This was the capital of China during the period known as the Northern Song. The Song was one of the greatest dynasties in Chinese history, not because it conquered vast swaths of territory, but for its art and poetry. Indeed, while no one doubts his talent in painting birds, or his artistic choices on which he lavished state funds, the famous Hui Zong emperor is sometimes blamed for not spending enough money on defending China from the Mongol tribes to the north.
|Mountain Path in Spring, by Ma Yuan, also called "One|
Corner Ma" for his suggestive use of blank spaces. Ma was
born near Hangzhou.
I stopped in Kaifeng, thinking to spend the night. It was sad, though, to see what the city had come to. Compared to its Yellow River neighbors, Zhengzhou and Luoyang, it seemed a dismal, run-down place. No cheery hotels were to be found, and really nothing of beauty: forlorn and crude restaurants, dismal three story buildings, back alleys with a lot of older people who look at you as if to say, "What is a foreigner doing on this God-forsaken lane?"
In any case, it was clear this would not be a good place to conduct my survey, which is focused on China's intellectuals.
So I caught a night train south to a probable city -- Hangzhou. Geographically, this was a move from the drier northern valley of the Yellow River, to a lusher city further south, and near the coast.
For the only time on my trip, I shared a train with other westerners. Two women and one man, all about 60, from Italy and France, were in the next alcove of bunks. I used up much of my French trying to communicate with them, and they, their English, apparently. How they communicated with the Chinese, I have no idea. They shared their cheese and crackers with me -- an unexpected meal, but then traveling in China is always full of suprises. There was also a young woman at the other end of the car, whom I took to be Russian, though I didn't hear her speak, and who could have been one of the Bond girls, by her looks. I did talk with a Chinese graduate student from Kaifeng, who lamented how her home town had come down in the world, in its rivalry with Zhengzhou, a town which, she assured me, her fellow residents of Kaifeng despise.
Even the pollution in Hangzhou can be trendy. Here's a Starbucks cup, floating on the West Lake.