U to an M
D ea Br e es in Ch e Th
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-