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Central Plain
Map showing the province of Henan and two definitions of the Central Plain or Zhongyuan
Map showing the province of Henan and two definitions of the Central Plain or Zhongyuan

Zhongyuan (Chinese: 中原; pinyin: Zhōngyuán), the Central Plain(s), also known as Zhongtu (Chinese: 中土; pinyin: Zhōngtǔ, lit. 'central land') and Zhongzhou (Chinese: 中州; pinyin: Zhōngzhōu, lit. 'central region'), commonly refers to the part of the North China Plain surrounding the lower and middle reaches of the Yellow River, centered on the region between Luoyang and Kaifeng.[1] It has been perceived as the birthplace of the Han Chinese civilization.[2] Historically, the Huaxia people viewed Zhongyuan as 'the center of the world'.[3] Human activities in the Zhongyuan region can be traced back to the Palaeolithic period.[4]

In prehistoric times, Huaxia, a confederation of tribes that later developed into the Han ethnicity, lived along the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River.[5] The term 'Zhongguo' (Central State) was used to distinguish themselves from the Siyi tribes that were perceived as 'barbaric'.[6] For a large part of Chinese history, Zhongyuan had been the political, economic, and cultural center of the Han Chinese civilization, as over 20 dynasties had located their capitals in this region.[7]

In the modern concept, the term 'Central Plains Region' is used to define the Zhongyuan area. In a narrow sense, it refers to the present-day Henan Province in the central part of China. A broader interpretation of the Central Plains' measure would also include Henan’s neighborhood province, Shaanxi, Hebei, Shanxi, and Shandong, as well as the northern part of Anhui and the northwestern part of Jiangsu.[8]


The north, west, and south sides of Zhongyuan are encircled by mountains, predominantly the Taihang Mountains from the northwestern side, Funiu and Xionger Mountains to the west. The central and eastern areas of Zhongyuan form part of the North China Plain. The Yellow River flows through the region from west to east. The Huai River and Hai River, as well as Tributaries of the Yangtze River, also pass through Zhongyuan. Since ancient times, Zhongyuan has been a strategically important site of China, regarded as ‘The center and hub of the world’.[9]

The alluvial deposits of the Yellow River formed the vast plains of Zhongyuan in the Palaeozoic period.[10] The region has sufficient water resources for plant growth, making it the center of Han Chinese agrarian civilization, known as the ‘Breadbasket of China’.[11]

Zhongyuan has a temperate monsoon climate with distinct seasons. It is usually hot and humid during the summer, cold and dry in the winter, with temperatures normally dropping to below freezing, and the Yellow River sometimes freezing solid.[12]


The concept of Zhongyuan had often been changing in different historical periods, under different contexts. The term Zhongyuan first appeared in the Classic of Poetry[13] not specifying any exact geographic locations.[14] It was during the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC) that the word came to denote the Central Plains region. Only until the Northern and Southern dynasties (420-589 AD) onward, the term ‘Zhongyuan’ were widely accepted as a geographical concept.[15]

The geographical view of Zhongyuan may depict different regions. It usually refers to the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River, but sometimes also encompasses the reaches along the Yangtze and Huai River, and even the whole North China Plain.

Apart from being a geographical location, the term 'Zhongyuan' is also used as a historical and cultural concept that represents the dominance of the Han ethnicity.[16]


The history of Zhongyuan can be dated back to prehistoric times. There were traces of human activities in Zhongyuan about half a million years ago. Archaeological studies have shown that as far back as 80,000 to 100,000 years ago, the ancient people of Zhongyuan were using stone tools.[17] The excavation of painted pottery and stone tools found from relics of Yangshao culture (5000 to 3000 BC) and Longshan culture (3000 to 1900 BC) prove that Zhongyuan was in the forefront of Chinese civilization throughout the Stone Age.[18]

After the rise of Erlitou culture (1900 to 1500 BC), Zhongyuan entered the Bronze Age.[19] The emergence of private ownership and social classes led to the formation of the first dynasty in Chinese history, the Xia dynasty.[20] The Xia dynasty established its regime centered on Zhongyuan, setting the tone for later dynasties to make Zhongyuan the central region.

