Quanzhou the City of Light

Quanzhou: A fascinating Chinese City with a long history.


Quanzhou 泉州/Zaitun: the City of Light! Or not!

Quanzhou the city of light made famous in the book of the same is also a bustling city in China’s Fujian Province with plenty to see and do.

The City of Quanzhou is a must for any History buff, such as myself. It was made famous by Marco Polo, who described ‘Zaitun’, the name by which Quanzhou was known then, as ‘… one of the two ports in the world with the biggest flow of merchandise…’.

Pagoda at Kaiyuan Temple Quanzhou
Pagoda at Kaiyuan Temple Quanzhou

David Selbourne’s Book and Jacob D’ Ancona

Quanzhou’s historical grandeur and importance have received further recognition in the book ‘The City of Light’, written by the historian David Selbourne; a work which has raised considerable controversy. Based on the diaries kept by a Jewish merchant, Jacob D’ Ancona, the book describes a city of enormous wealth and riches, built on commerce and trade with the outside world, as well as a vibrant political culture, with merchants, bureaucrats and intellectuals involved in heated arguments and violent discussions over the best way to confront and contain the impending Mongol invasion that would soon engulf all of China and bring down the Southern Song dynasty.

Traditional Fujian House in Quanzhou and excellent restaurant
Traditional Fujian House in Quanzhou and excellent restaurant

Whether fiction or reality, Jacob’s diary makes for an interesting companion on a visit to Quanzhou. One of the most fascinating parts of the book is Jacob’s account of the many different foreigners living and trading in the city, in the years preceding Marco Polo.

Bustling Streets Quanzhou
Bustling Streets Quanzhou

He refers to Franks (Western Christians), Saracens (Muslims) and Jews, among others, all living in the city in their own communities, according to their religion.   Who were they? How did they get there? What were their impressions of China, and finally, what traces did they leave?

 Traditional Fujian House in Quanzhou
Traditional Fujian House in Quanzhou

Quanzhou the City of Light: The Maritime Museum and New Islamic Centre

A visit to the maritime museum and new Islamic centre provides ample evidence of the early presence of foreigners in Quanzhou, such as tombstones and carvings from the different religious groups.

Martime Museum Quanzhou
Chinese Junk: Martime Museum Photo taken from: https://www.trip.com/travel-guide/quanzhou/quanzhou-maritime-museum-77527/

Besides the many Arab gravestones, there are Christian, and even Hindu, memorials as well. The Museum also houses a fascinating collection of miniature models of all types of Chinese sailing vessels, eloquent witnesses to the advanced stage of Chinese shipbuilding, in comparison with Europe.

Martime Museum Quanzhou
Martime Museum Photo taken from: https://www.trip.com/travel-guide/quanzhou/quanzhou-maritime-museum-77527/

The Qingjing  Mosque

Finally, the Qingjing  Mosque, established as early as 1009, is further standing proof of the long historical ties that linked Arab traders to the legendary port of Quanzhou.

The Qingjing  Mosque, established as early as 1009 Quanzhou
The Qingjing  Mosque, established as early as 1009 Quanzhou

For the modern- day visitor, Quanzhou is at first sight just another bustling modern Chinese City. However, unlike most of its Southern counterparts, Quanzhou still retains many of its traditional streets and examples of Fukianese architecture.

Old Streets in Quanzhuo
Old Streets in Quanzhuo

The square in front of the Confucian temple Fuwen Miao, in particular, has some beautiful low, red-brick houses, with the characteristically sweeping roofs that end in a kind of projecting forks.

  Confucian temple Fuwen Miao  Quanzhou
The smokey Guandi Miao 关帝庙 dedicated to Guan Yu the god of war and a ledgend in the Three Kingdoms

Close to the Qingjing Mosque is the bustling Guandi Miao 关帝庙 dedicated to Guan Yu the god of war and a ledgend in the Three Kingdoms. It’s a smokey place filled with incense burning and a lot of praying.

