Fujian Province is the mainland Chinese province located just across the Taiwan Straits from Taiwan. Zhejiang Province lies further along the coast above Fujian, while Guangdong Province lies further along the coast below Fujian. West of Fujian lies Jianxi Province. Fujian is a pivotal province along China's coast in more than one respect: it marked the boundary between ancient Han China and the lands of the Yue tribes to the south and east, and it marked – and of course still marks – the boundary between the South China Sea to the south and the East China Sea to the north.
Linguistically speaking, the dialect of Fujian Province, the Amoy dialect (the word Amoy is an English-language transliteration from the Minyue (see the definition of Minyue below) name, É Mui, or "Lower Gate", quite possibly a reference to an access point on the Nine Dragon River on which the neighboring city of Xiamen is situated), is closely related to the Minyue dialect of the inhabitants of the island of Taiwan, located some 150 kilometers off the coast of Fujian. Fujian Province, as a part of the area just south of ancient, central plains China, has a rich Chinese history, beginning with the Warring States (BCE 475-221) Period of the Eastern Zhou (BCE 770-221) Dynasty, when the Han Chinese who lived immediately north of Fujian Province (present-day Zhejiang Province), fled southward in droves when their territory was conquered by a rival state, as will be shown below, but first, to Fujian's prehistory.
The Prehistory Of Fujian Province
The earliest traces of prehistoric human settlement in the Fujian area are of relatively recent origin, measured in terms of the geological and anthropological clock, since they stem from the early Neolithic Age, though this does not preclude an even earlier presence of humanoids in the Fujian area (in fact, since the settlement in question, the Keqiutou site, stems from an island – the island of Pingtan, just off the coast in a southeasterly direction from Fuzhou (note that Putian, Fuzhou and Pingtan form a perfect triangle) – there is every reason to believe that older sites existed on the mainland itself). The Keqiutou site is dated by some sources as being in the range of BCE 6000-5500, while by other sources it is dated as being in the BCE 7450-5590 range.*(1)
One of the earliest peoples to inhabit the Fujian area – ancestors, perhaps, of the Yue people who would later occupy Fujian Province – would spread their culture first to Formosa (Taiwan), and from there – or so says the theory – to the rest of the islands and archipelagoes of Southeast Asia, making the area of present-day Fujian Province the original source of the Austronesian family of peoples.*(2) If this theory (or its competing theory, for that matter – see the next footnote) has merit, then it means that the Austronesians were the greatest Neolithic Age seafarers known to man, and perhaps the first large group of seafaring migrants in history.*(3)
It was formerly believed that the Keqiutou Culture stemmed from the period BCE 2000, making it only 4000 years old, roughly. The Tanshishan Culture (BCE 3000) in the vicinity of present-day Fuzhou, Fujian Province, has, in more recent times, been shown to be of newer origin than the Keqiutou Culture, leading some experts to conjecture that, given the close geographical proximity of these two culures, the Tanshishan Culture might well have been an offshoot of the Keqiutou Culture.
Since these various Neolithic Age cultures of the Fujian coastal area bear a striking resemblance to the Neolithic culture that developed on Formosa, some archeologists, as indicated above, have advanced the hypothesis that these two cultures stem from one and the same source, i.e., from the coastal area of present-day Fujian Province. Later prehistoric cultures in the Fuzhou area include settlements that stem from the Chalcolithic Age (aka the Copper Age, an interim period that existed in some places in between the Neolithic and Bronze Ages) while others stem from the Bronze Age (as one can appreciate, these various "Ages" are not so much temporal as developmental stages, meaning that they occur, where present, in different time periods from region to region).
A Brief History
The area that comprises present-day Fujian Province belonged, in ancient, pre-Han (BCE 206 – CE 220) Dynasty times, to the group of Yue tribes who lived south and east of what would later be Han China, especially in the area that makes up present-day Fujian and Guangdong Provinces (note that the area in question is very mountainous, which probably explains the initial Han Chinese lack of interest in it, given that the ancient Chinese of the fertile, central plains region relied heavily on agriculture). This group of ethnic tribes is sometimes referred to in the historical annals as the Bai Yue ("Hundred" Yue) people, though modern ethnologists suggest that the various tribes residing in the area south and east of Zhou (BCE 1027-221) Dynasty era China most likely did not belong to a single ethnic or cultural "mother tribe", though a number of them may have.