From the rise of the Xia dynasty (c. 2070–c.1600 BC) to the fall of the Song dynasty (960–1279), most of the legitimate dynasties established their capitals within the Zhongyuan area, except for Eastern Jin and the Southern Song. It was not until the Yuan (1271–1368) and Ming dynasties (1368–1644) that the political center of China re-located, as the Mongol Empire established the Yuan dynasty in Dadu (Khanbaliq, now Beijing).[21] Later, Yongle Emperor of the Ming dynasty moved the capital at his power base in Beijing.[22]


Central Plains Mandarin (or Zhongyuan Mandarin) is the major language and native tongue spoken in the Zhongyuan region. It is a variety of Mandarin Chinese, formed and developed gradually based on the standard pronunciations of Mandarin and its predecessor, Yayan.[23]

In the Yuan dynasty, the rime book ‘Zhongyuan Yinyun’ (Rhymes of the Central Plains) written by Zhou Deqing reflected the standard pronunciation of Early Mandarin. Some linguists argue that the Early Mandarin recorded in ‘Zhongyuan Yinyun’ was based on the pronunciation standards derived from the Luoyang and Bianliang dialects of Zhongyuan, which had been prevalent in the Song dynasty.[24]

In modern China, Central Plains Mandarin is mainly used in Henan, Shandong, Anhui, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Gansu, and Hebei. The population of native Central Plains Mandarin speakers is approximately 124 million.[25]

In terms of tone, the key characteristics of modern Central Plains Mandarin are: The neutral and aspirated voiced initial consonants of entering tone in Early Mandarin are now pronounced as the first tone (high tone), and voiced initial consonants of entering tone in Early Mandarin are now pronounced as the second tone (rising tone).[26]

