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Affluent Chinese may roll their eyes at the mention of slow-moving and impoverished Henan (河南, Hénán), but the province’s heritage takes us back to the earliest days of Chinese antiquity. Ancient capitals rose and fell in Henan’s north, where the capricious Yellow River (Huáng Hé) nourished the flowering of a great civilisation.

Henan is home to China’s oldest surviving Buddhist temple and one of the country’s most astonishing collections of Buddhist carvings, the Longmen Grottoes. There is also the Shaolin Temple, that legendary institution where the martial way and Buddhism found an unlikely but powerful alliance. Henan’s inability to catch up with the rest of the land perhaps helps to explain why the unusual village of Nanjiecun still sees a future in Maoist collectivism. Henan is also home to the excellent walled town of Kaifeng and the 1000-year-old craft of woodblock printing in Zhuxian.

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