Kaifeng is one of the Seven Ancient Capitals of China.
In 364 BC, the state of Wei during the Warring States Period founded a city called Daliang as its capital in this area. During this period, the first of many canals in the area was constructed; it linked a local river to the Huang He. When the State of Wei was conquered by the Qin, Kaifeng was destroyed and abandoned except for a mid-sized market town, which remained in its place.
In 781 (Tang Dynasty), a new city was reconstructed and named Bian (汴). Bian was the capital of the Later Jin (936-946), Later Han (947-950), and Later Zhou (951-960) of the Five Dynasties Period. The Song Dynasty made Bian its capital when it overthrew the Later Zhou in 960, and shortly afterward, they further expanded the city.
During the Song Dynasty, called Dongjing or Bianjing then, Kaifeng was the capital with a population of over 400,000, living both inside and outside the city wall. Typhus was an acute problem of the city.
In 1049, Youguosi Pagoda (佑國寺塔), or Iron Pagoda (鐵塔) as it is called today, was constructed, which measures 54.7 m in height. It has survived the destruction of wars and floodings and become the oldest landmark in this ancient city. Another Song Dynasty pagoda, Bo Ta (繁塔), from 974, has been partially destroyed.
Another well-known sight was the astronomical clock tower of the engineer, scientist, and statesman Su Song (1020-1101 AD). It was crowned with a rotating armillary sphere that was hydraulic-powered (i.e. by waterwheel and clepsydra clock), yet it incorporated an escapement mechanism two hundred years before they were found in clockworks of Europe, and featured the first known endless power-transmitting chain drive.
Kaifeng reached its peak of importance in the 11th century, when it was a commercial and industrial center at the intersection of four major canals. During this time, the city was surrounded by three rings of city walls and probably had a population of 600,000 to 700,000.
This period ended in 1127, when the city fell to Jurchen invaders (see Jingkang Incident) and came subsequently under the rule of the Jin Dynasty. While it remained an important administrative center, only the city area inside the inner city wall of the early Song Dynasty remained settled and the two outer rings were abandoned.
One major problem associated with Kaifeng as the Imperial capital of the Song Dynasty was its location. While it was conveniently situated along the Grand Canal for logistic supply, Kaifeng was militarily vulnerable due to its position on the flood plains of the Yellow River.
Kaifeng served as the Jurchen's "southern capital" from 1157 (other sources say 1161) and was reconstructed during this time. But they kept their main capital further north, until 1214, when they were forced to move the imperial court southwards to Kaifeng in order to flee the Mongol onslaught. In 1234 they succumbed to combined Mongol and Song Dynasty forces. Mongols took control, and in 1279 they conquered all of China.
Under the celebrated Qing emperor Kangxi (1662), Kaifeng was rebuilt. However, another flooding occurred in 1841, followed by another reconstruction in 1843, which produced the contemporary Kaifeng as we know it.
Kaifeng is also known for having the oldest extant Jewish community in China, the Kaifeng Jews. In 1163, when China was Islamised by the Persian Caliph, a Jewish prince of the line of David called Rosh-ha-golah was sent by the Jewish Exilarch (a distant relative of the Caliph) to Kaifeng, to marry a princess of the old Wei kingdom and establish a synagogue there. In 1840 a descendant of this line was called Rosenfeld (from Rosh-ha-golah) and was a textile merchant in Berdychiv, Russia which was then called "the Jerusalem of the Volhynia". Rosenfeld headed a movement called Haskalah of which he was the chief maskil and he had Yiddish theatre produced as part of this movement in the Rosenfeld textile factories both in Berdychiv and in Lodz, Poland "the second city of the Haskalah". Rosenfeld purchased the Astor House Hotel (now called the Pujiang Fandian) across the street from the Russian Embassy in Shanghai about 1840. Rosenfeld exported cotton from Kaifeng to Berdychiv and Lodz until 1900 when he removed to Russian Hill in San Francisco where the Rosenfeld daughter married Albert Less, a member of the Levi-Strauss family. The jeans brand now known as "Levis" may have originally been produced from Rosenfeld cotton imported from Kaifeng.
It was here, too, that in 1969, the former Chairman of the People's Republic of China Liu Shaoqi, died in prison from medical neglect. There is a photograph of Jacob Rosenfeld http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Jacob_Rosenfeld.jpg standing between Liu Shaoqi and Chen Yi.
This Jacob Rosenfeld, known as General Luo, was an Austrian cousin of the wealthy textile manufacturing family who owned the Astor House Hotel in Shanghai (1840-1900). He was a medical doctor and there is a hospital in China named after this Jacob Rosenfeld, General Luo. It is also extremely important to note, concerning the history of the Jews of Kaifeng, that China was Islamised when conquered by the Persian Caliph from Bagdad circa 1163 AD. This was the whole reason that the Resh Galuta, the Jewish Exilarch in Bagdad, was allowed to establish a synagogue and a Jewish community in Kaifeng. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resh_Galuta [NB "Character of the Exilarchate in the Arabic era"] He sent a descendant of the house of David http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David who was considered a prophet (Dawood) by the Muslims, who married a Wei princess who converted to Judaism, thus establishing a dynasty within the Jewish community of Kaifeng. This is very important to understand, in order to understand why the Muslim community in Kaifeng is still very protective of Kaifeng's Jews to this day.
BaoGong Ancestral Hall (包公祠) An ancestral hall built in remembrance of a respectable official from the Song Dynasty.