Luoyang was a capital of China from c. 1100 b.c.e. to the mid-10th century c.e. The Zhou (Chou) dynasty initially ruled from the capital city Hao, located at the confluence of the Wei and Yellow Rivers.
After defeating the last Shang king, King Wu of Zhou placed three of his brothers in the Shang capital, Yin, to supervise a Shang prince whom he had put in power at that location. Wu soon died, leaving the throne to his young son under the regency of his uncle, the Duke of Zhou. Jealous of the Duke of Zhou’s power, his three brothers and the Shang prince rose in revolt.
The Duke of Zhou acted decisively, defeated the rebels, laid waste to Yin, executed the Shang prince and one of his brothers, and went on to conquer more land to the east. Then he founded an auxiliary capital to administer the new conquests in the east, later called Luoyang, located at the junction of the Luo (Lo) and Yellow Rivers in present-day Henan (Honan) Province.
In 771 b.c.e. nomadic invaders forced the Zhou court to flee Hao to Luoyang, where it remained until the dynasty’s end in 256 b.c.e. Few architectural remains have been found that date to the Eastern Zhou in the environs of Luoyang; however, tombs of that era are abundant. Luoyang was rebuilt during the Western Han dynasty (202 b.c.e.–9 c.e.) as a subsidiary capital and enlarged as the principal capital during the Eastern Han dynasty (25–220 c.e.).
A rammed earth wall 50–65 feet thick at the base enclosed a square-shaped city, pierced by 12 gates; about half a million people lived within its limits. Due to a change of course by the Luo River, part of the Han city now lies underwater, but significant sections of the wall, traces of streets, and foundations of palaces remain.
One palace was located at each the northern and southern end of the city, connected by a covered passage. In addition to enlarging the city, Emperor Guangwu (Kuangwu), founder of the Eastern Han, also began building the Tai Xue (T’ai-hsueh), or Imperial Academy, in 29 c.e.
It was subsequently enlarged several times, until it accommodated more than 30,000 students. In 175 c.e. Emperor Ling ordered the complete Confucian Classics cut on stone; the slabs were installed at the Tai Xue. Rubbings made on paper (invented in China in the first century c.e.) from the slabs were the precursor to printing.
Luoyang was devastated by rebels toward the end of the second century c.e. and was destroyed by Xiongnu (Hsiung-nu) nomads in 311 c.e. The Turkic Xiongnu were replaced by Tungustic nomads called the Toba (T’o-pa), who ruled northern China as the Northern Wei dynasty from Datong (Ta-tung), a frontier town; they were rapidly converted to Buddhism and assimilated to Chinese culture.
In 495 the Tobas moved their capital from Datong to Luoyang. Outside the city, on a rocky escarpment on the bank of river Luo they began to excavate cave temples at a site called Longmen (Lung-men) to show devotion to Buddhism.
Luoyang became the second capital of the Tang (T’ang) dynasty (618–909 c.e.), which expanded the Longmen cave temples. Most of Tang Luoyang has perished, except for the Longmen caves. After the fall of the Tang, Luoyang would never be capital city again.