China Travel Guide
rooftops of Meizhou Island
The sea and mountains form the essential features of the province of Fujian. Its major cities thrive as coastal ports, while inland there is the spectacular, rugged beauty of Wuyi Shan.
Fujian’s historical importance dates back almost as far as the Warring States period (475–221 BC), when the Yue people, defeated by the State of Chu (today’s Hubei and Hunan), migrated southwards to settle in this part of China and Vietnam. Those who came to what is now Fujian were called Min Yue, later known as the Min people. Even today the Fujianese are sometimes referred to as Min and the southern Fujian language as Minnan Hua. The native people who preceded them are thus called the Ancient Min. Very little survives from this period, apart from the mysterious boat-shaped coffins, found lodged high above the river in the Wuyi Mountains. The main attractions are strung along the busy coastline and include the historic ports of Xiamen and Quanzhou, as well as Fuzhou, the capital, which was a major maritime center for over 1,000 years. Other attractions are the stone town of Chongwu, and Meizhou Island, birthplace of the important Goddess of the Sea. Inland, Fujian’s hinterland is wild and unspoilt enough to protect the last remaining South China tigers. It is also the home of the Hakka people, whose traditional dwellings can be seen at the rural settlements around Yongding.
Sights at a glance
Towns & Cities
Wuyi Shan, Fujian
Areas of Natural Beauty
An attractive city with a bustling nautical atmosphere, Xiamen was known as Amoy in the 19th century. It was first settled in the Song dynasty (960–1279 AD) but did not become a significant port until the Ming dynasty. It also served as an important stronghold against the Manchus when they invaded in the 17th century. The resistance was led by the legendary pirate and Ming loyalist Zheng Chenggong, also known as Koxinga, who is commemorated in the city. Xiamen became an early treaty port in the 19th century, when the foreign community established itself on Gulang Yu.
The city was also declared one of China’s first Special Economic Zones in the 1980s.
- 155 miles (250 km) SW of Fuzhou
- Hubin Nan Lu Bus Station, Xiahe Lu Bus Station, Siming Bus Station
- weekly from Hong Kong to the Heping Ferry Terminal; to Gulang Yu from the ferry terminal near Lujiang Hotel
- 78 Huajian Building, Xinhua Lu, 0592 204 6847
Xiamen City Center & Gulang Yu
- Gangzaihou Beach 8
- Huxiyan 2
- Koxinga Memorial Hall 10
- Overseas Chinese Museum 4
- Nan Putuo Si 1
- Shuzhuang Garden 7
- Statue of Koxinga 6
- Sunlight Rock 9
- Wanshi Botanical Garden 3
- Xiamen Seaworld 5
- Yingxiong Shan 11
Xiamen City Center & Gulang Yu
Nan Putuo Si
Nan Putuo Si
This busy temple was founded in the Tang era in the extravagant southern style (see Chen Jia Ci). Its three halls hold a wealth of Buddhist statuary. The Heavenly King Hall has an image of Wei Tuo, Protector of Buddhist Doctrine, who holds a stick pointing down to signify that the temple offers lodging to pilgrims.
A quaint little temple lies high on a rocky outcrop at Huxiyan (Tiger Stream Rock). Another temple, Bailu Dong (White Deer Cave), is located even higher up the hill. Built in the Ming era, its main draw is the fine view across the city.
Wanshi Botanical Garden
- 25 Huyuan Lu.
- 0592 203 8471
- 6:30am–6pm daily
This large scenic area houses over 5,300 species of plants, especially from South China and Southeast Asia. These include eucalyptus, bamboo, and a redwood tree planted by the former US President Richard Nixon. A bullet-scarred rock marks the spot where Koxinga killed his cousin.
Overseas Chinese Museum
- Siming Nan Lu.
