Travel China with the Yangxifu: Shang Dynasty Wall Ruins, Zhengzhou, China

Men sitting on the Shang Dynasty
It's not just a mound -- it marks the spot where the walls of an ancient Shang Dynasty town once stood...in a place that doubles as a park and, for the men featured, a place to squat and talk.

It’s one thing to see China’s history in a museum, and another to walk on it.

In Zhengzhou’s Eastern city outskirts, you’ll find a curious mound of earth that runs through a park — the kind of park in China filled with Tai Chi practitioners, grandparents tending children in crotchless pants, inflatable play areas, and neat tiled squares and walkways. But you shouldn’t let the surroundings fool you. This is not just another park, and that’s not just another grass-covered mound. That mound marks the the site of where walls around a Shang Dynasty city once stood.

It’s hard to believe you’re standing before something that represents China’s earliest recorded history — especially when you can actually walk on it, like the locals we came across, strolling, running, and squatting on this mound of history. Or, in certain cases, even park your car next to it.

Walking next to the mounds that mark the Shang Dynasty Wall Ruins
You can walk next to the ancient mounds that mark the Shang Dynasty Wall Ruins, just like walking through a park.

While the preservation is questionable, the presentation, in many respects, is unique. There’s no other park in China that weaves ancient history into its surroundings so seamlessly. You won’t find tourists, or tour groups, or tour anything around here — just locals sauntering about, perhaps even taking for granted the very history they stand next to (or, in many cases, upon). It’s the perfect antidote to a harried day trip to Shaolin (can we say “overcommercialized”?) Temple.

Just a hop and a skip down the street, there’s also a temple there — again, a very local one filled with people making offerings and prayers, and families taking a stroll — and quite possibly the most gorgeous, traditional-Chinese-looking bathroom you’ll ever see in China (or, at least, in Zhengzhou).

It’s not the oldest bathroom, of course. I guess that honor might go to the Shang Dynasty Wall Ruins as well, in the case of someone walking through the park at night, and perhaps desperate for a bathroom. After all, it’s one thing to see China’s history in a museum, and another to pee on it.

Happy travels!

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When to visit

The Shang Dynasty Wall Ruins (商代遗址) are an outdoor site, best visited in the Spring, Summer or Autumn. Getting there, however, is not easy any season. Here are the directions, according to Lonely Planet, but even we needed to ask people on the street:

The portion that still has some of the city wall standing is in the city’s south-eastern section at the junction of Chengdong Lu and Chengnan Lu. Bus No. 2 stops nearby, get off at the East Gate (东门口).

You might consider flagging a taxi there, which might be the easiest and most direct way to see this.

Getting there

By Plane: Your best bet is Xinzheng Airport in Zhengzhou. You can either take a taxi ( ~100 RMB) directly to the ruins, or take the airport bus (every hour, on the hour, 15 RMB) to Jinshui Road (金水路 — also the first stop for the bus), and then take a taxi there.

By Train: Since Zhengzhou is a major railway hub (linking East-West and North-South lines) it’s easy to get here by train from most major cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’an, Wuhan, Changsha and Guangzhou.

Where to stay

Zhengzhou has accommodations for every budget. But if you’re on a budget, consider the dated, but enormously hospitable and helpful Wuhua Hotel on Weiwu Road (rooms ~ 172 RMB, more or less). It is within about a half-hour walk or so of the ruins, and their sumptuous breakfast buffet alone is worth it.

Find this and more by booking — online, as I did — at Ctrip.com (no deposit needed, and you can cancel easily, if necessary).

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This is the Travel China with the Yangxifu series, which appears every 2nd Wednesday of the month. Thanks to Rich for inspiring me to launch this series.

To read more, visit the Travel China with the Yangxifu archives.

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