Henan is often referred to as Zhongyuan or Zhongzhou which translates to "central plains" or "midland." Henan province is considered the birthplace of Chinese civilization with more than 5,000 years of history and has been China's cultural, economic and political center up until approximately 1,000 years ago. The province has seen both prosperity and periodic downturns. The favorable location and fertile plains offered economic prosperity but translated to being involved in all of China's major wars due to its strategic location along the Yellow River. It borders Anhui province and Shandong province to the east, Hebei province and Shanxi province to the north, Shaanxi province to the west and Hubei province to the south. The Yellow River sees Taihang Mountains lying to its north, from north-east to south-west, as well as the east stretch of Qinling Mountain range lying to its south. As a channel connecting the east and the west, the Yellow River basin, through which the famous Silk Road extends westward along with the second Eurasia Continental railway system consisting of Longhai railway and Lanxin railway, connects with the Central Shaanxi Plain and reaches out directly into the Great Northwest of China, and then to west Asia. The south-to-north thoroughfares, represented by the famous Nanxiang Channel of the ancient times and the present-day Jingguang (Beijing-Guangzhou) railway and the Jingshen (Beijing-Shenzheng) highway, were built in the joining areas of the mountainous regions and plains. From an administrative and communication view, Henan lies in the center of China. Starting from Zhengzhou, the capital city of Henan, a circle with a radius of roughly 600-800 kilometers can be drawn, encompassing Beijing, Tianjin and the Tanggu region to the north, Wuhan in the south, the Central Shaanxi Plain to the west and Shanghai, Nanjing and Hangzhou to the east. Henan, with its advantageous location, wins herself an important role in the social and economic activities in China. Historically, Henan was a transportation hub, where many great historic events took place in this land. Hence the old saying, "Those who gained the central plains would obtain China". Nowadays, with the network of railways and expressways which reach all over the country and with convenient air transportation, Henan's position as the transportation hub has been strengthened.
Archaeological excavations have revealed that prehistoric cultures such as the Yangshao Culture and Longshan Culture were active in northern Henan since the Neolithic Era. The Erlitou culture has been identified with the Xia Dynasty, the first and legendary Chinese Dynasty that was established in the 21st century BC. Virtually the entire Kingdom existed within what is now north and central Henan.
The Shang Dynasty, a neighboring vassal state, centered around today's Shangqui in eastern Henan, invaded and took over the Xia Dynasty. The Shang Dynasty is most notable for being the first literate dynasty of China. However, their rule did not last as they were taken over by the Zhou Dynasty and the capital was moved to Chang'an, the first time in Henan's history that the economic and political center was moved. In 722 BC, Chang'an was devastated by the Xionites invasion and the capital was once again moved to Luoyang, Henan. The began the Spring and Autumn Period, an era of warfare and rivalry. Despite the constant warfare and period of instability, great philosophers such as Confucius emerged to offer their ideas on how the state should be run. Laozi, the founder of Taoism, was born in northern Chu, part of modern day Henan.
Ying Zheng, the leader of Qin, crowned himself as the first emperor of China and abolished the feudal system and centralized all powers, establishing the Qin Dynasty and unified the Han Chinese for the first time in history. However, the empire did not last and was replaced by the Han Dynasty in 206 BC, utilizing Chang'an as the capital. What ensued was the Golden Age of Chinese culture, economy and military power. In response to a coup in Chang'an, the capital was moved to Luoyang in 25AD and the city quickly regained control of China and the Eastern Han Dynasty began, extending the golden age for two centuries.
Xuchang served as the power base of Cao Cao, who eventually unified all of northern China under the Kingdom of Wei. The capital was moved to Luoyang once again and remained so after the unification of China by the Western Jin Dynasty. During this period, Luoyang enjoyed great prosperity despite being repeatedly damaged by warfare.
The Sui Dynasty reunified China in 589 with its capital moved back to Chang'an but quickly collapsed due to the efforts of Sui Emperor Yang's costly attempt to relocate the capital back to Luoyang. The succeeding Tang Dynasty kept its capital in Chang'an, marking the beginning of China's second golden age, with Henan being one of the wealthiest places in the empire. In the Period of the Five Dynasties that followed the Tang Dynasty, Kaifeng, located in eastern Henan, was the capital of four dynasties. Kaifeng overtook Chang'an and Luoyang as the largest city in China and the world under Song rule.
In 1911, the Republic of China overthrew the Qing Dynasty, marking the beginning of China's modern era. The construction and extension of the Pinghan Railway and Longhai Railway has turned Zhengzhou into a major transportation hub. The new government of the People's Republic of China moved the capital from Kaifeng to Zhengzhou in 1954 due to its economic importance. By the early 1970s, China was one of the poorest countries in the world, and Henan one of the poorest provinces in China. However, when the open door policy was initiated in 1978, this brought about much needed capitalism to China and Henan expanded at a faster pace than all of China in the 1990s.
Henan holds a very important position in the formation and development of Chinese culture and oriental culture. A large number of historical records and years of study on archaeology have shown that at least 8,000 years ago, Henan's ancestors were the first to create human civilization in China. During that period of more than 3,500 years from the Xia Dynasty ( the first dynasty in China, in the 21st century B.C.) to the Jin Dynasty (in the 13th century AD), over 200 emperors of 20 dynasties founded capitals in Henan or moved their capitals here, leaving innumerable places of interest and historical spots, which today can still be visited. Under the State's protection are 96 establishments rated as "national treasures". The number of underground cultural relics in Henan province ranks the first in the country and the 1.3 million pieces of relics housed in the museums accounts for one eighth of the total of China. Among the eight ancient capitals of China, four of them were in Henan, namely Zhengzhou, Luoyang (124 kilometers to the west of Zhengzhou), Kaifeng and Anyang (about 200 kilometers to the north of Zhengzhou). In addition, there are several historical sites and cultural cities, such as Nanyang, Shangqiu and Xunxian County. Numerous scenic spots and historical sites are not only famous for their historic and cultural connotations but also for their tourism value; such as the hometown of the Yellow Emperor (a legendary ruler of China) in Xinzheng. The Shaolin Temple in Dengfeng, the Mausoleum of Song Emperors in Gongyi, Longmen Grottoes, Baima Temple in Luoyang and the hometown of Xuan Zang (a famous monk in Tang Dynasty, who brought books of Buddhism from India to China) in Yanshi, are all cultural spots of interest in Henan.