U to an M

D ea Br e es in Ch e Th

China Scenic - - Feature - By Li Ziyue Pho­to­graphs by Su Jiu, and as cred­ited Im­ages by Kaifeng In­sti­tute of Ar­chae­ol­ogy

The city of Kaifeng, the for­mer cap­i­tal of the North­ern Song (960-1127) and other dy­nas­ties, has an un­usual his­tor­i­cal dis­tinc­tion. Through­out Chi­nese his­tory, a pat­tern emerged — if a cap­i­tal city of a dy­nasty was razed, its suc­ces­sor was re­built else­where and the for­mer cap­i­tal’s ru­ins were left aban­doned to their fate. Kaifeng also saw its for­tunes rise and fall, but ar­chae­ol­o­gists find that each layer of arte­facts from a cer­tain time pe­riod rests on its pre­de­ces­sor. Peel­ing these lay­ers off is akin to turn­ing the pages of a great his­tor­i­cal al­manac, with each one telling the story of the era it was writ­ten. The ques­tion is, why, as the dy­nas­ties came and went, the peo­ple keep on re­build­ing Kaifeng?


wall was as long as 28 kilo­me­ters, and the width of the moat that sur­rounded it reached 31 me­ters. The city wall was equipped with mo­bile tur­rets, and, in ad­di­tion to the path­way on the top of the wall, the city wall also had an in­ter­nal pas­sage which could be used for mov­ing the troops around.

The city seemed im­preg­nable to in­vaders, safe be­hind the high walls and the wide moat, but these de­fences proved fu­tile against a dif­fer­ent ad­ver­sary — an es­pe­cially se­vere win­ter with heavy snow­fall. It snowed heav­ily ev­ery day dur­ing the 24-day long siege, the moat froze solid and Jin troops crossed it as if it were a high­way. The cold wrecked havoc amongst the de­fend­ers, their frost­bit­ten hands could barely hold weapons, and to make things worse, the Bian River, their sup­ply life line run­ning across the city, froze. Sup­ply boats could no longer reach be­sieged Kaifeng, and the Song sol­diers and cit­i­zens started to starve.

On Jan 9, 1127, the city de­fences were fi­nally breached when the at­tack­ers broke through Xuan­hua Gate. Hav­ing scaled the de­fence tower of the gate the Jin quickly took con­trol of the outer wall and the sus­pen­sion bridge, cut­ting off the vi­tal re­treat route of the soi­diers and civil­ians.

The cof­fers of the Song had been emp­tied long ago, but the thirst for loot of the Jin needed to be quenched. Ev­ery house­hold was lined up to make a “con­tri­bu­tion” of gold and sil­ver, with cruel pun­ish­ments ad­min­is­tered to those who at­tempted to hide their fam­ily trea­sures. Within a month the wealthy, pros­per­ous Kaifeng was plun­dered clean. Food be­came scarce, and the cit­i­zens started eat­ing dogs and cats. Af­ter there were no more cats and dogs left, the now starv­ing pop­u­la­tion was re­duced to smash­ing the ice on the frozen river and dredg­ing up al­gae for food.

In the north­east cor­ner of Kaifeng stood the Gen Yue Im­pe­rial Gar­den. The Em­peror Huizong (reigned 1100–1126) spent over ten years col­lect­ing ex­otic and beau­ti­ful stones for this gar­den from the whole of the South­ern China. All sorts of ex­otic birds and beasts lived there and count­less work­ers had been forced to toil on its con­struc­tion in the condi-

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