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Henan (河南 hé nán), Yu (豫 yù) for short, is a province located in the Northern Central Region of China. It shares its borders with six other provinces, Shandong to the northeast, Hebei to the north, Shanxi to the northwest, Shaanxi to the west, Hubei to the south, and Anhui to the east. The eastern portion is flat and part of the North China Plain, one of the most densely populated areas on Earth. Indeed Henan is the most populous province in China, with almost 100 million people. The mountainous west and southwest is more remote with vast expanses of forest.
The Yellow River (mother river of the Chinese nation) runs through Henan. The province’s name is from he (river) and nan (south), though there are five prefecture-level cities located north of the Yellow River.
Henan lies in a transitional climatic zone between the North China Plain and the Yangtze valley. Although protected in some degree from the Mongolian winds by the Taihang Mountains, Henan has cold winters; summers are hot and humid. Average January temperature in the north is 28 °F (−2 °C) and in the south 36 °F (2 °C). Average July temperature over the lowlands is 82 °F (28 °C), while in the western mountains it is a degree or two lower. There are 180 frost-free days annually in the north and 240 in the south.
Precipitation (nearly all of it rain) is distributed more evenly throughout the year than it is in the rest of North China, although there is a marked spring-summer maximum. Kaifeng has an average rainfall of 23 inches (580 mm), of which only 3 inches (75 mm) fall in the autumn and winter months. There is a steady decrease in total rainfall from southeast to northwest and a marked increase in variability. Henan is therefore more subject to years of alternating heavy rain and drought than the provinces of the Yangtze valley. In the past it had suffered from severe famine. It also experiences spring cloudbursts and occasional hailstorms, both of which can be highly destructive. In times of drought, summer dust storms are worse even than those of winter.
The natural vegetation of Henan is deciduous forest and woodland over the plains, and deciduous and coniferous forest in the western highlands. Intensive settlement of the plains has long since led to the clearance of the trees to make way for cultivation. The mountains, however, retain some of their woodland. Since 1949 major efforts have been made in planting trees for shelter, timber, and other uses. More than 400 varieties of vertebrate land animals inhabit the province, most of them living in the upland forests. A number of species are endangered, including the serow (Capricornis sumatraensis), a type of mountain goat.
The vast majority of the people of Henan are Han (Chinese). There are no autonomous minority groups such as are found in the western provinces, the small number of Hui (Chinese Muslims) being integrated into the broader population. Earlier Mongol and Manchu invaders were absorbed and Sinicized. In the 12th century, when Kaifeng was the imperial capital of the Song dynasty, Jews originally from India or Persia became an important part of the community. The Kaifeng Jews retained their identity until the late 19th century, after which they were absorbed.
Henan became China’s most populous province in the late 1990s, after Chongqing municipality was separated from Sichuan province. The majority of the population lives in rural areas, the greatest concentration being in the eastern plain. Densities nearly as great are found in the Yi and Luo river basins and in the plain around Nanyang in the southwest, but in the more mountainous west and south they are considerably less. On the eastern plain, villages are fairly close together, usually about 1 mile (1.6 km) apart. In the mountains they are smaller and more widely dispersed. Houses are made mainly of mud-plastered walls and thatched roofs.
There was considerable movement of rural people of the plains to towns in the west in 1958–59, during agricultural collectivization and the Great Leap Forward. Rural-to-urban migration has continued since then, although the overall proportion classified as urban has remained small. Nonetheless, two cities—Zhengzhou and Luoyang—have a population greater than one million each, and Zhengzhou’s urban area population exceeds 2.5 million.
Henan’s economy is essentially agricultural. Most of the total cultivated area lies in the plains to the east of the Beijing-Guangzhou railway. The only idle land is found in the mountains and in the saline lands of the northeast. Main food crops include winter wheat, millet, kaoliang (a variety of grain sorghum), soybeans, barley, corn (maize), sweet potatoes, rice, and green lentils. Wheat is by far the most important, in both acreage and production, Henan ranking at the top in output among the provinces. Rice occupies only a small percentage of the crop area; its yield per acre, however, is almost three times as great as that of wheat. Fruit growing has received considerable impetus in recent years, partly for its own sake and partly for soil conservation, particularly in the idle sandy lands of the northeast and on mountain slopes. Dates, persimmons, apples, and pears are the main fruits, with walnuts and chestnuts also grown. Henan produces draft animals of good quality, particularly yellow oxen and donkeys. Hogs are the most important food animals, and goats and sheep are mainly raised in the western mountains.
