Foshan Travel Guide
Last updated by shyoto at 2014/10/30
The prefecture-level city of Foshan ("Buddha Mountain") is located about 25 kilometers southwest of the city of Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong Province (Guangzhou was known as "Canton" during the colonial era... and to round things out, Foshan itself was known by outsiders during the colonial era as "Fatshan", for some reason, either inexplicable or humorous... Buddhas are generally depicted as being rather corpulent, and the British are known for their wry humor).
The municipality that would be renamed Foshan was founded in ancient times as Jihua Town, perhaps as early as the Han (BCE 206- 220) Dynasty, though evidence of large habitations dating back to the Qin (BCE 221-207) Dynasty have been unearthed here. The town of Jihua had grown considerably by the time of the Tang (CE 618-907) Dynasty, when it became a city and was renamed Foshan, for reasons that are themselves quite interesting...
A Buddhist monk of the Tripitaka (literally "Three Holy Baskets", but commonly referred to as the "Three Holy Canons") school of Buddhism, aka the Pali Canon School of Buddhism, since it consists of the three sub-canons (the Abhidhamma, the Sutta and the Vinaya), arrived in the town of Jihua from India in the beginning of the Long'an Reign (CE 397-401) of Emperor An Di of the Eastern Jin (CE 317-420) Dynasty, bearing with him three bronze Buddha statues, and soon thereafter, in CE 398, the monk oversaw the building of a temple on Tapo Hillock (now called Tapo Street) in Jihua Town.
After some years, the temple collapsed, perhaps due to a natural disaster (flooding?). No new temple was built on the site, though much of the building material was probably eventually carted off, to be used for private purposes, though no one would of course have dared to do this in the immediate aftermath of the catastrophe. Layers of silt had done their work before the pilfering of the old, collapsed temple's bricks would eventually occur, the layers of silt concealing the bronze Buddha statues.
One day during the second year of the reign (CE 627-649) of Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty, i.e., in CE 628, a resident of Jihua Town - who had perhaps himself been carting off some of the temple's half-buried bricks (though he could probably not have known that the site belonged to a temple) - caught a glimpse of something shiny protruding from the dirt at what was later determined to be the site of the collapsed temple, and the local villagers set about to digging, eventually unearthing all three of the lost Buddha statues. The Buddha statues were soon identified by Imperial historical experts as having belonged to the collapsed temple on Tapo Hillock. When, a few years later, the growing town of Jihua had been upgraded to a city, it was fitting to rename it after the Buddha figures that had been recovered on the hillock in its midst, therefore the name, Buddha Mountain, or Foshan. The three Buddha statues were given a new home, in the new Tapo Temple erected on the site of the former temple.
Foshan became a prosperous city, thriving on agriculture, fishing, the production of handicrafts such as silk and porcelain, and on merchant trade. During the Ming (CE 1368-1644) and Qing Dynasties, the city would earn itself a name as one of China's four most prominent (for their commercial success) ancient towns, having been the hometown to many successful merchants. In fact, the present-day city is known for its many successful businessmen, many of whom have established business "empires" abroad and now themselves live abroad, but who all proudly call Foshan their hometown.
The city of Foshan lies in the Pearl River Delta, an area crisscrossed by waterways that empty into the Pearl River Estuary which in turn divides Maccau to the south from Hong Kong to the north (China's coastline actually lies on a southwest-northeast axis here). Foshan is Guangdong Province's third-largest city, and one of the most prosperous cities for its size in all of China. In 1970, the city of Foshan was elevated to prefecture-level status, and in 1985 its administration became part of the Pearl River Delta Economic Open Zone. Since both the city of Foshan and the city of Guangzhou continue to expand toward each other's borders, the two cities launched a joint project in 2009 aimed at merging the two cities, though the city of Foshan will most likely retain its name, even if it becomes a satellite city under the auspices of greater Guangzhou.
Foshan has a number of interesting tourist attractions, not least of which are the giant statue of a seated Guanyin Buddha (i.e., the "Goddess of Mercy", the patron saint, as it were, of seafarers) and Yunpu Waterfall (known as one of the "Eight Famous Scenic Sites of Guangzhou"), both located on Mount Xiqiao in the nearby city of Nanhai (to learn more about these two Mount Xiqiao sites, click here). There is also an ancient - but 'still going strong' - porcelain kiln, the Nanfeng Ancient Kiln, in the nearby city of Shiwan that is said to stem from the Tang Dynasty period, and whose flame has been burning ceaselessly ever since the kiln was first lit (to learn more about Nanfeng Ancient Kiln, click here). The Nanfeng Ancient Kiln still produces the same high-quality porcelain that helped to put Foshan's name on the map during the Ming Dynasty. The nearby ancient riverine village, Daqitou Ancient Village, famous for its unique Qing Dynasty architecture with all the houses built after the same last and with pavements of honed granite, is also worthy of a visit (to learn more about Daqitou Ancient Village, click here).
Lastly, Foshan enjoys the mild climate of southern, coastal China, with natural surroundings that are as lush as one would expect for a countryside that belongs to a rich river delta. The many waterways and the presence of the Pearl River Estuary/ the South China Sea nearby (about 100 kilometers) means that seafood is one of the staples in the city's homes as well as in the city's restaurants. Guangdong Cuisine belongs to the Eight Great Cuisine Schools of China, where the city of Guangzhou, Foshan's neighbor, is considered the flag bearer of Guangdong Cuisine, so the visitor to Fushan can expect to encounter some of the best cuisine in all of China (to learn more about Guangdong Cuisine, click here).
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