Our author team – Danny, Pete, Chit and me- are just back from field research in Luoyang for a new book. It was a very interesting experience and we got to see a a few sites that won’t be accessible to the public for years if ever. I will be be posting in more detail about what we saw but I wanted to make a few general reflections.
I’ve been surprised by how many sinophile friends haven’t ever been to Luoyang. After all in the great days of the Han and Tang dynasties, as eastern and western capitals, Luoyang and Xian (Chang’an) competed equally for greatness. But modern Luoyang is a prefecture-level city, far from its previous illustrious status, subsisting in the shadow of Henan provincial capital Zhengzhou, and eclipsed on the tourist trail by Xian, capital of Shaanxi province and eternal resting place of the terracotta warriors. In China’s hierarchical system, Luoyang lacks the resources to restore and project its legacy on a global stage.
I think all our writers came away with a sense of mission about putting Luoyang on the map. On our third day there the director of the cultural relics bureau took us on a ten hour walk around the old City and in its run down northern-stye courtyards brought to life the romantic capital of thousands of years ago. He was able to map the Sui-Tang city onto the present day with great precision.
We saw several archeological sites in an early state of discovery. In one great expanse of urban wasteland there was a vast stone well, still extant in its form from the Three Kingdoms period (the well was first dug in the Eastern Zhou era), and only about two metres from where Cao Cao and his garrison had their administrative headquarters. The well apparently looked as it would have done when Cao Cao drank from it. Meanwhile in a waterswamped pit in the middle of a site being developed for a shopping center, we were shown the remains of the ancient central wharf of Tang Luoyang, where Li Bai, Du Fu and almost everyone arriving in the city at that time would have alighted.
Some of this ancient heritage, long buried underfoot, is gradually being brought to light.The Lijing Gate in the Old City has been rebuilt quite convincingly and provides a coordinate to map magnificent Tang Luoyang onto the present day. The old palace of Wu Zetian has also been lovingly reimagined right above the archeological site of the original palace, visible through a glass floor.
Luoyang also has as many as sixty museums, surely one of the largest concentrations in China, with specialisms in everything from ancient tombs to Tang pottery. Its resonance in Chinese history seems to have enabled it to hold on to artefacts that a lower-tier city would usually have to surrender to a provincial (or the national) capital. The largest institution, the Luoyang Museum, has a strong collection of Peiligang culture funerary urns, early Chinese written inscriptions, and stunning tri-colour pottery and other artefacts showing the influence of the Silk Road, of which Luoyang was one of the eastern starting points.
Well I will be posting more about Luoyang and what we saw there but just wanted to put down some general thoughts while they were still fresh.