Kaiyuan Si

The vicinity of the beautiful Temple of Kaiyuan Si is another, recommended area for walking and exploring. Here, the traditional Fukianese courtyard houses rub shoulders with colonial-style buildings, housing all kinds of traditional shops, selling anything from candles and incense, to embroidered shoes and dried food.

Squid Seller Quanzhou
Squid Seller Quanzhou

Moreover, the temple itself is well worth a visit. It was built in the Tang dynasty and reached its peak of importance during the Song dynasty.

Kaiyuan Temple quanzhou

The temple grounds are huge and shaded by venerable, ancient trees under which the locals gather to play cards, or practise tai chi.

Kaiyuan Temple Pagoda
Kaiyuan Temple Pagoda

They are home to numerous halls, some of which double as museums, and two outstanding, five-storey pagodas. Many of the halls, as well as the pagodas, have wonderful carvings.  Besides its architectural and religious charms, the Kaiyuan Si also harbours the hull of a Song dynasty sea-sailing junk, which was excavated near Quanzhou in 1974.

Monks in Kaiyuan Temple Quanzhou
Monks in Kaiyuan Temple

Where to Stay and Where to Eat

On a practical note, Quanzhou is not an expensive city to visit. Good hotels can be found in the centre, along or just off Wenling Lu, for around 150 yuan, for a standard double with breakfast. 

Quiet old Street in Quanzhou
Quiet old Street in Quanzhou

We stayed at the City Holiday Hotel, a typical three-star business hotel for 164 yuan for a standard double (Tel. 0595 – 22989999). It was pretty good value with spotless rooms, friendly service and a reasonable breakfast.

busy Street Quanzhou
Street scene Quanzhou

As for eating, you can find some of the best and most reasonably priced seafood in the whole of China on Meishijie, (Delicious Food Street).

Traditional shop In Quanzhou
Traditional shop In Quanzhou

Apart from the prices, what makes Meishijie such a great place to eat is that there are restaurants specialising in all the regional styles of Chinese food, but with the added benefit of using some of the freshest fish and seafood you will find in China.

Old House Quanzhou
Old House Quanzhou

We discovered an amazing restaurant in the middle of the city in a traditional building serving wonderful seafood but we can remember the name or address. Sorry!

Quanzhou Old Restaurant
Old Restaurant

For old world comfort there is the Gucuo Chayuan/ 古厝茶坊 Gucuo teahouse in the old city. China, Fujian Sheng, Quanzhou Shi, Licheng Qu, Houcheng St, 后城122

Old Houses in Quanzhou
Old Houses in Quanzhou

Day Trips from Quanzhou

Finally, Quanzhou makes a good base for further exploration of the area, such as excursions to Chongwu  崇武镇 , or Anping Bridge 安平桥 . You can also visit nearby Xunpu Village (Oyster Village). Oyster shells are used in the construction of some of the houses.

Anping Bridge  安平桥
Anping Bridge 安平桥
Chongwu   崇武镇
Chongwu  崇武镇
Quanzhou at night
Quanzhou at night

Hakka Tulou Earth Buildings

Hakka Tulou / Earth Buildings / 土樓

Photo of the Week:  福建土樓 Fujian Tulou 2005

Tulou Fujian  福建土樓

Just a few of the magnificant Hakka Earth Buildings (Tulou) we were fortunate enough to visit before the arrival of mas tourism.

The Tulou are found in the province of Fujian. Other hakka earth buildings can be found in Guangdong and Jiangxi Provinces

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Anping Bridge 安平桥

Anping Bridge 安平桥: Photo of the Week

Near Quanzhou Fujian Province

Anping Bridge 安平桥: The road south of Quanzhou, towards the town of Anhai, passes through what must be some of the most depressing and ugly scenery in China. For about 30 kilometres, the road runs through a series of towns the outskirts of which all merge into one dirty and chaotic urban sprawl, leaving the despondent traveler to wonder what on earth has brought him there. Most of the buildings look as if they were put up in half a day, many are unfinished, bits of cables and wires sticking out, but in full use. This is not a poor area of China; it’s just an example of the complete absence of urban planning.


