Up close and cosy with Justice Pao
The service offered by Thai Smile from Bangkok to Zhengzhou opens the door to a history lesson for curious visitors
HAVING BEEN fed for much of my adult life on historical Chinese TV series about Justice Pao, the generals of the Yang Family and the Shaolin Temple, I’ve always been curious about these larger-than-life characters and the roles they played in the Song Dynasty. So when Thai Smile Airways launched a new direct route to Zhengzhou, I knew I would at last be able to satisfy my curiosity.
Zhengzhou is the kicking-off point for a visit to Kaifeng in Henan province, the ancient capital of the Liang, Jin, Han, Zhou and Song dynasties but today better known as the city of chrysanthemums thanks to winning a Guinness World Record for a massive 8,000-square-metre carpet of ’mums during its annual Kaifeng Chrysanthemum Fair at Longting Park.
Indeed our visit to Kaifeng starts in Longting Park, or Dragon Pavilion Park, on a pleasant April day that despite the sunshine is a little on the cool side for those of us used to hotter climes. The chrysanthemums have yet to bloom but compensating for their absence are several other species that line the main road to the pavilion hall, which is resplendent and imposing. It is an AAAA national scenic spot known for its rich historical relic and beautiful natural landscape.
To the east of the road is the lake of the Family Pan while to the west lies the lake of the Family Yang. Both were prominent clans during the Song dynasty but while that the Yang Family was famed for their loyalty – hence the clear lake – the Pan Family was treacherous and their body of water was muddy and filled with impurities.
We walk up the 72-steps to the magnificent building, which is designed in a typical imperial style with yellow-glazed roof, red walls and white stairs. It houses an emperor’s throne and visitors wanting to play ruler for a few hours can rent a traditional costume and sit on a newly built golden throne outside or take a ride in a sedan chair around the pavilion.
Not far from the pavilion is Tianbo Yang, General Yang’s Mansion, which was given to him by Emperor Taizong in recognition of his loyalty. Yang’s story as well as those of his fellow military men are told in “Generals of the Yang Family”, a collection of Chinese folklore, plays and novels that recount the unflinching loyalty and the remarkable bravery of the Yangs as they sacrificed themselves to defend their country from foreign military powers, namely the Khitan-ruled Liao Dynasty and Tangut-ruled Western Xia. The mostly fictional saga is based on the lives of historical characters Yang Ye, Yang Ye’s son Yang Yanzhao and Yang Yanzhao’s son Yang Wenguang.
The popularity of the stories has led to the building of numerous memorial sites including temples and tombs over the centuries to commemorate these heroes. One of those sites is Tianbo Yang in Kaifeng, which was built in 1992 as a tourist attraction. The location, it is said, was chosen based on records written in the 14th century.
The main house has waxworks of Yang Ye and his wife She Taiju, their sons as well as other prominent personages. We are startled out of our reverie by an old woman crying and singing songs in front of the main house.
After a break for a lunch of xiaolongbao, those famous steamed buns stuffed with juicy pork and a Kaifeng speciality, we move on to the Memorial Temple of Lord Bao.
It was constructed in memory of Bao Zheng who is idealised as an upright and honest official and a political reformer in the Song Dynasty. He was given the name Xiaoshu posthumously by Emperor Renzhong of the Song Dynasty.
The temple consists of a central building with two wings attached. Lord Bao Hall boasts a huge statue of Lord Bao sitting on a chair and judging by the crowds is a popular tourist attraction for local tourists. To the west is a gallery exhibiting “The Book of Bao Genealogy”, artefacts, Family Instructions and some books.
Our Thai-speaking Chinese guide asks us if we can identify Lord Bao’s name on the stone inscription. We have no idea but assume it’s sunk under the surface after being prodded by millions tourists.
“People who have bad behaviour don’t dare point at this stone inscription. If their finger becomes black, everybody knows how bad they are,” says the guide, causing us all to bury our hands in our pockets,
Two of the letters of shisan have been transformed into a Lord Bao lookalike, meaning his justice is as great as a mountain.
Another hall houses sculptures of Lord Bao, his personal secretary Gongsun Ce and four enforcers Wang Zhao, Ma Han, Zhang Long and Zhao Hu as well as a set of three guillotines given to him by the emperor to execute criminals. The one used for commoners has a dog’s head while that for government officials boasts a tiger’s head and for royalty, a dragon’s head. Bao Zheng removed his official headwear to challenge the empress dowager, in order to execute the prince consort Chen Shimei, an unfaithful husband and a vicious and dishonest scholar. Unsurprisingly, “The Case of Executing Chen Shimei” is most of the popular of the 236 episodes aired on TV.
Of course, there are some differences between the reality and the TV series. In real life, Bao Zheng was dark-skinned and extremely ugly though he didn’t have a white crescent shaped birthmark on his forehead, which he inevitably gets in the TV series.
IF YOU GO
- Thai Smile Airways flies from Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok to Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province, on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Flight WE680 departs Suvarnabhumi at 2.20am and arrives in Zhengzhou at 7.30am. The return flight WE681 leaves Zhengzhou at 8.30am and lands at Suvarnabhumi at 11.40am.
- For more informaiton and make a booking, please visit www.thaismileair.com.