Quanzhou

Quanzhou (泉州; Quánzhōu) is a coastal city just north of Xiamen in Fujian Province in China. Older romanisations, no longer in use, include Ch'üan-chou, Chuanchow and Chinchew.

Temple on Tumen Jie

Marco Polo sailed home from here around 1292; he called the city by its Arabic and Persian name, Zaiton, and described it as one of the world's two busiest ports (the other was Alexandria) and stunningly rich. Since then it has come down in the world somewhat, but is still a major port and still quite prosperous. For travellers, much of the history is still quite visible; the town is positively overrun with interesting old buildings.

Likely many readers in Western countries will never have heard of the place, but they have been somewhat affected by it nonetheless. The English word "satin" comes from "Zaiton", the port from which that fabric first reached the Middle East and thence Europe. The tea that American colonists threw overboard to protest British taxes at the Boston Tea Party was shipped from Quanzhou and grown in nearby Anxi.

Districts

Position in Fujian province

Quanzhou urban area consists of four districts:

Other communities in Quanzhou Prefecture are covered in separate articles: Anxi, Dehua, Hui'an, Jinjiang, Jinmen, Nan'an, Shishi, and Yongchun.

Understand

The area along Sunwu Creek, south of downtown, has experienced a recent urban renewal. The bixi turtle carries an inscription commemorating flood control work on the creek

About a millenium ago, the city was the main eastern terminus of the Maritime Silk Road and home to a large (over 100,000 by some estimates) international community, mostly Arabs but also including Persians, Indians and others. At one time, the city had seven mosques; the only one surviving today is the Great Mosque, built in 1009 CE.

Quanzhou was one of the main bases for the great Chinese treasure ships that routinely traded in Southeast Asia and India and sometimes reached at least as far as Persia and Aden. When Vasco da Gama (en route to becoming the first European to reach India by sea) reached East Africa in 1498, he found Chinese trade goods such as blue & white pottery already in the market. The Chinese ships were far larger, longer range, and more advanced technically than European vessels of the period.

One writer says that the treasure ships did much more in the early 1400s. He claims they circumnavigated the globe, discovered both Americas decades before Columbus (who used some of their maps, obtained through trade with Egypt), and explored Australia centuries before Europeans arrived. However, his theories are not accepted by most historians.

There is a Maritime Museum in Quanzhou with many relics of this period.

Marco Polo sailed home from Quanzhou about 1292. He described it as the world's busiest port, with Alexandria a distant second. At about that time, Kublai Khan's fleet for the invasion of Japan sailed from Quanzhou. It was wiped out by a storm, the kami kaze or "spirit wind". This is the origin of the name for kamikaze (suicide) pilots during the Second World War; it was hoped they would save Japan in a similar way.

In the 1420s, there was a shift in power in Beijing; the Confucian scholars won out over the eunuchs, and many of the admirals and captains were eunuchs. The emperor cut off all foreign expeditions, destroyed the records of previous voyages, and let the great ships rot. After this, Quanzhou declined considerably. Also, over the centuries the harbour became partly clogged with silt. Today, Quanzhou is less well-known than the provincial capital Fuzhou or booming Special Economic Zone Xiamen (which was once administered as a district of Quanzhou), and certainly gets fewer tourists than either. However, it has more historic buildings than either, some interesting modern architecture, and some good shopping.

Like most Chinese cities, Quanzhou has some of the standard ugly 8-storey concrete apartment blocks. However, there are far fewer of those than elsewhere and whole districts are much prettier. The city government has regulations that require new buildings in some areas to follow certain architectural conventions. Downtown, there are many new 4 to 6 floor buildings with the traditional Chinese tile roofs with points on the corners. Near the old mosque there are new buildings with Islamic themes, such as arched windows, in the architecture. The rebuilding of the Zhongshan Road shopping area got a UNESCO award for heritage preservation, and Quanzhou got an international award in a contest for most livable cities in 2003; neighboring Xiamen had won the previous year.