Curiously, the area that came to be inhabited by Han Chinese people just north of Fujian Province, i.e., present-day Zhejiang Province, would be the location of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty Yue State, a Han Chinese state that became very powerful during the Warring States Period, but which was eventually conquered by the Chu State (perhaps the rulers of the Yue State took this particular name since their lands lay on the southern border of "China", below which lay the mountainous stretch of land occupied by the Yue peoples).
When the Yue State was conquered by the Chu State in BCE 334, the Han Chinese remnants of the Yue State fled southward into Fujian Province and the protection of its mountains, setting up a new state there, a state that would be called the Kingdom of Minyue (note that min is another Han Chinese term for "barbaric" (which, in a neutral sense, simply means "non-Han Chinese", just as the equivalent term in Roman terminology meant "non-Roman"). If the Yue State rulers had lived on the northern fringes of Yue territory, they now lived directly amongst the Yue; Yue State had become the "Barbaric", or "Min" Yue state (it is perhaps a testimony to the cultural advancement and the social flexibility of the various Yue tribes that most of them quickly became assimilated into mainstream Han Chinese society, so truly barbaric they couldn't possibly have been... note also that "Min" is the name of the region's main river).
The winner of the struggle for hegemony during the Warring States Period was the Qin State cum short-lived Qin (BCE 221-207) Dynasty, which permitted the Kingdom of Minyue to exist on the fringes of the empire as a sort of vassal state. Hardly had the Qin Dynasty fallen, however, before a power struggle emerged between the two warlords, Liu Bang and Xiang Yu over control of the territory that had belonged to the Qin Dynasty. The King of Minyue, King Wuzhu, joined forces with Liu Bang against Xiang Yu. Thus, with the help of Minyue forces, Liu Bang defeated the army of Xiang Yu and established the Han Dynasty. In appreciation of Minyue help, Liu Bang, aka Emperor Gao Zu of the Han Dynasty, permitted the vassal state of Minyue, which spanned all of Fujian as well as parts of the contiguous present-day provinces, to fortify the city of Fuzhou, and to erect other military fortifications in the Wuyi Mountains of present-day Fujian Province.
Alas, after the death of King Wuzhu, the successor kings of Minyue became greedy and tried to enlarge the kingdom at the expense of the surrounding Han Chinese fringe territory. Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty, whose long reign lasted from BCE 140-87, eventually sent forces to the area in BCE 111. They attacked the Minyue forces from all sides, including from the sea, and the King of Minyue, seeing that he had no fighting chance, surrendered almost without bloodshed. Thus Fujian Province ceased to be a vassal state, becoming instead an integral part of the Han Dynasty.
After the collapse of the Han Dynasty in CE 220, China entered again into a troubled era, the Three Kingdoms (CE 220-280) Period, where China was divided into the kingdoms of Shu, Wei and Wu, the latter controlling Fuzhou and other parts – though not all parts, at least not initially – of present-day Fujian Province (large areas of Fujian, as well as Taiwan, were initially outside the Three Kingdoms territory, though Sun Quan, the founder of the Kingdom of Wu, would bring the mountainous parts of Fujian that belonged to the Shan tribe of the Yue under the rule of Wu).
The semi-Sinicized Turkic nomadic tribes immediately north of heartland northern China (the Kingdom of Wei stretched from the north's "heartland" all the way around the Bay of Bo Hai, and included the upper part of the Liaoding Peninsula, which sits just above present-day North Korea), continued to push southward, as fresher and fresher waves of non-Sinicized (and accordingly more aggressive) Turkic nomadic tribes in turn entered the northern fringes of China from Siberia and from the region sandwiched in between Siberia and the Pacific Ocean (which included what would become the Joseon Dynasty, or Korea). It was the pressure from these hostile Turkic tribes that had occasioned the erection of the Great Wall.
The Three Kingdoms Period gave way to the Han Chinese Jin (CE 265-420) Dynasty, as the pressure from invading tribes from the north continued. The first Jin Dynasty, the Western Jin (CE 265-316) Dynasty, crumbled in the face of this nomadic encroachment. It was a curious time in the history of China, where the Turkic nomads closest to "heartland" northern China – as they were becoming Sinicized (these people could hardly be called nomads at this stage) – were being absorbed into mainstream Chinese society. This assimilation process would continue, on again – off again, for almost a millenia, when the last of these nomads, the Mongols, would establish the Yuan (CE 1279-1368) Dynasty.