- 0592 208 4028
- 9:30am–4:30pm Tue–Sun
This museum is divided into two sections. The first focuses on the history of Fujianese emigration, illustrated by photographs, paintings, and mementoes. The second houses bronzes, pottery, and artworks that once belonged to non-resident Chinese. The bronze collection is remarkable, spanning the period from the Shang (16th century BC) to the Republican era.
at Huli Shan Fort
Huli Shan Paotai
- Daxue Lu
Situated in the Huli Shan Fort along the coast, this huge cannon was made for the Qing government by a German manufacturer in 1891. Almost 46-ft (14-m) long and weighing 49 tons (50,000 kg), it had a firing range of 6 miles (10 km). Taiwan’s islands are visible from the ramparts – a fascination for locals, who were forbidden entry to the site until 1984.
Jimei School Village
Located 9 miles (15 km) north of the city, Jimei School Village was founded by the philanthropist Tan Kah Kee (Chen Jiageng) in 1913. A successful Singapore businessman, he returned to China in 1950 and held various government posts. Built in Chinese-Gothic style, the college is set in a beautiful park filled with pagodas and close to the sea. Tan Kah Kee’s former residence, also here, is open to the public.
- Xiamen Seaworld
- 0592 206 7668
- Shuzhuang Garden
- Sunlight Rock
elegant colonial houses
Koxinga Memorial Hall
- Koxinga Memorial Hall
The tranquil island of Gulang Yu lies only a ten-minute boat ride from Xiamen, with attractive buildings, and no traffic apart from battery-powered buggies. The island first became important in 1842 after the signing of the treaty of Nanking, when the resident representatives of the foreign powers established themselves here. It soon grew into a European-style town with churches, consulates, and spacious villas. In 1903, it was designated an International Settlement for Europeans and Japanese, complete with a municipal council and Sikh police force, and it retained this status until the end of World War II. The island still retains an atmosphere reminiscent of Southern Europe.
Koxinga, Gulang Yu
Spread over nearly one square mile (2.5 sq km), Gulang Yu is very pleasant to explore on foot, with its tiny streets and elegant houses, fronted by pretty flower gardens. Close to the ferry terminal is Xiamen Seaworld, which houses an interesting collection of sharks, seals, dolphins, penguins, and tropical fish. To the southeast is the Statue of Koxinga, which commemorates Xiamen’s famous rebel. Koxinga and his fleet held out against the encroaching Manchus for years. He is also credited with ousting the Dutch from Taiwan. Farther south along the coast is Shuzhuang Garden. Built in 1931 as a private villa, the garden opened to the public in 1955. Today visitors are enticed byits numerous tropical plants and flowers, as well as its complex of traditional Chinese gardens. Adjacent to the gardens is the attractive, but usually crowded Gangzaihou Beach. Close by to its north is Sunlight Rock, the island’s highest point that can easily be reached by cable car. At the foot of the rock is the Koxinga Memorial Hall, which houses a handful of Koxinga’s personal possessions, such as his jade belt and parts of his robe, as well as other historical items.
Farther toward the southwestern coast is Yingxiong Shan, with an unusual open-air aviary at the top of the building. It is filled with colorful parrots, egrets, and tropical pigeons.
one of China’s oldest extant mosques
Located on the Jin Jiang, Quanzhou was China’s principal port during the Song and Yuan dynasties. The city’s trade with India and elsewhere resulted in a permanent community of foreign residents. It was known to Arab geographers as Zaitun, from which the word “satin” is derived. Although Quanzhou’s importance declined during the Ming dynasty, the town still offers insights into its maritime past.
Currently roofless, the Qingjing Mosque was first built in 1009, with extensive repairs in 1309, 1350, and 1609. Unlike other mosques in southern China which follow the traditional Chinese architectural style, this one is an elegant stone structure with an obvious Arabian influence. The surviving gate is supposedly modeled on a mosque in medieval Damascus. Its museum details the port’s significance as a trade center.
