Fujian Province on the southeast China coast opposite the island o Taiwan is one of the most fascinating places in China, but unfortunately most of the interesting areas are closed to foreigners. More than 80 per cent of the province is mountainous, and only the thin coastal strip and three or four ports along it are open to outsiders. Th. huge, mysterious interior, where the people are very poor, is out o bounds. Thanks largely to its ruggedness, there are 140 distinct dialects spoken in the province. People from Fuzhou and Xiamen (Amoy), the two main cities of Fujian Province cannot understand each other if they speak their respective languages. It may be at apocryphal story , but it is said that a group of young Red Guards who penetrated one particularly isolated area in Fujian in the late 1960: were asked by the locals who the current emperor was.
For the present, we have to make do with the coast which is very) beautiful, with a rich and lush countryside and a climate that is humid but pleasant. Paddy-field green is probably the most beautiful colour in the world, and there’s plenty of it here. Throughout the rural area! can be seen the distinctively designed Fujian farmhouse, much large than those in other parts of China and accommodating whole clans under one roof.
Fujian was the first area, after Guangdong Province to the south, to meet with the red-haired, big-nosed ‘foreign devils’ who appeared or the scene in the 1830S and 1840S selling opium. Partly because of this early contact with the outside world, and because of the traditional backwardness of the region, Fujian became a major source of Chinese emigrants to other parts of east Asia; most people in the Chinese communities of Singapore, Indonesia. Malaysia and the Philippines are descendants of Fujian migrants. These overseas Chinese stir maintain links with their ancestral homes, and the local government is trying to encourage them to invest in the province in order to speed up economic construction. (Most of the people on Taiwan are also descended from settlers from southern Fujian.)
Almost all foreign visitors to Fujian fly into Fuzhou city and then travel by road south through Butian and Quanzhou to Xiamen, better known in the West as Amoy. I will deal with them in that order.
Fuzhou, the capital of Fujian Province, is a city with a long history and has been known by its present name for at least 1000 years. Marco Polo, who visited it towards the end of the thirteenth century, described it as being an important commercial centre but heavily garrisoned by the central government due to frequent rebellions staged by the local people. He said that the city was a major staging point for Indian and Arabian goods unloaded at the port of Quanzhou down the coast and then brought up to Fuzhou by smaller ships for distribution throughout China. Marco also reported the existence of a ‘Christian’ community in the city , who must have been Nestorian Christians, a sect from Syria who spread along the Silk Road and established colonies in most major settlements through central Asia and China. He claimed that there were 700000 ‘Christian’ households in Fujian Province, probably an exaggeration. (For further details of Nestorian Christianity in China, see Xi’ an, p. 194. )
Fuzhou was one of the four ports which China was forced to open to foreign trade under the terms of the Treaty of Nanking at the end of the first Opium War, and the first foreign traders moved in to do business in 1844.
With its distinctive wooden houses and lively streets, Fuzhou is a nice place to walk around. The huge square in the centre of the city is dominated by an absolutely massive statue of Chairman Mao erected to commemorate the ‘glorious’ Ninth Congress of the Chinese Communist Party , the meeting in 1969 at which Maoism was enshrined as the state ‘religion’ of China, and at which the late Defense Ministe1 Lin Piao was named as Mao’s heir-apparent.
Landing at Fuzhou airport gives you a good view of some of the MiG-17s and MiG-19s which form the backbone of China’s air force Fujian has always been considered the ‘frontline’ province in the battle to ‘liberate’ Taiwan, the island 100 miles (160 kilometers) off the coast held by the Nationalist Chinese. Peking is now taking a different tack in its attempts to re-unite Taiwan with the motherland, and no longer refers to ‘liberation’ of the island, but Fujian remains one of th4 best-defended parts of the Chinese mainland.
1 Xihu (West Lake) Park
2 Wu Ta (Black Pagoda)
3 Wu Shan
4 Bai Ta (White Pagoda)
5 Yu Shan
6 Wuyi Square
7 Renmin Park
8 Overseas Chinese Hotel (Huaqiao Daxia)
9 West Lake Guest House
There is not much in the way of regular tourist sights in Fuzhou. The best area to walk round is down by the river (take a No.2 bus from the Overseas Chinese Hotel to the end of the line, then keep walking). Across the bridge is Nantai Island where the foreigners lived and worked in the Treaty Port days, and some of the old buildings are still standing. There is a LACQUERWARE FACTORY which can be visited for those interested in such things, and XIHU (west lake) PARK is pleasant. A few miles outside town on Gu Shan (drum hill) is the YONGQUAN (bubbling spring) TEMPLE which is the proud owner of what is said to be a tooth of the Lord Buddha.
