In China’s history textbooks, Quanzhou City can be found in almost any paragraph related to maritime trade. Located in Fujian Province on China’s southeast coast, this time-honored city served as the starting point for ancient China’s Maritime Silk Road. During the Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1271-1368) dynasties, Quanzhou was known as the top port in the East, as famous as Alexandria in Egypt.
Merchant ships and traders from various countries gathered in the city, exchanging goods as well as facilitating cultural exchange. Now, several centuries later, Quanzhou remains one of the most economically vibrant cities in that area. A stroll through the city will reveal myriad well-preserved structures of high historical value, including plentiful cathedrals, temples, monasteries, and mosques from the East and West. Not surprisingly, Quanzhou’s older area is known as “a museum of world religions.” Architecture includes not only structures built for Taoist and Buddhist faiths, which are commonly followed by locals, but also those for Catholicism and Islam which were brought to the port city as early as the Song and Yuan dynasties. A visit to Quanzhou for just a day will illustrate the port’s prosperity and openness across the ages.
Witnessing Eastern Culture
Quanzhou’s history is stirring. Most original residents came to the city from central China to avoid invasions by ethnic groups from the northern regions during the Western Jin Dynasty (265-316). So, the city was built according to traditional culture of central China. Since many were devoutly religious, statues, temples, and various religious icons quickly popped up around town.
Known as Quanzhou’s most renowned, Kaiyuan Temple was first constructed in the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and ranks as the largest Buddhist temple in Fujian Province which are can be considered for your last minute China travel deals. Upon entering the old city proper of Quanzhou, tourists can easily spot two imposing Buddhist towers, the most famous sections of Kaiyuan Temple. With a height of 48 meters, the East Tower was constructed in 865, while the 44-meter-tall West Tower was built in 917. Originally, both towers were constructed of wood. However, they were destroyed many times over the years until they were finally rebuilt with stone during the Song Dynasty.
Along with the two towers, other structures in the temple include the Hall of Heavenly Kings, the Great Buddha’s Hall, and the Sutra Pavilion, all of which embody top ancient Chinese architectural techniques and testify to the popularity of Buddhism in Quanzhou in that era.
Compared with magnificent Kaiyuan Temple, the Temple of Lord Guan and General Yue on Tumen Street primarily served believers of Chinese folk religions from humbler classes. The temple was built in commemoration of both Lord Guan Yu and General Yue Fei. It was constructed in the Song Dynasty, and has been popular ever since. Pilgrims travel from as far as Southeast Asia and Taiwan to visit. Now, the temple also houses the Quanzhou Taoism Culture Research Association.
Contrasting Buddhist Kaiyuan Temple, Temple of Lord Guan and General Yue was built in honor of two historical figures that represented power, justice, and royalty. Quanzhou’s scope of beliefs is diverse. It is common to see a temple dedicated to several gods. Actually, these temples are also common in Taiwan and southern Fujian Province, and still enjoy great popularity.
Imported Cultures for China tour
Just a few blocks away from the Temple of Lord Guan and General Yue is Qingjing Mosque, one of China’s oldest Islamic structures. Constructed during the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127), the mosque has already been standing for more than 1,000 years. The present layout was finalized after plenty of expansions during the Yuan and Ming (1368-1644) dynasties. When every expansion started, merchants and missionaries from the western regions helped with the process. A structure of significant interest for international Islamic academic circles, Qingjing Mosque nowadays still serves Quanzhou’s Muslims as a meeting place for religious services and weddings.
The mosque’s architecture is similar to styles of mosques in Syria’s Damascus. Major surviving structures of the mosque include the Main Gate, the Heavenly Hall and the Hall of Clarity and Virtue. The exterior design of the Main Gate features traditional Arabic Islamic style. Facing south, the magnificent door reaches 12.3 meters in height, with a width of 6.6 meters at the base and 3.8 meters at the door itself.
Heavenly Hall was formerly the major prayer hall in the mosque. However, today’s visitors will only find four stone walls and no roof. The east wall features the pointed-arched main entrance, in the middle of the west wall is a tall, arched structure where the Koran in ancient Arabic was engraved and preserved. At the northwest of the mosque sits the Hall of Clarity and Virtue, which was constructed in the Ming Dynasty. After the roof of the Heavenly Hall collapsed during an earthquake, believers relocated to the Hall of Clarity and Virtue to pray. Presently, an imperial edict engraved in stone by Emperor Yongle (1403-1424) to protect Qingjing Mosque which is must-see for your popular China tours and Chinese Islam is still housed in the mosque.
Exchanges between East and West
As an economic hub of southeast China’s coast, Quanzhou has been synonymous with business and trade for ages. As for the diverse cultural heritage in its vintage area, local government has spared no efforts towards protection and maintenance. At present, Quanzhou’s older area, especially Tumen Road, has preserved architectural styles combining the East and West.
Now, some cities in southern Fujian Province, such as Quanzhou, Zhangzhou, and Xiamen, are considering jointly applying for world cultural heritage, on the basis of the Maritime Silk Road. Of these cities, Quanzhou, as the most well-known port city since Song and Yuan dynasties, serves as the core of the application.
The passage of time is forever etched on historical artifacts. Ancient structures and streets, constructed with bricks, sand, and wood, witnessed unimaginable tales. Their continuing health and vitality represent the city’s understanding of the past. The fusion of new and time-honored structures represents modern Quanzhou at its best.
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