An Yang, ancient capital of the Shang Dynasty 11-18-2004 14:02

In this section Travelogue, it's not any remote border area far away from Beijing, but in the heartland of China, Henan, Anyang

A five-hour train journey brings you from Beijing to the city of Anyang. But it took a lot longer than that before people first realized that this city holds a special position in China's history. An interesting story comes in here.

It was the year 1899, in Beijing. Wang Yirong, a scholar, went to get some traditional Chinese medicine. At the TCM pharmacy, the distinctive appearance of some of the ingredients on display caught his attention. They were only Longgu, or "dragon bones", commonly found in any TCM shop. But these particular bones, Wang noticed, bore some strange carvings. Wang Yirong, who was very knowledgeable about seal inscription, made a careful examination of them and concluded that he could be looking at evidence of China's earliest writing system. And it turned out that these bones were found in a small village called Xiaotun, in Anyang, northern part of Henan province.

In fact the discovery of the oracle bones finally confirmed the existence of the Shang Dynasty. Walking the streets of Anyang today, the city looks to me much the same as any other mid-sized Chinese town. But one landmark in the city is this pagoda, the Tianning Temple pagoda, which has a unique narrow bottom, as if it's been placed upside down. For a fleeting moment, I can picture the people who once walked this land living under a Dynasty called Shang 鈥 people who wrote on bones and obeyed their king. That was three thousand years ago, but something tells me that they were people much the same as us, with the same joys and woes, the same fears and doubts. Have we become any smarter over the years? It's impossible to tell.

Outside downtown Anyang, the Huanshui River still flows in peace. The Shang Dynasty kept moving its capital around northern China until the year 1300 BC, when the 20th king, Panggeng, fixed his eyes upon a piece of land beside this river then called the Huanhe.

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