Zhengzhou, Henan

Zhengzhou is my home for the next year. It's busy, smelly, dirty and contains little of real historic value, but I love it! Its lack of beautiful or touristy sights makes it an unsullied slice of industrialising China, and makes me one of only a couple of hundred foreigners in the whole city.

It's a pretty big place, with anywhere between 2 million (Lonely Planet) and 7.35 million (Wikipedia) people. It is a prefecture-level city sandwiched between the Yellow River, to the North, the Songshan mountain to the West and the Huanghuai Plains to the South East. The East-West Longhai railway and the North-South Jingguang railway meet here, so despite not being a typically touristy city, lots of people pass through. 

It's been the provincial capital since 1949 and is right in the middle of the region which lays claim to the title of 'birthplace of Chinese civilisation'. The city's history charts its progression from neolithic settlements, to the walled capital of the Shang Dynasty during the Bronze Age, to an important centre during the Sui, Tang, Song, Jin, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. 

However, modern China seems to have erased much of the city's historical sights and today it is granted 'rail-hub' status. In recent history, it was at the centre of the "Great Leap Forwards" as home to the first people's commune of China. Today, as the capital of one of the most agricultural provinces in the country, Zhengzhou is the regional centre for industry, commerce, transport, education and local government, and is a subsequently rapidly developing and evolving city.

Henan means "south of the (Yellow) River - Huange He. It is the second most populated province of China, after Guangdong. It borders Hebei to the north, Shandong to the northeast, Anhui to the southeast, Hubei to the south, Shaanxi to the west and Shanxi to the northwest. 

Lots of bad things seem to have happened in Henan over the last century, including millions of lives lost during the 1960s and the Great Leap Forwards; a typhoon in 1975 causing the collapse of the Banqiuo Dam and the death of 230,000 people; "blood selling" which caused entire AIDS villages and a high prevalence of HIV; and clashes between Han and Hui ethnic groups in 2004 resulting in martial law and an unknown, unreported number of fatalities. 

In better news, the economy is strong - the fifth largest of the Chinese provinces, with high agricultural output and important transport links. It is also home to the Shaolin Temples - famous Buddhist temples and the home of kung fu; Mount Song - one of the five sacred mountains of China; the Longmen Grottos which were made a UNESCO World Heritage Site; and even famous opera. Furthermore, it holds the record for modern China's biggest bank robbery, the earliest ever case of a foreign contract killer and apparently the most brutal murder.

Learn more at Go Zhengzhou!