flooded by the Ming army with water from the Yellow River to prevent the peasant rebel Li Zicheng from taking over. After this disaster the city was abandoned again.

In 1662, during the reign of the Kangxi Emperor in the Qing Dynasty, Kaifeng was rebuilt. However, further flooding occurred in 1841 followed by another reconstruction in 1843, which produced the contemporary Kaifeng as it stands today.

Kaifeng is also known for having the oldest extant Jewish community in China, the Kaifeng Jews.

One of Kaifeng's many mosques. The city is unusual in having certain mosques reserved exclusively for women.

It is also a Muslim enclave, and contains what is thought to be China's oldest surviving mosque.

It was here too that in 1969, the former Chairman of the People's Republic of China Liu Shaoqi, died in prison from medical neglect.

Extended Reading


 Iron Pagoda in Kaifeng

 Bao Zheng: A Noted Official of Kaifeng in Song Dynasty

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