Get in

By air

Quanzhou, or rather Jinjiang across the river, has an airport with flights to various mainland cities and to Hong Kong. Nearby Xiamen has a more important airport with good domestic connections and quite a few international flights. The Fuzhou airport is also reasonably close.

By train

Quanzhou has two kinds of rail service. The "conventional" rail line from the interior of China terminates at Quanzhou East Station, in the Northeastern outskirts of the city, off Chenghua South Rd (Hwy G324). At some 6 km from downtown, it is walkable if you are staying on the Northeast side, but a bus or taxi is recommended. It is the terminal station for many (fairly slow) trains connecting Quanzhou with the interior of Fujian Province (Sanming, Wuyishan) and with major cities throughout China, such as Nanchang, Wuhan (Wuchang Station), and Beijing.

The new high-speed rail line along the coast serves the new Quanzhou Station, located some 12 km Northwest of the city proper, off Hwy S307. It is served by frequent high-speed trains running between Fuzhou and Xiamen. The line continue north beyond Fuzhou to Wenzhou, Hangzhou, and Shanghai, and south beyond Xiamen to Shantou and Shenzhen. There is also a line going inland from Putian (north of Quanzhou on the Fujian coast) to Nanchang in neighbouring Jiangxi province. See High-speed rail in China for details.

By bus

There are frequent buses from Xiamen (¥27-35, 1.5 hours) and Fuzhou (¥46-65, 2.5 hours).

There are also direct overnight buses to/from more distant places such as Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Zhuhai, in the ¥300 range.

There are two main bus stations, a fairly large one in a new building toward the east of town and one that is much more central and looks more run down. The latter is the "new bus station". A small bus station next to the Overseas Chinese Hotel has buses to Fuzhou and Shenzhen.

By boat

There is regular ferry service from Taiwan-controlled Kinmen (Quemoy) Island to the port of Shijing (石井), some 50 km south of downtown Quanzhou. (¥150, or NT$750). However, as of early 2012, only PRC (China) and ROC (Taiwan) citizens can use it. The ferries from Xiamen to Kinmen, however, are open to most nations.

Get around

Many major streets have well-utilized bicycle lanes

Taxis start at ¥7 and you can go almost anywhere in town for under ¥20.

Be warned about local traffic! Traffic anywhere in China often horrifies visitors (see Driving in China), but Quanzhou is worse than most places. On some travel blogs, even Chinese complain about Quanzhou traffic.

See

Religious structures

On the grounds of Kaiyuan Temple

The town has an assortment of religious buildings, some quite old. It has been called a museum of world religions. There are Taoist, Buddhist, and Confucian temples, as anywhere in China, plus Christian churches and one mosque. There are also Hindu and Zoroastrian temples.

Lao Tse
An ancient stone turtle (bixi) in the Tianhou Temple

Museums

Quanzhou Museum
Huaqiao Museum

Other sights


Do

Buy

Souvenirs. There is large area of antique and curio shops on the north side of the mosque. They sell mainly to locals. Quality, variety and price are all better than most tourist areas. You do have to bargain fiercely, though.

Dehua teapot

White pottery from the village of Dehua outside Quanzhou has been a export item for centuries, known in Europe as "Blanc de Chine". Other ceramics are also made in the area. There are kilns going back a millennium or more.

Tieguanyin tea

Tea. Anxi outside Quanzhou produces one of China's most famous teas, Tieguanyin Oolong. Guan Yin is a Buddhist Bodhisattva sometimes described as the Goddess of Mercy; "tie" means iron. China's three main types of tea are unfermented green tea, partly fermented oolong and heavily fermented Pu'er tea. The best known oolong teas are Tieguanyin, Da Hong Bao from Wuyi Mountain in inland Fujian, and Dongding from Taiwan. Tieguanyin tea is available in countless shops throughout Quanzhou, in most you can sit and try a variety of grades of tea to decide which you want.