It is difficult to know when or where to get off the bus in Anhai, as there seems to be no apparent centre. In spite of the huge billboards advertising the bridge as a Number One Heritage Site, the driver of our clapped-out motor-cycle rickshaw was not quite sure where we wanted to go and initially tried to take us to a hotel. However, we soon put him right and after a five-minute ride arrived at our destination.

Built more than 800 years ago (1138-1151)

Built more than 800 years ago (1138-1151), Anping bridge stands out from the urban mess that surrounds it, a haven of peace, far from the thunder of lorries and the honking of horns. The bridge crosses a two-kilometre stretch of sea and is made entirely of stone. A few pavilions and a small temple built along the bridge add to its feeling of timelessness and tranquility. Walking the full length of the bridge and admiring its immaculate ancient stones, is a strangely moving experience that takes about an hour. On the way you will meet many local people who use the bridge and its temples to have a rest and a chat.

See below for more text, large photos and Practicalities.

Continue reading “Anping Bridge 安平桥”

Chongwu 崇武镇 Fujian

Chongwu 崇武镇 Fujian (English & Español)

ESPAÑOL (English Version below)

Chongwu 崇武镇 Fujian: La ciudad amurallada de Chongwu bien merece una visita. Básicamente, la ciudad es una antigua aldea de pescadores rodeada casi por completo por su muralla original de la Dinastía Ming. El Mar del Sur de China como telón de fondo y la muralla hacen de Chongwu un paraje realmente impresionante. En su origen, la muralla se construyó para proteger la ciudad de las incursiones de los piratas japoneses, que asolaron las costas chinas durante siglos. Además, el famoso caudillo rebelde de la época Ming, Koxinga, tomó Chongwu como base para su lucha en pos de derrocar a la Dinastía manchú de los Qing.

En la playa hay agradables restaurantes al aire libre

En la actualidad, los visitantes entran en la ciudad por una suerte de parque temático, que consiste de esculturas de personajes históricos, o fantásticos, dispuestas a lo largo de la playa. Sin embargo, no hay que desanimarse por ello. En la playa hay agradables restaurantes al aire libre que ofrecen buen marisco y un buen sitio para relajarse y descansar, tanto antes como después de visitar Chongwu propiamente dicha.

El casco antiguo de Chongwu es un intrincado laberinto de estrechos callejones.

No todos los edificios son antiguos, pero de vez en cuando uno se encuentra con hermosas rarezas arquitectónicas. El pueblo es de lo más tradicional, y pueden apreciarse altares votivos de culto a los antepasados dentro de las casas populares, así como estatuas de Mazu, la diosa del mar. Además, parte de la arquitectura tradicional parece estar en proceso de restauración.

Las Mujeres de Hui-an

Si cogéis un autobús local desde Quanzhou a Chongwu, pasaréis por la pequeña localidad de Hui’an. Hay poco que recomendar de la ciudad en sí, salvo las mujeres locales, famosas por su belleza y sus atuendos. Son musulmanas, descendientes de los comerciantes arabes, que llegaron y se instalaron en Quanzhou.

Tras la caída de la Dinastía Yuan, muchos musulmanes fueron perseguidos y huyeron a zonas más pequeñas y apartadas como Hui’an.

Las mujeres de Hui’an destacan por sus ropas coloridas y sus enormes sombreros de paja de ala ancha, que llevan por encima del típico pañuelo islámico, lo que las asemeja mucho a las mujeres malayas.

