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The yellow river, the wellspring of Chinese culture and civilization, carves a course through the country’s parched northern terrain, the historic homeland of the Han Chinese and location of the most significant monuments. Thus most visitors to the Middle Kingdom usually concentrate on these historic sites, beginning with the nation’s capital, Beijing.

For millennia, the Yellow River (Huang He) has nurtured the communities strung along its banks while sporadically washing away their settlements. The great river flows through the provinces of Shaanxi, Shanxi, Henan, and Shandong, often forming a natural boundary between provinces. It also features in the names of Henan (South of the River) and Hebei (North of the River). In its long and looping journey it traverses a land rich in historic sights and cities, before spilling into Bo Hai (Bo Sea), north of the sacred mountain, Tai Shan. Occasionally, it comes across the vestiges of that other barrier, the Great Wall. Now a largely disintegrating bastion, the wall crawls across the face of North China, a reminder of the region’s

vulnerable position so close to the border with Inner Mongolia and erstwhile Manchuria. Although the Great Wall was built as a defensive fortification, it could not prevent the hordes of nomadic tribes, the so-called “barbarians,” from entering China.

Neolithic finds and archeological sites wrote the province of Henan into the earliest pages of Chinese history. Here, South of the Yellow River, Luoyang and Kaifeng are two of the country’s most important dynastic capitals; another ancient city, Anyang, was capital of the Shang dynasty. However, it is Xi’an in Shaanxi province that is more eclipsed by its past than any other ancient capital. Xi’an’s most magnificent treasures are the Terracotta Warriors , created to guard the tomb of Qin Shi Huangdi, the Qin emperor who unified China. However Xi’an reached its zenith during the Tang

dynasty , pros pering because of its position at the eastern end of the Silk Road. The Grand Mosque and sizable Muslim population testify to Xi’an’s cosmopolitan grandeur during that time

Toward the end of the 13th century, the Mongol Kublai Khan established Beijing as his capital. But it was only in 1407, when the Ming emperor Yongle moved his seat of power here, that Beijing achieved imperial status. Still organized along its grand Ming and Qing dynasty lines, it is a city of straight, wide boule vards and narrow, winding alleys around an ancient palatial core, the Forbidden City. The temples and palaces are today complemented by slick shopping streets and the com mercial buzz of a people coming into their own in the 21st century.

The two adjoining provinces of Hebei and Shanxi are griddles in summer and iceboxes in winter, although Hebei’s eastern seaboard towns benefit from cooling sea breezes. Shanxi, on the other hand, is sometimes affected by seasonal sand storms blowing in from the Gobi Desert. Hebei’s fertile soil and productive agrarian economy contrast with landlocked Shanxi’s mineral-rich terrain. Both provinces are heavily

industrialized but there are still many sights that demand attention, such as the Buddhist monastery of Chongshan Si , the holy mountain Tai Shan, and the port of Tianjin, Hebei’s former capital. Despite modernization, Tianjin has preserved its European architecture, a legacy of its past as a foreign trading post. The Buddhist sculptures at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Longmen Caves in Luoyang  are remarkable while Shandong is best known for Qufu, the birthplace of Confucius, the eminent philosopher-sage, whose teachings, which greatly influenced Chinese culture, are acceptable once more.


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