How to get there and where to stay There are regular flights to Fuzhou from Shanghai, Canton and Hong Kong, and a railway line that runs inland links Fuzhou with the Shanghai-Canton railway. The main hotel is the Overseas Chinese Hotel (Huaqiao Daxia; take a No.2 bus from the railway station and get off at third stop). Two others are the Fuzhou Hotel (36 Dongda Lu), and the West Lake Guesthouse (Xihu Binguan), situated beside Fuzhou’s nicest park.
On the road between Fuzhou and Xiamen (Amoy) is the county seat of Butian, a deceptively sleepy place which was the centre of intense factional fighting during the last years of Mao. In April 1980, some of the first foreigners to visit Fujian for many years rolled into Butian a group of foreign correspondents of whom I was one. Whenever I think of the incident, I still have to laugh. It was a classic confrontation between The Press and The Communist Official.
We were ushered into a reception room in the local Communist Party headquarters by the deputy chief of the county, Li Bangying. He was probably ready to reel off his usual speech about how excellent the situation in Butian was, but the pack of foreign journalists did not want to know. What they wanted were precise details of what happened in Butian in the mid 197OS. Shocked by this sudden assault of sensitive questions, the official metaphorically backed into a corner, parrying and blocking as best he could, protesting that he was just a commercial official. On reflection, we may have been too aggressive. It was a hot day, and the provincial officials with us had gone out of their way to be unhelpful on a number of occasions. But it was nice to see a Communist official suddenly brought face-to-face with the reality of the Western press in all its fact-finding ferocity.
What we discovered at that meeting, and later, was this: There was a school teacher in Butian named Li Qinglin who wrote to Chairman Mao in the early 1970s, complaining of the hardships he had to endure as a father whose sons had all been sent to do farm work in other parts of the country .The Chairman personally wrote a reply to this teacher, commiserating with him, and enclosed 300 yuan to tide him over. Based on this minor contact with the Great Leader and Teacher of the Chinese People, Li built himself a political career. He aligned himself with the powerful radicals and, according to a later report, was contacted by Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing, further bolstering his power in the Butian area. He is said to have declared that he had ‘an antenna’ on his hat which linked him directly to Madame Mao in Peking.
In February 1976, as Mao was sinking towards death and China towards chaos, ‘Li and his gang issued a notice to seize power in Fujian Province,’ the Butian official said, as a result of which the whole provincial bureaucracy was paralysed and schools and factories closed down. Li then ‘released counter-revolutionary prisoners from the jails and used them as a social force to help him seize power,’ and ‘organised militia commanding centres as an alternative armed force to engage in fighting, robbing and looting.’ There were armed clashes, apparently between Li’s forces and People’s Liberation Army units, in which, according to the Butian official, four people died, including one soldier.
After Mao’s death in September 1976 and the arrest of the radical ‘Gang of Four’ the following month, Li and his comrades seem to have taken to the hills to continue the fight against the ‘capitalist roaders’, and he was not captured until nearly a year afterwards, in July or August 1977 .The Butian official declined to say how many supporters Li had had or how many had been arrested with him.
He was tried in 1979 before a huge rally and sentenced to death, although the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment because he ‘confessed his crimes in a relatively good way’.
So ends the story of School Teacher Li from Butian.
This town to the south of Butian is only a shadow of its former self, but is still very interesting. It was once the largest port in China and, in Marco Polo’s estimation, one of the two biggest ports in the world at the end of the thirteenth century (Alexandria was the other); he referred to the city as Zayton, and said that all the merchant ships from India docked there. Trade of one sort or another continues -on a trip there in 1980, I was surprised to find black-market Dunhill menthol cigarettes for sale on the street. But the port has silted up over the centuries and is now of minor importance. There is a cemetery to the east of the city at LINGSHAN where foreigners who died in Quanzhou were buried. The first two interred at the site were disciples of the prophet Mohammed, sent to China to propagate the teachings of Islam in the seventh century A.D. Their tombs are halfway up the hill, below a small pavilion.
The most impressive temple in town is the KAI YUAN TEMPLE, founded in the seventh century .It features two pagodas which were originally erected at that time, but rebuilt in the thirteenth century . There is also an interesting mosque built about 1000 years ago by Quanzhou’s once-large Muslim community. Near to the Kai Yuan Temple is a museum housing the remains of a ship from the twelfth or thirteenth century that was uncovered recently, in the cabin of which were found herbs and spices.
