'Quanzhou: Emporium of the World in Song–Yuan China' is a serial nomination of the representative monuments and sites of Quanzhou - an important port city in China in the prosperous period of the Maritime Silk Roads.
It testifies to the development of the ocean civilization and the unique ocean culture in China’s southeast coastal area in the prosperous period of the Maritime Silk Roads from the 10th century to the 14th century and contribution to the interchange of the Chinese people and foreigners on religious beliefs and their representation in the urban culture, architectural design and sculpture art.
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In my quest to cover every Chinese TWHS in the list I...wait, what? Already 2(!) reviews for Quanzhou?! I guess I don't need to add more than a thumbs up.
All jokes aside, it's no surprise Quanzhou has already been visited and reviewed due to the inscription attempt in 2018. It was first recommended not be inscribed but then overturned to have another look in 2020 (delayed until 2021 due to Covid-19). Normally the politics behind these inscriptions are not pleasant to read about because it all deals with cooperations between countries, favours (in this case Tunisia writing a referendum to have it inscribed) and plain old ass kissing. To compare, Saudi Arabia had the same situation with Al-Ahsa Oasis and after debating and all sorts of haggling within the nation's representatives it was eventually inscribed as world heritage site (referendum by Kuwait). So as you can see these games played for an inscription are ruining what was once a prestigious site that experts review for including them alongside The Great Wall, Yellowstone etc. that dilutes it into "one more won't hurt" rather than "quality of quantity". If the list grows to 2,000 in my lifetime I may just look back and see that every dust particle is inscribed. HOWEVER, in this case the advisory board got it completely wrong. You can definitely see all three criteria it aims for an inscription and I am surprised that it was viewed so badly during the advisor's visit. For me this is a WHS already.
Before I get into the sites I want to get to logistics. Quanzhou is well connected with trains, being wedged between Fuzhou and Xiamen. It also has an an airport just like the other cities. The airport is small and west of the city but has buses running towards town. Perhaps it was previously planned to have a bus running a route past the inscribed sites and with it now delayed to be inscribed they scrapped that idea, but nevertheless you can take a bus (4 kuai) to Tianhou Temple (get off one stop before the one called Tianhou unless you like walking back) and from there you can walk around the small sites or take other buses as you please. There are also many golf-cart style e-buses in the old town area that seem to follow a certain route but I never figured this out. From the old town there is naturally also a bus to Jiuri Mountain and from there yet another one to the train station - as you can see this is a great town for public buses. I don't need to mention that you can always use a taxi-hailing app if you don't feel up for buses.
I did not visit all 16 components. I don't think it's necessary to get the picture. I definitely recommend Tianhou temple and most of the other old town sites. If you feel templed out then just do a couple of these. I found the mosque more pleasant to view from the outside gate as well as being shushed away from a caretaker when trying to peek into the new mosque further in (I did not STEP in if that's what you are thinking) made me feel that it's basically just a generic mosque surrounded by some remains of columns and stones. Seeing that you must pay for entry (it's "only" 3 kuai but still) you get to see very little from the inside that makes me recommend you should skip it. The old town gives you are great idea of the amount of religion passing around the world via the maritime route.
What to do next is maybe a little tricky because they are further out of the city center and require more time to move around. I picked Jiuri Mountain because I was leaving via the train station and it's located just nearby. It was a good choice with me loving nature and all. Don't be scared by the term Mountain because it's barely 100 steps up and you do not even need to ascend far to see the wind-praying carvings. They are near the bottom of the hill and the rest of the walk, while pleasant and not even an hour round-trip doesn't show you much more about the WHS part. These carvings are recordings of the prayers and offered sacrifices for a smooth wind and safety passage of outgoing voyages.
Lastly I want to talk about the only bad things I found in Quanzhou. In 1991 a Martime Exhibition by UNESCO came to visit Jiuri. That sounds great, right? Well, what they left behind is in my opinion not so great. You see, the carvings here are ancient - 700 years old. They have history and belong to that time period. The 1991 exhibition carved their own "we were here" graffiti-style blog into the same rocks - then each member signed as if they are proud of this. Maybe I miss something but I see this as a egoistic way to show they are big enough to be allowed to scribble next to ancient carvings. I find this shameful. To try and compare: there is Aboriginal rock art in Kakadu NP, Australia. Would it be cool for UNESCO members to come along and draw a doodle next to it as well? Certainly not. What recently happened there is that modern aboriginal artists, and they aren't many of them apparently, made a new on one of the rocks. These are ancestors of the people who made the original art and they continue the tradition that belongs to Kakaku NP and the people who live there for centuries. That I'm totally ok with. Not ok is what a bunch of travelers in the name of a big organization think they should CARVE into a rock next to original carvings no matter.
So while this review now ends on a big of a sour mood I want to sum up that Quanzhou is a great day trip to view several of its sites and I'm looking forward to its official inscription. The city has already made descriptions for all the places in Chinese and English (and Arabic for the mosque), Jiuri had a small exhibition for all the sites with a map and they are basically just waiting for adding a little Unesco sign.
What struck me during my recent China trip is that one is constantly time-travelling here: one city can be ultra-modern and the ‘next’ one still functioning in a time-warp 15 years back. This also is the case with Xiamen and Quanzhou, superficially similar cities located half an hour by fast train from each other on the South-East Coast. Where Xiamen feels like a subtropical version of Shanghai including the European architecture, Quanzhou is a run-of-the-mill Chinese city diligently working for progress. If we are interpreting the signs well, Quanzhou's historic monuments will be China’s WH candidate for 2020 after 'earning' a referral last year.
Quanzhou had its heydays in the 10th – 14th centuries when it was an important stop on the Maritime Silk Road. The Chinese traded from here with countries in the Indian Ocean and the western Pacific.