See also


  1. ^ Yeqiu, Wu, Zeyan Huang, Qiuyun Liu (1996). Ciyuan. Shangwu Yinshuguan. pp. 5–11. ISBN 7-100-00124-2. OCLC 475148039.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  2. ^ Duara, Prasenjit (2003). Sovereignty and authenticity : Manchukuo and the East Asian modern. Lanham. p. 7. ISBN 0-7425-2577-5. OCLC 50755038.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  3. ^ Zhang, Xin-bin; 张新斌 (2007). "中原文化与商都初论 Initial Remark on the Central Plains Culture and the Shang Dynasty-Capital Culture". Journal of Huanghe S&T University. no.4, 2007: 17–24. doi:10.19576/j.issn.1008-5424.2007.04.006.
  4. ^ Bar-Yosef, Ofer; Wang, Youping (2012). "Paleolithic Archaeology in China". Annual Review of Anthropology. 41: 319–335. doi:10.1146/annurev-anthro-092611-145832. ISSN 0084-6570. JSTOR 23270714.
  5. ^ Cioffi-Revilla, Claudio; Lai, David (1995). "War and Politics in Ancient China, 2700 B.C. to 722 B.C.: Measurement and Comparative Analysis". The Journal of Conflict Resolution. 39 (3): 467–494. doi:10.1177/0022002795039003004. ISSN 0022-0027. JSTOR 174577. S2CID 156043981.
  6. ^ Holcombe, Charles (2011). A history of East Asia : from the origins of civilization to the twenty-first century. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-51595-5. OCLC 643762927.
  7. ^ Zhaoguang, Ge (2018-01-02). "The "interior" and the "exterior" in historical China: A re-clarification of the concepts of "China" and the "periphery"". Chinese Studies in History. 51 (1): 4–28. doi:10.1080/00094633.2018.1467668. ISSN 0009-4633. S2CID 165289885.
  8. ^ Xianglong, Yu; 喻湘龙 (2004). 中国民间图形创意设计 Chinese Folk Graphics Creative Design. Guangxi Fine Arts Publishing House. p. 10. ISBN 7-80674-440-1.
  9. ^ Sha, Hsueh-chuen; 沙學浚 (1972). 地理学论文集 Discourses on Geography Studies. Taiwan: The Commercial Press Taiwan. p. 11. ISBN 957-05-0976-7. OCLC 813452544.
  10. ^ Lattimore, Owen (1947). "An Inner Asian Approach to the Historical Geography of China". The Geographical Journal. 110 (4/6): 180–187. doi:10.2307/1789948. ISSN 0016-7398. JSTOR 1789948.
  11. ^ Yin, Fang; Sun, Zhanli; You, Liangzhi; Müller, Daniel (2018-09-03). "Increasing concentration of major crops in China from 1980 to 2011". Journal of Land Use Science. 13 (5): 480–493. doi:10.1080/1747423X.2019.1567838. hdl:10419/194587. ISSN 1747-423X. S2CID 155620753.
  12. ^ Kwon, Jong-Wook; Shan, Chuanxuan (2012). "Climate and Work Values: A Comparison of Cold, Warm, and Hot Regions in China". MIR: Management International Review. 52 (4): 541–564. doi:10.1007/s11575-011-0120-1. ISSN 0938-8249. JSTOR 41682273. S2CID 154565578.
  13. ^ Examples such as "中原有菽,庶民采之"; "瞻彼中原,其祁孔有".
  14. ^ Hua, Feng; 华峰 (2002). "从《诗经》看中原文化 Culture of Zhong Yuan Viewed from the Book of Poetry". Journal of Henan Education Institute (Philosophy and Social Science). 1, 2002 (21): 43–49 – via CNKI.
  15. ^ Xue, Ruize; 薛瑞泽 (2005). "中原地区概念的形成 Formation of the Concept of the Central Plains". Root Exploration. no.5, 2005: 10–12 – via CNKI.
  16. ^ Wang, Q. Edward (1999). "History, Space, and Ethnicity: The Chinese Worldview". Journal of World History. 10 (2): 285–305. ISSN 1045-6007. JSTOR 20078782.
  17. ^ Bar-Yosef, Ofer; Wang, Youping (2012). "Paleolithic Archaeology in China". Annual Review of Anthropology. 41: 319–335. doi:10.1146/annurev-anthro-092611-145832. ISSN 0084-6570. JSTOR 23270714.
  18. ^ Zhimin, An (1988). "Archaeological Research on Neolithic China". Current Anthropology. 29 (5): 753–759. doi:10.1086/203698. ISSN 0011-3204. JSTOR 2743616. S2CID 144920735.
  19. ^ Allan, Sarah (2007). "Erlitou and the Formation of Chinese Civilization: Toward a New Paradigm". The Journal of Asian Studies. 66 (2): 461–496. doi:10.1017/S002191180700054X. ISSN 0021-9118. JSTOR 20203165. S2CID 162264919.
  20. ^ HUBER, LOUISA G. FITZGERALD (1988). "The Bo Capital and Questions Concerning Xia and Early Shang". Early China. 13: 46–77. doi:10.1017/S0362502800005204. ISSN 0362-5028. JSTOR 23351321. S2CID 146141444.
  21. ^ Biran, Michal (2015). "The Mental Maps of Mongol Central Asia as Seen from the Mamluk Sultanate". Journal of Asian History. 49 (1–2): 31–51. doi:10.13173/jasiahist.49.1-2.0031. ISSN 0021-910X. JSTOR 10.13173/jasiahist.49.1-2.0031.
  22. ^ Wang, Yuan-Kang (2011). Harmony and war : Confucian culture and Chinese power politics. New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 101–144. ISBN 978-0-231-52240-3. OCLC 695655086.
  23. ^ "History of the Mandarin language". GoEast Mandarin. 2020-11-30. Retrieved 2021-05-17.
  24. ^ Coblin, W. South (2000). "A Brief History of Mandarin". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 120 (4): 537–552. doi:10.2307/606615. ISSN 0003-0279. JSTOR 606615.
  25. ^ He, Wei; 贺巍 (2005). "中原官话分区(稿) Classification / Distribution of Middle Area Mandarin (Zhongyuan Guanhua)". Dialect (2, 2005): 136–140. ISSN 0257-0203.
  26. ^ He, Wei; 贺巍 (2005). "中原官话分区(稿) Classification / Distribution of Middle Area Mandarin (Zhongyuan Guanhua)". Dialect (2, 2005): 136–140. ISSN 0257-0203.