The chief industrial crops are cotton, tobacco, vegetable oils, and silk. Cotton is widely grown on about half the acreage available for farming, with its main concentration north of the Huang He around Anyang and Xinxiang. Tobacco growing, introduced into Henan in 1916, increased enormously after 1949; Henan is now one of China’s largest tobacco producers. Vegetable oils are important, with Henan one of China’s largest producers of sesame, grown mainly in the east and south. Ramie, the most important of the leafy fibres, is grown in eastern Henan in the Huai River valley. Henan is one of the oldest centres of sericulture (silkworm raising) in China. The industry dates to the Dong (Eastern) Han dynasty (25–220 CE). Both mulberry leaf culture and oak tree culture for silkworms flourished between the two World Wars but suffered severely during the Sino-Japanese War (1937–45). After 1949 there was a revival on the slopes of the Funiu Mountains, and the province became an important exporter of silk.
Henan suffers severely at times from locusts, which winter in the arid, sandy, alkaline soils beside the Huang He. Extended and improved cultivation in these areas has helped control the pest.
Henan is home of Yu Cai (豫菜), one of the eight traditional cuisines of China.
Hú là tāng (胡辣汤). This local breakfast is a must try for those who are willing to adventure into proper Henan cuisine. Its a broth made of black pepper, anise, ginger, cinnamon, beef and bone soup. It comes with a product made of soy, and you can dip items like mantou or youtiao in it.
Huì miàn (烩面). Noodles in hot bone soup, with cilantro and wood ear (Auricularia auricula-judae).
Dàokǒu shāojī (道口烧鸡) is the competitor of Beijing duck. People here say that if a foreign dignitary comes to China, Daokou Shaoji will be present on the table.
Xiǎo Sū Ròu (小酥肉). There are halal versions somewhere in Henan, using lamb, but in general it uses pork. The meat is first dipped into flour and then fried. Afterwards, it can be further cooked either in soup with lots of vegetables or plain.
Liáng Cài (凉菜) This variety is all over China, but don’t miss this while you are in Henan. It comes in dozens of varieties and is mainly cold, as the name states (liang cai literally means “cold vegetables”). Recommended are: liáng bàn dòu jiǎo (凉拌豆角 – cold green beans), huáng guā biàn dàn (黄瓜变蛋 – cold cucumber and preserved eggs).
Kāifēng xiǎolóngbāo (开封小笼包) Original steamed dumplings that were invented in the old Song capital of Kaifeng. After the Jin destroyed this city, the capital relocated to Hangzhou in modern day Zhejiang Province, thus taking along with them these famed steamed dumplings. Nowadays, the Hangzhou xiaolongbao even has its own chain throughout China, therefore its competitor in Kaifeng has lost its fame, but all locals will tell you that Kaifeng xiaolongbao is a must try and the predecessor of all the xiaolongbao in China.
Huì cài (烩菜) is found throughout northern Henan. It can be found in areas like Anyang, a prefecture that borders Hebei in the north. It’s basically a stew of different varieties of vegetables although the standard would be cabbage, tofu and noodles made from sweet potato.
Henan is rich in a wide variety of minerals, and these have provided the base for developing the province’s industries. Both bituminous and anthracite coal are found along the slopes of the Taihang Mountains, and big reserves of good coking coal in thick, easily mined seams are found in the Funiu Mountains between Huchang and Pingdingshan. Iron ore is found at Ruyang on the Ru River in the Xiong’er Mountains, as well as some pyrite, bauxite, and mica. Large coal mines at Jiaozuo supply the fast-growing industries of Luoyang, Zhengzhou, Kaifeng, and Xinxiang but are still inadequate. The vast coalfield at Pingdingshan in central Henan is one of the largest in China. In addition, large proven reserves of low-sulfur petroleum and natural gas are extracted at the Zhongyuan complex of oil fields in the northeast. There also are deposits of lead, molybdenum, gold, and silver.