Quanzhou’s nomination undoubtedly will focus on its multi-religious character. Its Unique Selling Point for that is the Qingjing Mosque. Built in 1009, it today is the oldest Arab-style mosque in China. I visited on a Friday, it was prayer day and from all sides Chinese (and foreign-looking) Muslims were arriving. The old mosque has mostly fallen into ruins, but next to it is a new building that is still in full use.
Tourists have to buy a ticket for 3 Yuan at the visitor center at the back before being allowed to enter through the impressive gate. The old part of the mosque complex consists of 2 former prayer rooms. One was built in Arabic style, out of stone and with a colonnade. When it collapsed as a result of an earthquake, a new place of worship was built. This time it was in Chinese style: it looks like a temple but where you expect an image of Buddha or some deity it has the mihrab. On the grounds you can also find some old writings, such as an Imperial Decree of the 15th century to protect Islam and its followers.
Quanzhou does not have (historic) churches or synagogues, but does show the products of a very wide range of Asian beliefs. In the main street Tumen, next to the mosque, lies the Guan Yu Taoist temple. Confucianism is also represented in the same street. When I visited, the Guan Yu temple was very busy with people burning incense sticks and sacrifice stacks of 'money'. In the vicinity are all shops that sell that fake money and gold paper to burn.
The WHS will consist of 16 different locations. I decided to visit another 2 in the afternoon. With a taxi I went to the Kaiyuan temple. This is the largest Buddhist temple in the city. So that was already the third religion of this day. This one is especially known for the 2 beautiful large pagodas. Here too, it was busy. In the large hall a service was going on under the supervision of monks, accompanied by drums and singing.
Finally, another taxi took me to yet another part of the city - the different locations are not really within walking distance. Tian Hou Gong is a temple dedicated to Mazu, the goddess of the sea. She has kind of an own religion (Mazuism), is popular among fishermen and sailors in this province and across the sea in Taiwan. The temple has the colourful ceramic decorations that temples in Taiwan are covered with, although here in Quanzhou it is less exuberant.
Quanzhou had to grow on me. In retrospect, I could have stayed a night there. There is a lot to see, but it is all rather scattered. There are also very few directions for tourists from the train station, so I first took bus 3 into the city center. You supposedly can take bus 601 along the various sights, but despite waiting at a designated stop none did pass within 20 minutes. I resorted to taking taxi’s from location to location.
Among the 16 locations of the TWHS (now all mapped on this website!), you can also find one of the oldest stone bridges in China and the largest statue of the philosopher Laotse. Both are slightly outside the city. Quanzhou is also proud to have 4 intangible WHS already listed: Nanyin Opera, Fujian Puppetry, the Mazu Belief and a 4th one that I couldn't identify.
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Visited June 2017
Quanzhou is located in Fujian province, on the southeast coast of China, around 100 km NE from Xiamen. It was a very important port and starting point of the Chinese maritime silk road during Middle Ages. From its Arabic name, Zaytoun, the English/French name of satin (sateen) was derived, because this fabric was originally made of silk.
The history of city is shaped by its maritime trading connections and activities. A long time ago its historical heart was located closer to the sea; now port facilities are far from the city center.
The nominated sites and monument are scattered around the city and its environs. And that means it is not possible to visit/see all components in one day, even if you have your own mean of transport. In total there are 16 components and they can be divided into three categories: 1. Sites and monuments related to maritime trade activities (examples: * site of worship: Jiuri Hill Relics and Inscription; * Administrative site: Shibosi Office Relic; * Navigation facilities: Shihu Docks, Fashi Docks, Wanshou Pagoda, Liusheng Pagoda; * Transportation facilities: Luoyang Bridge; Anping Bridge; *production sites: Kiln Sites at Jinjiaoyi Hill); 2. Sites and monuments related to culture/religion (Kaiyuan Temple – Buddhist and Hindu; Qingjing Mosque and Islamic cemetery – Islam; Cao’an Temple – Manicheism; Confucius Temple – Confucianism; Stone Statue of Lao Tze – Taoism; Tianhou Temple -Mazu, goddess of sea); 3. Sites and monuments related to urban development (city walls and gates; street layout of the old city).
The city is ready for being inscribed on the WH list: most nominated places are very well signposted and have information in English. The new visitors center is located not very far from the train station, by the park in the northern part of the city where Lao Tze statue is located. You can get there by local bus. On the leaflet that you can get there from there there’s a map with all the components are marked. I was told that next year they will launch a new bus line connecting the most impressive monuments. Now you can cover most on this route using local buses, by foot and by taxi.
Almost all monuments are from Song and Tang dynasties. Only statue of Mani (photo) in the Cao’an temple is from Yuan dynasty. And this is the only one which is not located in Quenzhou, but in the neighbouring city of Luoshan town, Juinjiang. This relief is the world’s only remaining statue of Mani, founder of Manichaeism. Note, that the small temple closes at 5pm.
The most impressive is the statue of Lao Tze; they will tell you that this is the biggest in Fujian, but in my opinion the bigger one (although much younger) is located in the Wuyi shan (another WHS).
This is the itinerary that let me see most of the nominated components in one day: Lao Tze statue → Islamic Holy Tombs → Shibosi Office Relic → Kaiyuan Temple → Zhongshan historic neighbourhood → Quingjin Mosque → Tianhou Temple → Cao’an temple.
2018 Advisory Body overruled
Referral (lead by Tunisia) after Not to inscribe advice by ICOMOS
Renomination, with a name change from "Monuments and Sites of Ancient Zayton in Quanzhou on the Marine Roads"
The site has 22 locations
The site has 15 connections
Religion and Belief
WHS on Other Lists
World Heritage Process
24 Community Members have visited.