Quanzhou, also called Licheng and Citong Cheng in Pinyin, is one of the most famous historical and cultural cities in China. It is an important seaport located in southeast Fujian Province and is the economic and political center of the province. To its east is Taiwan separated from Quanzhou by the East Sea, making the city the famous mother town of Chinese compatriots in Taiwan and overseas. The climate is warm and humid, comfortable for year-round travel, making it a popular tourist destination.

Due to its special location, Quanzhou has been China’s marine door to exotic cultures since ancient times. During the Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1271-1368) dynasties, Quanzhou port became one of the largest world ports. As the starting point of the Sea Silk Road, it accepted diverse religions including Christianity, Islam and Manichaeism. Today it is called ‘World Religions Museum’.

History of Quanzhou

Quanzhou (泉州) was China’s major port for foreign traders, who knew it as Zaiton, during the 11th through 14th centuries. It was visited by both Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta; both travelers praised it as one of the most prosperous and glorious cities in the world.

Wang Guoqing (王國慶) used the area as a base of operations for the Chen State before he was subdued by the Sui general Yang Su in the ad 590s. Quanzhou proper was established under the Tang in 718 on a spit of land between two branches of the Jin River. Muslim traders reached the city early on in its existence, along with their existing trade at Guangzhou and Yangzhou.

Already connected to inland Fujian by roads and canals, Quanzhou grew to international importance in the first century of the Song. It received an office of the maritime trade bureau in 1079 or 1087 and functioned as the starting point of the Maritime Silk Road into the Yuan, eclipsing both the overland trade routes and Guangzhou. A 1095 inscription records two convoys, each of twenty ships, arriving from the Southern Seas each year. Quanzhou’s maritime trade developed the area’s ceramics, sugar, alcohol, and saltindustries. Ninety per cent of Fujian’s ceramic production at the time was jade-colored celadon, produced for export. Frankincense was such a coveted import that promotions for the trade superintendents at Guangzhou and Quanzhou were tied to the amount they were able to bring in during their terms in office. During this period it was one of the world’s largest and most cosmopolitan seaports. By 1120, its prefecture claimed a population of around 500,000. Its Luoyang Bridge was formerly the most celebrated bridge in China and the 12th century Anping Bridge is also well known.

Quanzhou initially continued to thrive under the Southern Song produced by the Jin–Song Wars. A 1206 report listed merchants from Arabia, Iran, the Indian subcontinent, Sumatra, Cambodia, Brunei, Java, Champa, Burma, Anatolia, Korea, Japan and the city-states of the Philippines. One of its customs inspectors, Zhao Rugua, completed his compendious Description of Barbarian Nations c. 1225, recording the people, places, and items involved in China’s foreign trade in his age. Other imperial records from the time use it as the zero milefor distances between China and foreign countries. Tamil merchants carved idols of Vishnu and Shiva and constructed Hindu temples in Quanzhou. Over the course of the 13th century, however, Quanzhou’s prosperity declined due to instability among its trading partners and increasing restrictions introduced by the Song in an attempt to restrict the outflow of copper and bronze currency from areas forced to use hyperinflating paper money. The increasing importance of Japan to China’s foreign trade also benefited Ningbonesemerchants at Quanzhou’s expense, given their extensive contacts with Japan’s major ports on Hakata Bay on Kyushu.

Under the Mongolian Yuan dynasty, a superintendent of foreign trade was established in the city in 1277, along with those at Shanghai, Ningbo, and Guangzhou. The former Song superintendent Pu Shougeng, an Arab or Persian Muslim, was retained for the new post, using his contacts to restore the city’s trade under its new rulers. He was broadly successful, restoring much of the port’s former greatness, and his office became hereditary in his descendants. Into the 1280s, Quanzhou sometimes served as the provincial capital for Fujian. Its population was around 455,000 in 1283, the major items of trade being pepper and other spices, gemstones, pearls, and porcelain. Marco Polo recorded that the Yuan emperors derived “a vast revenue” from their 10% duty on the port’s commerce; he called Quanzhou’s port “one of the two greatest havens in the world for commerce” and “the Alexandria of the East”. Ibn Battuta simply called it the greatest port in the world. Polo noted its tattoo artists were famed throughout Southeast Asia. It was the point of departure for Marco Polo’s 1292 return expedition, escorting the 17-year-old Mongolian princess Kököchin to her fiancé in the Persian Ilkhanate; a few decades later, it was the point of arrival and departure for Ibn Battuta. Kublai Khan’s invasions of Japan and Java sailed primarily from its port. The Islamic geographer Abulfeda noted, in c. 1321, that its city walls remained ruined from its conquest by the Mongols. In the mid-1320s, Friar Odoric noted the town’s two Franciscan friaries, but admitted the Buddhist monasteries were much larger, with over 3000 monks in one.

In 1357, the Shiite Muslim garrison undertook the Ispah Rebellion against the Yuan and their local Sunni Muslim leadership. By 1362, they controlled the countryside as far as the outskirts of Fuzhou, but after a defeat by the Yuan there they retreated to Quanzhou. There, their leaders were killed by Nawuna, a descendant of Pu Shougeng, who was killed in turn by Chen Youding. Chen began a campaign of persecution against the city’s Sunni community—including massacres and grave desecration—that eventually became a general anti-Muslim pogrom. Emigrants fleeing the persecution rose to prominent positions throughout Southeast Asia, spurring the development of Islam on Java and elsewhere.The Yuan were expelled in 1368.

The Ming discouraged foreign commerce other than formal tributary missions. By 1473, trade had declined to the point that Quanzhou was no longer the headquarters of the imperial customs service for Fujian. The “Japanese” or “dwarf” pirates, most of whom were actually disaffected Chinese, forced Quanzhou’s Superintendency of Trade to close completely in 1522. The Sea Ban that followed did not help the city’s traders or fishermen: they were forced to abandon their access to the sea for years at a time and coastal farmers forced to relocate miles inland.

