After twenty-two months of travelling through the dusty steppes and torrid deserts of Inner Asia and Western China, Gustaf Mannerheim arrived in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province, on May 29, 1908. He felt that he had finally “reached the civilized zone of China” with railways, Chinese speaking broken French, telegraph lines and people wearing European attire.
Although Henan is considered the “cradle of Chinese civilization,” few people would consider it a “civilized zone” in China today. Henan is the most populace and one of the most rural provinces in China. It is terribly poor, and the Chinese themselves speak of Henanese derisively. Still, its 100 million peasants have been key to the fate of China’s rulers throughout history. I spent a week touring the Henan countryside talking to peasants about China’s reform and modernization.
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