The sprawling city of LUOYANG (洛阳, luòyáng) lies in the middle reaches of the Yellow River valley in Henan province. It’s most commonly used as a hub for the famed Longmen Caves, one of China’s three major rock art galleries, which lie just to the south. In addition, it’s within striking distance of Song Shan and Shaolin Si. These ancient sights hint at a rich history – Luoyang has, indeed, been occupied since Neolithic times, and served as China’s capital at various points from the Zhou through to 937 AD. Confucius once studied here, and this is where Buddhism first took root in China in 68AD. While the industrial and drab modern city itself retains no atmosphere of past glories, the outlying fields are dotted with earthern tomb mounds of former officials and wealthy citizens, and there are two outstanding Buddhist sites nearby: the aforementioned Longmen Caves, and the venerable Baima Si.
It’s said that in 800 AD the Tang Empress Wu Zetian, enraged that the peonies, alone among flowers, disobeyed her command to bloom in the snow, banished them from her capital at Chang’an. Many were transplanted to Luoyang (the secondary capital) where they flourished, and have since become one of the city’s most celebrated attractions, the subject of countless poems and cultivation notes. Luoyang now boasts over 150 varieties of peony, which have found their way onto every available patch or scrap of ground – a splendid sight when they flower in spring. The peony motif is also everywhere in the city, from trellises to rubbish bins.