Quanzhou experienced great disruption during the Cultural Revolution, although there are few details available of what exactly happened. The town is also the ancestral home of most of the overseas Chinese from Fujian Province, a fact which accounts for the free-wheeling economic activities there. The main street of Quanzhou is one of the liveliest in China.
The Overseas Chinese Hotel is centrally located, not far from the bus station. Take a pedi-ceb.
This is the most interesting ‘open’ city in Fujian. Its name causes some problems: the two characters which make it up are pronounced ‘Xiamen’ in the national Chinese dialect (Mandarin) and’ Amoy’ in the local dialect.
The town was established in the fourteenth century, and became of crucial strategic importance in the mid-seventeenth century when the Chinese forces still resisting the invasion of the Manchus gathered there under the command of Zheng Chenggong, a brilliant strategist known in the West as Koxinga. Using the city as a base, Zheng fought a long war with the Manchus, and at one point was on the verge of capturing Nanking. But in the end, he was forced to retreat back to Xiamen, and in 1661 set sail from there with his fleet and attacked Taiwan, then under the control of the Dutch. He set upon the main Dutch settlement, Casteel Zeelandia, not far from today’s Tai’an on the west coast, and besieged it for six months before the Dutch finally surrendered.
Zheng hoped to use Taiwan as a stepping stone to restore the Ming dynasty and drive the Manchus out of China, but it was not to be. He died in 1663, and the Manchus finally conquered Taiwan a couple of decades later, making it an integral part of the Chinese empire for the first time. The parallel with the Nationalist Chinese is remarkable. They were also driven from mainland China, retreated to Taiwan, and hope one day to return in victory. But, as with Zheng Chenggong, it is almost certainly a dream which will never be fulfilled.
Xiamen was one of the four Treaty Ports opened to foreign trade under the terms of the Treaty of Nanking in 1842, and developed into an important trading centre, which it remains today.
The city is lively and bustling, and the downtown area is a great place to walk around, especially in the evening. It seems to have more nightlife than the rest of China put together. People stroll around the streets, eat at stalls by the side of the road, go to the cinema or to one of the many restaurants and wine shops. The architecture of the central city area is all pre-1949 -two-, three- and four-story buildings with colonnaded walkways underneath, very much like the China-towns of many Southeast Asian cities. When the foreigners moved in during the 1840S, they built their little colonial quarter on an island next to Xiamen, called GULANGYU. Foreign powers controlled it until the end of the Second World War. Full of old-style European mansions and consulates, it can be reached by ferry from Xiamen.
Not far away is another island, QUEMOY, which the Nationalist Chinese have managed to hold on to. It is a fortress, honeycombed with underground tunnels and caves which house an estimated 50000 troops, all pledged to fight the Communist ‘bandits’ , as the Nationalists still call them. The Nationalists on Quemoy and the Communist batteries on the mainland used to shell each other regularly, at first with live ammunition and later with shells filled with propaganda leaflets. But even that stopped in 1979.
In 1981, Xiamen was named as a Special Economic Zone, one of four or five in south China in which investors get special benefits. The city is also being developed for a bigger role as a tourist destination, and an airport is due to open in mid-1983.
Of the tourist sights in Xiamen, the best is probably Gulangyu. In addition to the European buildings, there is also the ruin of the castle used by Zheng Chenggong while preparing for his invasion of Taiwan. The ZHENG CHENGGONG MEMORIAL HALL is nearby. Xiamen itself has a couple of nice parks, both in the northwest part of the city-the WANSM (ten thousand stones) PARK, and the ZHONGSHAN PARK which contains several temples. A few miles outside Xiamen to the southeast is one of China’s oldest temples, the NANPUTUO TEMPLE built in the ninth century A.D. How to get there and where to stay Xiamen is linked to the national railway network, and there are buses north to Fuzhou. An airport has been under construction for some time, and should be open by the end of 1983. A local steamer also makes regular trips to Hong Kong.
The main hotel used by foreigners is the Overseas Chinese Hotel (Huaqiao Daxia) on Zhongshan Lu (take a No.3 bus from the railway station, get off at fifth stop and keep walking; the hotel is on the left, the tallest building in Xiamen). A nicer place to stay is the Gulangyu Guesthouse (25 Huangyan Lu) on the island but, apparently, it is occasionally used for conferences, during which times it is closed to foreign tourists.