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Kaifeng Travel Guide

Kaifeng

On the southern bank of the Yellow River, the ancient city of Kaifeng has withstood natural disasters, invasions and time.

Since 361 BC Kaifeng's city walls have shielded early kingdoms and dynasties from northern invaders. The city's fortunes reached a zenith during the cosmopolitan Song dynasty this period distinguished Kaifeng as one of China's most historically important cities.

For 168 years, the Eastern Capital, as Kaifeng was then known, flourished as a political, economic and cultural hub of the Middle Kingdom. Its streets bustled with people, animals and lively commerce. Resplendent temples and synagogues drew crowds of the faithful. Through its gilded city gates, camel caravans and Silk Road merchants sauntered in with bags full of goods.

Culture blossomed through poetry, calligraphy, philosophy and the arts. Ceramic art reached its peak; no subsequent dynasty was able to replicate the exquisitely refined work of the Song ceramic masters. Today, only few pieces of priceless porcelain from the famous Guan Kiln exists.

Kaifeng, home to 1.5 million people in its heyday, is a city of "firsts." In 1041, printer Bi Sheng invented a revolutionary moveable type technology that accelerated the spread of ideas and culture throughout China. The first mechanical clock in the world was also produced here in 1092 and Kaifeng's astronomical clock tower ran on hydropower generated by a gigantic water wheel.

The renowned Northern Song statesman and scientist Shen Kuo also came from Kaifeng. His 30-volume work called is a priceless record of the learning and cultivation of his era, covering politics, economics, philosophy, history, military affairs, science and technology. In one article, Shen Kuo wrote about petroleum, which he called (rock oil), a term still used today. He recorded the properties of petroleum, its sources and uses such as how petroleum ashes could be made into ink sticks.

Even more fascinating is that Kaifeng is the earliest Chinese city to be home to a sizeable Jewish community. The first Jews arrived at Kaifeng having traveled the arduous Silk Road from Persia. Their first synagogue was built as far back as 1163, but never rebuilt after the flood of 1852.Three stone tablets in Kaifeng Museum record their arrival. Kaifeng's golden days are etched onto a 5.28mlongmasterpiece called. This valuable scroll painting was the handiwork of artist Zhang Zeduan of the Northern Song dynasty, depicts Kaifeng in amazing detail, offering an insight into the social milieu of the day one can see the goods on sale along the market streets, the gentleman scholar interacting with his servants. It now rests with other national relics in the Palace Museum of Beijing's Forbidden City.

For 3,000 years, the city endured various manmade and natural disasters. It was subjected to incursions from the north and relentless flooding by the Yellow River a catastrophic combination that has left precious few reminders of its forgotten splendor. Yet modern Kaifeng retains a character and sleepy charm lost to other ancient capitals touched by modernity. Song dynasty architecture, for one, still lives on in pockets of Kaifeng.

Kaifeng Memorable Experience
Playing chess with an elderly man at Dragon Pavilion Park while a large crowd of spectators build up around us, giving advice and a running commentary.
Shopping for souvenirs in a hyperactive market and getting a vendor to lower the price by 60%.
Pottering around the city center's old streets and drinking in the frenzied street activities.

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