The original ‘Middle Earth’

While not the geographical centre of China, the Henan Province is the heart of the chicken (see previous blog) so it has cultural significance. This is the area where the Han peoples originated and they are the ones who eventually dominated all the other ethnic minorities in the country imprinting their culture and traditions as standard.

Today we visited an astronomical garden in what was the former capital of one of the early dynasties. The dynasties are numerous and complex. This is a handy (!) chart which superimposes the Chinese timeline with the Biblical one for an easy comparison. Remember to read it from right to left.

In approx 700AD Master Zhou (Ji Dan) developed this structure , an early Chinese sundial or instrument to measure the passage of time. Using the shadows he was able to calculate the longest and shortest days of the year and from that to break the year down into the seasons that we now know as the equinoxes.

This was of huge cultural and political significance. The Chinese at the time believed that the stars in the heavens were a dome and the earth was a square underneath. The Emperor used the astronomical data gathered to determine when crops should be planted or harvested. These decisions helped to reinforce the belief that this place was the literal centre of the world.

Interestingly, the mandarin for the word ‘China’ is Zhong guo. Zhong means middle or centre and guo is country or earth. So in effect this is the original ‘middle earth’

In the garden there were 19 pieces of early Chinese timekeeping technology- most developed centuries before Greenwich Mean Time existed.

This one below is a 24 hour clock but each segment measures 2 hours. The 12 symbols are the animals of the Chinese zodiac.

I do like a good dragon. This instrument above is for measuring the night sky. The Chinese also used this site as an observatory.

The name ‘China’ I was as told, was bestowed by the English after they discovered the fine porcelain that is produced in this region. Not able to pronounce Zhong guo (pronounced jong goar), they just kept saying the easier word ‘China’ until it stuck!

This is an unusual sundial. While many are circular this is a bar held aloft by two dragons. The shadow of the bar falls against the blocks indicating the month of the year.

Here we had fun measuring ourselves in height order! I am down with the kids at the ‘short’ end. Although technically Annie and I are the same height. Lol

The large structure below does the same job and is accurate to 35 seconds in determining the length of the year when compared to modern time pieces.

In the afternoon we visited the Longmen Grottoes in Loyan. This is the best example of Chinese Buddhist art work in the whole of China.

The grotto contains 100,000 statues of the Buddha in various sizes carved into niches in the cliff face. Many are now weathered or decapitated but some are in remarkably good condition considering that they are 1600 years old.

In grueling 38.5 degree heat (it was HOT) we walked the western cliffs and admired the many many Buddhas.

This was a stunning geological feature. Called a peony stone because the natural marks resembles the flower.

This large Buddha has a very feminine face which is thought to be that of China’s only female Emperor Wu ZeTian

She was a bad-ass ruler who governed through her weak husband who wasn’t really interested in politics at all. On his death she had her eldest son killed because he made it clear that he wasn’t going to let her rule through him as his father had done. The same fate befell each of her sons in turn as they reached their majority. She liked her daughter though (!) and let her live.

It was Wu ZeTian who popularized Buddhism among the Han peoples. She had her own male concubines (why not, if it’s acceptable for the men then why not the women?) She called them monks, however to give them credibility among the populace. It was one of these men who commissioned the Buddha statue with her features to show his loyalty to her.

In a slightly bizarre turn of events, the next morning at breakfast we were discussing and allocating Chinese names to those of us who didn’t have them. Kevin is called LieLang which means ‘wolf hunter’ because Leping had dreamt about him saving her from a wolf attack! I am WuZetian because the Empress’s name actually means strong martial arts in heaven (or something like that) not because I have any intention of filicide.

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