In the north of the city, the Kaiyuan Si was built in AD 686 and called Lianhua Si (Lotus Temple), after a lotus miraculously grew on a mulberry bush that still exists to the west of the Great Hall. In the Song period, 1,000 monks worshiped here. Among the temple’s three halls, the Sweet Dew Vinaya Hall has a splendid ceiling and a throne on which sits Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha, Guardian of the Domain of Death. On each side of the halls are two ancient pagodas with carvings. The eastern part of the temple houses the Museum of Overseas Trade. One of its highlights is a Song trading vessel dating to 1274. Found in 1973, it was made of cedar wood and would have had sails of bamboo and hemp. At that time, such ships traveled to Arabia, Africa, and Asia, exporting porcelain and silks and importing spices, ivory, and glass. The museum also has stone carvings relating to Nestorian Christianity and to the Arab presence in the city.
North of Kaiyung Si is the Qingyuan Shan scenic area with the enormous Laojun Yan, a Song-dynasty sculpture of the Daoist Laozi.
Kaiyuan Si & Museum of Overseas Trade
the wall, Chongwu
- 20 miles (32 km) E of Quanzhou
- from Quanzhou to Huian, then minibus to Chongwu
The Chongwu Peninsula’s importance as a defensive stronghold was bolstered by the construction of the stone town of Chongwu in 1387, as a bastion against pirates. As part of its defense, the granite houses had flat roofs, making them almost invisible from beyond the forbidding 22-foot (6.6-m) high boundary wall. The main inhabitants are the Hui’an people, whose women wear distinctive cropped blue tops and wide black trousers. Fishing and stone carving are the main industries today, but the walls and old streets of Chongwu’s fortress days still make a striking impression.
- 35 miles (56 km) NE of Quanzhou
- from Putian to Wenjia, then ferry
For the Fujianese, this island near Putian is associated with Mazu, Goddess of the Sea and Protector of Sailors (see The Empress of Heaven). Mazu is the deification of a 10th-century girl, whose powers enabled her to make maritime predictions, and her birthday is the island’s main festival, celebrated on the 23rd day of the third lunar month. Numerous temples to the goddess dot the island, all the way up the hillside where her statue proudly stands on the summit. The main temple, Mazu Miao, is a short walk uphill from the pier. Rebuilt many times, it now resembles Beijing’s Forbidden City. Due to the effort involved in getting here, it may be worthwhile staying overnight in one of the island’s numerous hotels.
on Zhongzhou Island, Fuzhou
With its scenic location on the Min Jiang, Fujian’s capital was a major maritime port for more than 1,000 years. It was the center of a lucrative trade first in tea and sugar, and later in cotton, lacquer, and ceramics. When the legendary explorer Marco Polo visited Fuzhou in the 13th century, he recorded that the city was garrisoned by imperial troops. The city still has large numbers of troops due to its proximity to Taiwan.
Wuyi Square, with its statue of Mao Zedong, marks the city center. Just north is the 10th-century Bai Ta (White Pagoda), while to the west is Wu Ta, a black granite pagoda from the same era. North of Wu Ta, the Lin Zexu Memorial Hall commemorates Lin Zexu, a Qing-dynasty official who destroyed an opium shipment in protest at the British trade, an act that led to the First Opium War (see The East is Red). Farther north is the Kaiyuan Si, which has a Tang-dynasty iron Buddha. To its west lies Xi Hu Gongyuan (West Lake Park), where the Provincial Museum contains a 3,500-year-old boat coffin.
Cang Shan, south of the river, was once the site of the Foreign Concession Area. Zhongzhou Island (located in the middle of the river) is a modern development with foreign bars and restaurants. About 6 miles (10 km) east of the city is Gu Shan, a wooded area with pleasant walks and the much-restored Yongquan Si, built in AD 908.