Henan is a significant producer of energy, with thermal plants in Zhengzhou, Luoyang, Kaifeng, and Xinxiang linked by a power line. An ultrahigh-voltage transmission system, one of the largest in China when it was completed in the early 1980s, transports electricity from the Pingdingshan area to Wuhan in Hubei province. Hydroelectricity is of growing importance. In addition to the Sanmen facility, there is the even larger Xiaolangdi station on the Huang He north of Luoyang.
Although before 1949 there was little industrial development in Henan, from 1950 industrialization was both rapid and extensive. Much of the early development tapped Henan’s rich coal seams in the northwest. Subsequently, a comprehensive system of industrial production was enacted, with engineering, nonferrous metallurgical, and textile industries as its pillars. The province is a national leader in lead, aluminum, and glass production.
Luoyang was chosen as the site for China’s first tractor factory, opened in 1958. Since then its output has burgeoned, and Luoyang has become a heavy industry centre. Zhengzhou lies in the heart of the cotton-growing area and is now the centre of the textile industry. Kaifeng, imperial capital of the Song emperors, declined after the 11th century—especially when the Huang He dikes were broken by rebel forces and the region was flooded in 1642. Although it eventually was restored, it remained marginalized until large chemical-fertilizer works and a tractor-accessories plant led to its revival in the 20th century. Xinxiang, the most important city of northern Henan, is the hub of the region’s railway network as well as a centre of diversified manufacturing.
Emphasis has shifted over the years from heavy to light manufactures. There has been a growth in the production of consumer goods such as cigarettes, electronic products, bicycles, household appliances, textiles, and tableware. In addition, regional handicraft products—including lacquerware, jade carvings, tin pots, ink slabs, and tricolour glazed pottery horses (imitations of the ceramic horses produced during the Tang dynasty—are all well-known throughout the country.
Although the Huang He flows through northern Henan, it serves the province poorly as a line of communication. Within the province it was navigable only in the Sanmen Gorge until the construction of the dam there. Even now it is useful over the plain only for small rivercraft. The Huai and its tributaries flowing down from the western mountains are rapid in their upper courses and silted in their lower, so that they too serve only small craft. The Wei of northeastern Henan, flowing north into the Hai system, has been joined by the People’s Victory Canal to the Huang He. In 1964–65 it was successfully dredged in an experiment aimed at deepening the riverbed and so increasing flow and reducing waterlogging.
Zhengzhou is at the junction of China’s two greatest trunk railways, the line running from Beijing to Guangzhou and the Longhai line, which runs from the east coast to Xinjiang, in the far northwest. Local railroads have also been developed, and most of the province’s goods are now carried by rail.
The first modern roads in Henan date from the famine of 1920–21, when the American Red Cross built earth tracks to bring relief to the stricken provinces. For years most road building was accomplished with little modern technology; however, the country’s major north-south express highway between Beijing and Zhuhai (adjacent to Macau) now bisects central Henan, and another passing east-west through the northern part of the province connects Kaifeng to Zhengzhou and Luoyang. Some roads penetrate into the more remote mountain region (e.g., a road in the Taihang Mountains between Huixian and Lingquan), and most of the other highways now have all-weather surfaces. Air travel is centred on Zhengzhou.
Zhengzhou is about 470 miles (760km) south of Beijing and 300 miles (480km) east of Xi’an. The Yellow River, one of China’s major waterways and the cradle of China’s civilization, flows to the north. Mount Song, Song Shan, sits to the west and the Huang Hai plains surround the city to the south and east. The city is a major transportation hub as two major railways intersect here as they crisscross China. You’ll have no trouble finding a train or plane to get you to Zhengzhou.
Zhengzhou was the first capital of the Shang Dynasty (1600-1027BC), the second dynasty recorded in Chinese history. Ancient packed-earth city walls can still be seen in some parts of Zhengzhou. Inhabitants of the city are proud of their heritage. The best way to review Zhengzhou and Henan province history is by visiting the Henan Provincial Museum, Henan Bowuguan, in Zhengzhou.
While there are a number of hotels popping up all over Zhengzhou, probably the best bet as far as convenience and comfort is to choose from the Intercontinental Hotel Group’s tier of three properties. All three hotels are within the same compound so you can use the facilities easily and conveniently.