Prices for a jin (half kilo) of tea in a typical shop start at about ¥40 and there are some very nice teas under ¥200. However, tea in Chinese culture is priced like wine in the West; a variety that is top quality, rare, or just well-marketed can fetch an amazingly high price. It is not uncommon to see teas at ¥600-2,000 a jin and the record for a rare top-grade tea sold at auction is ¥9,000 a gram. As for wines, a single variety such as burgundy or tieguanyin is available in a wide range of grades, the expensive products are best avoided unless you know exactly what you are getting, and most drinkers will be quite happy with lesser types.

Many Quanzhou tea shops also sell the miniature tea sets that are most commonly used in this area; making and drinking tea this way is somewhat labor-intensive (each cup is smaller than a shot glass and a 'pot' is about as big as a coffee cup) but an enjoyable social experience. Making and serving tea in this way is not really a tea 'ceremony' in the sense of a Japanese tea ceremony, but it is still a ritualized and celebrated process.

North of the mosque, across the arched bridge over the small creek (Baguagou), is a traditional courtyard house that has been converted into a teahouse. This is a good place to get an introduction to the local tea service, your server can show you how to prepare the tea. Most tea shops will also be happy to give you an impromptu lesson in brewing tea.

Books and maps. The labirynthine Quanzhou Book City (泉州书城), located underground in Zhongshan Park (Zhongshan North Road, just south of Quanshan Gate), is pretty good for books and maps of all kinds (mostly in Chinese, of course). This is the only book shop in China where I simultaneously saw many provincial atlases from StarMaps "军民双用" ("Military and civil use") series, which are superior to most other publishers' products.

Bicycles. Quanzhou's bike shops of all kinds are concentrated in Zhongshan Nan Lu (Zhongshan South Road). The more southern section, from Tianhou Lu to Yiquan Lu, has primarily electric bike shops. More to the north, from Yiquan Lu to Tumen Lu, regular (pedal) bicycles are found as well, in a at least a dozen shops. There are a few high-end places for various brands, as well as several shops for Chinese mass-market bikes, in the ¥200-500 range. The small family-owned Triace shop at 376 Zhongshan South Road (山南路376号) can be recommended for its friendly and knowledgeable staff. They speak good Mandarin and a bit of English, and can provide local advice and help you get in touch with local bicycle enthusiasts.

Electronics. Need a new iPad? A Chinese cell phone? Some spare parts for your laptop? Computer, cell phone, and electronics shops can be found in Jiuyi St (九一街), west of Wenling Rd. There are also many cell phone shops farther east, as Jiuyi St becomes Fengce Rd (丰泽路)。

Learn

The original Shaolin Temple, one of China's greatest centers of kung fu, is in Henan, but during one of China's many wars a lot of the monks fled South and founded Southern Shaolin with three temples in Fujian. The one in Quanzhou, at the foot of Qingyuanshan, dates back to the ninth century; the ones in nearby Putian and Fuqing are even older but are now less active. The Quanzhou temple has been burnt down at least once, but has been rebuilt; it takes foreign students for intensive training at rates (as of 2010) around $500 a month including room and board.

Eat

There are several vegetarian restaurants near Chengtien Temple on Nanjun Road

Drink

Bars

Zhuangyuan Street (Bar Street) is to the east of Zhongshan Road north of the center of town. The street is parallel and slightly south of East Street. It has many bars.

Cafes

Sleep

Quanzhou is not a tourist-oriented city and there are relatively few hotels.

By 2015, a fair number of Quanzhou hosts have registered with airbnb.com.

Budget

There is a hotel attached to the main bus station; turn right as you come out of the station and look for the London/Moscow/Beijing/... row of clocks in the reception area. There are several more hotels along the (fairly long, but walkable) street that leads west from there toward the center of town.

Inconveniently located on Wenling Road or Chongfu Road are several cheap business hotels, for ¥50-100.

Mid-range

Splurge

Several high-end hotels are located along Baiyuan Road and nearby streets; they look like palaces and are easy to spot.

Connect

The area code for Quanzhou is 595.

Go next

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Monday, March 28, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.