- 92 Hutou Jie
- 0591 8375 7627
- 9am–4:30pm Tue–Sun
- 9am–6pm daily
- 144 miles (230 km) NW of Fuzhou
- to Wuyi Shan City (Wuyi Shan Shi), then bus 6 to park
- Shangu Jie Guolu Da Lou, 0599 525 0380
Magical Wuyi Shan, a hilly area renowned for its oolong tea, offers some of the most stunning scenery in southern China. Its sheer, mist-shrouded sandstone mountains, known as the Thirty-six Peaks, are threaded by the Jiuqu Jiang and covered in lush vegetation. First visited by the Han emperor Wudi (r.141–87 BC), Wuyi Shan came to be regarded as a sacred place by subsequent emperors.
The best way to enjoy the landscape is to take a raft along the river, as it meanders through gorges known collectively as Jin Qu Xi (Nine Bend Creek). Above the fourth bend, mysterious 3,000-year-old coffins are lodged high in the cliffs. Made of nanmu (cedar), they are about 16 ft (5 m) long; each contains a single individual wrapped in silk and hemp. How they got here, however, remains a mystery.
Several trails lead to the summits. The table-top shaped Da Wang Feng is the most difficult, while an easier climb is Tianyou Shan, the traditional spot from where to watch the sunrise. The highest peak is Sanyang Feng at 2,356 ft (718 m). A path also leads to the Shuilian Dong, with a teahouse next to a waterfall.
Lacquerware – a Chinese Craft
Made from the sap of the “lac” tree (Rhus verniciflua), lacquer was used long before the Han dynasty as a timber preservative – it hardens easily, even in damp conditions. It was later used in making plates and cups by applying layers of sap on wood or cloth, and painting the final layer. The modern craft, which appeared in the Yuan dynasty, uses the same basic method of applying layers on a wooden Base, but before the lacquer completely hardens, it is deeply and intricately carved. The surface is then inlaid with gold, silver, or tortoiseshell, and usually painted red.
Earthen Dwellings of Yongding
The Hakka people were driven south from the Yellow River plains by war in the late Tang and early Song dynasties. It is perhaps due to their past experiences of persecution, and to their presence in a new land (their official minority name is Kejia, which means “guest people”) that they adopted a fortress-like style of rammed earth buildings called tulou. Capable of housing several hundred people, these round or square buildings are constructed around a courtyard, containing a maze of storage sheds and public meeting rooms. Hukeng is one of the more accessible towns in the Yongding area with several Hakka dwellings. The train from Xiamen to Longyan takes one hour (bus takes four hours) after which it is a two-hour bus ride to Hukeng.
The Story of Tea
Tea (cha) is associated with China more than with any other country. Its legendary origins in China date back over 5,000 years although some believe that it was introduced from India about 1,800 years ago. At first it was drunk as a tonic; now it is simply an indispensable part of daily life for almost all Chinese. It is widely grown throughout the warmer and wetter southern areas of China, particularly in Fujian, Yunnan, and Zhejiang. Although tea comes in many forms, all tea comes from the same species, Camellia sinensis. The most common Chinese teas – green, black, and oolong – have differing appearance and taste due to the process of fermentation, although the flavor of the tea does vary depending on where it is grown, and whether other ingredients have been added such as chrysanthemums in huacha. Tea is always drunk clear, never with milk or lemon. Sugar is added only in the north western Muslim areas, while the Tibetans drink theirs with butter.
Shen Nong was the mythological emperor who according to Chinese lore discovered tea. A wise ruler, he pronounced that all drinking water should be boiled. One day, tea leaves fell from a tree into a pot of boiling water and the resulting brew delighted him.
|The tea trade was a key element in Britain’s interest in China. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to enjoy tea, and the Dutch the first Europeans to deal in tea commercially, but it was the British who became the greatest tea traders as the fashion for tea spread from Holland to England in the late 17th century.||Upscale tea shops abound in the larger city centers. Highly prized specialty teas such as the Fujianese oolong tie guanyin can be purchased and sometimes sampled.||Tea plantations, many of them terraced, cover the hillsides of the southern interior. Up to five harvests can take place in a year. Picking is still done mostly by hand – an experienced picker can harvest 70 lb (32 kg) in a day – but mechanical methods are becoming common.|