In the 19th century, the city walls still protected a circuit of 7–8 miles (11–13 km) but embraced much vacant ground. The bay began to attract Jardines’ and Dents’ opium ships from 1832. Following the First Opium War, GovernorHenry Pottinger proposed using Quanzhou as an official opium depot to keep the trade out of Hong Kong and the other treaty ports but the rents sought by the imperial commissioner Qiying were too high. When Chinese pirates overran the receiving ships in Shenhu Bay to capture their stockpiles of silver bullion in 1847, however, the traders moved to Quanzhou Bay regardless. Around 1862, a Protestant mission was set up in Quanzhou. As late as the middle of the century, large Chinese junks could still access the town easily, trading in tea, sugar, tobacco, porcelain, and nankeens, but sand bars created by the rivers around the town had generally incapacitated its harbor by the First World War. It remained a large and prosperous city, but conducted its maritime trade through Anhai.

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.

  • Kaiyuan Temple (开元寺), Xi Jie near Xinhuan Bei Lu, northwest of downtownThe largest and most famous Buddhist temple complex in the area. The well-landscaped grounds house two famous tall pagodas, several temple buildings, an ancient stone turtle, and a variety of religious art. The Xi Jie (West Lane) outside of the temple is a busy shopping street, with all kind of shops selling souvenirs, joss paper and other Buddhist items, snacks, and books. The Ancient Ships pavilion of the Martime Museum (whose main building is elsewhere in town; see a separate listing below) is located on the grounds of the temple, in one of its ancillary buildings. 
  • Qingjing Mosque (清真寺), Tumen StreetThe only surviving mosque of the many that used to exist. It is over 1,000 years old, and was rebuilt in 2009 so the dome is now restored after a 200-year absence. Well worth a visit. 

The Guan-Yue Temple on Tumen Jie

  • Guan-Yue Temple (Tonghuai Temple of Guan Yu and Yue Fei (通淮关岳庙)), Tumen Jie 196 (鲤城区涂门街196号) (just east of the mosque). A large and impressive Taoist temple. Note the huge (over 2 stories tall, with a big chimney) ritual furnace for burning joss paper. The furnace becomes very busy around the holidays such Yuanxiao, when people line up to burn their offerings. free.
  • Confucian Temple (孔庙) (A couple of blocks west of the Taoist Temple, just off Tumen Street). This is the main Confucian temple in town.
  • Chongfu TempleChongfu Road (Northeast of the city center, near where Dong Road turns into Donghu Road). A beautiful if small active Buddhist Temple.
  • Old Saint (崇福寺) (On the peak of Qingyuanshan just outside town). An enormous statue of Lao Tse, the founder of Taoism, which attracts people from all over China.

An ancient stone turtle (bixi) in the Tianhou Temple
  • Tian Hou Gong (天后宫) (At Tianhou Lu (Tiangou St) and Zhongshan Nan Lu (Zhongshan South St), at the southern edge of downtown). Dedicated to Tian Hou (“Heavenly Empress”), also known as Mazu, a sea Goddess worshipped by many sailors and fishermen. Note the ancient bixi turtle with an illegible stele on the temple’s grounds. (It recently got itself a partner!), and a pond with fish and turtle in one of the courtyards in the back of the facility. The most important Mazu temple on Earth is on Meizhou Island, in the next city north on the Fujian coast, Putian. Free. 
  • Six Victories’ Tower (六胜塔), Shishi CitySix Victories Tower is the study of architecture and art precious kind of Song and Yuan dynasties. The tower is of granite attic type structure, 36.6 meters high, around the end of about 47meters, octagonal five layer, the carved Seiko, magnificent, with something comparable to Quanzhou tower.


Quanzhou Museum
  • Quanzhou Museum (泉州博物馆) (In a park north of the West Lake (Xi Hu)),  +86 595 2275-751809:00-17:30 (summer), 09:00-17:00 (other seasons)Don’t miss a small “stele forest” behind the museum.
  • Puppet Museum (From the mosque, walk West (away from the Taoist temple) along Tumen Street, take the first right, go a short distance and take the first right again (if you reach a park on your right, you have gone too far). The museum is a short way along on your left (if you reach the French restaurant, you have gone too far)). Quanzhou is famous for puppets and the museum is excellent. They sometimes do shows, which are excellent, but not on a regular schedule. You need to be lucky to catch one, or to have a group of 20 or so people and make arrangements. Free.
  • Fujian-Taiwan Kinship Museum (中国闽台缘博物馆), 212 Beiqing Road East, Fengze District (In a park north of the West Lake, just east of Quanzhou Museum),  +86 595 2275-18009AM-5PM, Closed on MondaysFree.
  • Maritime Museum (泉州外海交通史博物馆), 425 Donghu Jie (泉州市东湖街425号)8:30-17:00Excellent museum. Quanzhou was, up to the 15th century, one of China’s greatest trading cities and a major base for her powerful fleets. Besides a collection of ship models and nautical artifacts, the museum has a large collection of stone inscription and reliefs – from ancient tombstones and temples – demonstrating Quanzhou’s historical connections with India, the Middle East, and Europe, and attesting to the presence of Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, and even Manichaeism in the area. Don’t miss a collection of stone tombstones and stelae in the back yard.
    The museum’s Ancient Ships Pavilion is located on the grounds of Kaiyuan Temple; as of Feb 2012, the pavilion was closed for renovations, but one could still peek into the windows.
  • Islamic Culture Exhibition (on the same grounds with the Martitime Museum, sharing the parking lot).


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