Quanzhou 泉州: Revised and Updated

Quanzhou: A fascinating Chinese City with a long history.

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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!

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

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
Chongwu  崇武镇
Quanzhou at night

Chongwu 崇武镇 Fujian (English & Español)

Chongwu  崇武镇 (Español)

ESPAÑOL (English Version below)

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 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.

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.

Hui an women photo by http://en.fjta.com/travels/detail/1305

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.

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.

Hui’an Women Photo by http://en.fjta.com/travels/detail/1305

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