La mayoría de ellas se dedica a la pesca o a la construcción de embarcaciones, o bien trabajando en alguna de las numerosas canteras de Fujian transportando enormes bloques de granito. De hecho, toda la zona entre Quanzhou y Chongwu parece dedicarse a la industria de la extracción y talla de la piedra. Innumerables canteras, fábricas y talleres hieren el paisaje, mientras enormes estatuas de cualquier personaje desde Buda a Mickey Mouse jalonan las polvorientas carreteras.

Hay un articulo relacionado en la web, escrito por Lisa Norton, y llamado ‘System for Slow(er) Architectures’,(ya no existe la pagina) que trata de un proyecto para promover y preservar los conocimientos y las técnicas indígenas para tallar la piedra y construir las casas, proporcionando además empleo para la gente local, entre ellas las mujeres musulmanes de Hui’an. 

Chongwu  崇武镇 (English Version)

The walled city of Chongwu is worth a visit. Basically, it’s an old fishing village almost entirely surrounded by its original granite Ming wall. With the South China Sea as a backdrop, Chongwu makes for quite a dramatic location. The purpose of the wall was to protect the city from Japanese pirates who used to ravage the coast of China for hundreds of years. What’s more, the famous Ming rebel Koxinga used Chongwu as a base in his struggle to overthrow the Manchu rulers of the Qing dynasty.

Nowadays, visitors enter the old city through a tacky theme park of sculptures, representing historical figures, that line the beach. However, this should not put you off.

There are some nice open-air restaurants on the beach that offer good seafood and a good place to cool off and have a rest, either before or after tackling Chongwu itself. The old city of Chongwu is a maze of tight alleyways.

Not all the buildings are old, but occasionally you come across the odd gem. The village is extremely traditional and you can catch many glimpses of altars for ancestor worship inside people’s homes, as well as statues of Mazu, the goddess of the sea. Some restoration and preservation of the traditional architecture seems to be underway.

The Women of Hui-an

If you take a local bus from Quanzhou to Chongwu,  you’ll pass through the small town of Hui’an. The town has little to recommend itself, but for the local women, who are famous for their beauty and their style of dress. They are Muslim women, descendants of the Arab traders who arrived and settled in Quanzhou.

After the fall of the Yuan dynasty, many Muslims were persecuted and fled to smaller, more remote areas, such as Hui’an.

These women stand out by their brightly coloured clothes and huge, wide- brimmed straw hats, worn over Islamic headscarves. They look very much like their Malay counterparts.

Most are engaged in fishing and shipbuilding, or can be seen on one of Fujian’s numerous quarries, lugging huge blocks of granite around. In fact, the whole area between Quanzhou and Chongwu seems to be involved in the industry of stone quarrying and carving. Innumerable quarries, factories and workshops scar the landscape, while huge statues, representing anything from the Buddha to Mickey Mouse, line the dusty roads.

(There is (was) a  related article on the web by Lisa Norton, called System for Slow(er) Architectures, which deals with a project for promoting and preserving  indigenous skills and techniques of stone carving and architecture and thus providing employment to local people, including the Hui’an Muslim women. 

www.craftculture.org/World/lnorton1.htm – 31k -) No longer exists

The Hakka Earth Buildings (Tulou)

The Hakka Regions and the Earth-buildings


The bus ride from Chaozhou back into Fujian through the Hakka areas is beautiful. You pass through green mountains, rolling hills and rich farming land. What is more, there are several stunning villages along the way, great places for a quick stop and a bit of exploring, if you had your own car. Of course, there is also the occasional ugly industrial town to remind you that you are still in the 21st Century.


There is a marked difference between the Han villages you see on the early part of the journey and the Hakka villages near the Fujianese border. The Han villages are compact, houses are made of stone and white-washed, a number of them are two-storied with traditional eaved roofs, quite similar to the famous Huizhou architecture, near Huangshan. As you approach the Fujian border, the ordered Han villages give way to more spread-out farming settlements, characterised by the traditional Hakka earth buildings. The ones you see along the way are absolutely authentic and family clans still live in……….


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