When the Western Jin Dynasty collapsed, the Han Chinese remnants fled southward, establishing the Eastern Jin (CE 317-420) Dynasty, whose capital was the city of Jiankang (present-day Nanjing, often referred to in earlier texts as Nanking (both names mean "Southern Capital"), as in the Nanking Massacre (December 1937-January 1938)), in Jiangsu Province. The capital of the Western Jin Dynasty had been the city of Luoyang, Henan Province, which is located in the heart of what had once been heartland China ("heartland China" would shift southward as the Han Chinese fled southward, taking their culture with them... most of the material wealth of present-day China stems from this new, southern heartland, as does most of China's intellectual wealth/ its brightest scholars).
Where the Han Chinese refugees from the Jin Dynasty fled was to Fujian and Guangdong Provinces. In particular, the refugees arriving in Fujian Province stemmed from 8 very large, extended families (more like clans). Interestingly, these 8 family names still dominate in present-day Fujian Province. They are: Chen, He, Hu, Huang, Lin, Qiu, Zhan and Zheng. It was during the Tang (CE 618-907) Dynasty that Fujian Province was given its current name, which is a combination of the "Fu" of Fuzhou and the "Jian" of Jian'ou, two prominent Fujian cities of the Tang Dynasty era, though the city of Jian'ou has since receded into utter oblivion (however, Jian'ou was prominent enough in its heyday to warrant mention in the travel diaries of Marco Polo, who said of Jian'ou that it was "of considerable size, and contains three very handsome bridges... [t]he men of the place are very handsome, and live in a state of luxurious ease").
Much of present-day Fujian Province remained relatively under-developed until late in the Qing (CE 1644-1911) Dynasty, despite ever more successive waves of refugees to the area due to continued strife in the empire – at the end of the Northern and Southern Dynasties (CE 386-588) Period), relative stability ensued under first the Sui (CE 581-617), then the Tang Dynasty, followed by yet another troubled period before unity was again restored under the Song (CE 960-1279) Dynasty, followed again by disunity until unity was yet again restored, this time with the founding of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty.
Fujian's late development is owning primarily to the province's rugged, mountain terrain. The lesser attractive parts of Fujian Province (outside of the major cities such as Fuzhou, Quanzhou, Jian'ou and Xiamen) during the various "southern" regimes that followed in the wake of the collapse of the Han Chinese Jin Dynasty became places of exile for ministers and intellectuals who crossed swords one time too often with a king or an emperor. However, Fujian's port cities achieved great prominence especially during the Ming Dynasty, while the port of Quanzhou was China's largest – if not the world's largest for a time – already during the Yuan Dynasty, when it served as the point of embarcation for the Maritime Silk Road (Marco Polo embarked for Europe from Quanzhou, and the famous Moroccan traveler from Tangiers, Ibn Battuta (CE 1304-ca.1368), praised Quanzhou's harbor as "one of the largest and most commodious ports in the world").
Due to the invasion of Taiwan by the half-Japanese, half-Chinese Ming Dynasty sympathetic military leader who became a Chinese hero for having reclaimed Taiwan for China (from the Dutch), Zheng Chenggong (1624-62), aka Koxinga, the Qing government restricted sea trade along the coast of Fujian in an attempt to prevent Koxinga from "reclaiming" mainland China for the Han Chinese (the Qing rulers were of Jürchen cum Manchu origin, while the Ming rulers were of Han Chinese origin).
This further stunted the growth of Fujian Province at a time when the rest of China was rapidly developing, thanks in some measure to the international sea trade that characterized other coastal areas of China. After Koxinga's death, Taiwan was incorporated into Fujian Province in 1689, but in 1885, Taiwan was separated from Fujian and became a separate province (only a decade later, at the close of the First Sino-Japanese War (August 1894 – April 1895), which was a humiliation to China, Taiwan was ceded to Japan, but was returned to the Republic of China when Japan surrendered to the Allies at the close of WWII in 1945, eventually becoming a refuge for Chiang Kai-Shek and his Nationalist forces).
Fujian Province achieved roughly its current boundaries after Taiwan was separated from Fujian Province. The Japanese, who built up Taiwan considerably after 1895, also contributed considerably to the prosperity of Fujian Province – especially its port cities – though this is a reality that the Chinese are loath to own up to, at least demonstrably.
Present-Day Fujian Province
Fujian Province has a lot going for it in the way of cultural and historical attractions, thanks to the many waves of refuges throughout the province's long history who brought their unique and diverse cultures with them, mixing them with the cultures of the indigenous tribes. The province also has a physical setting that is enviable, with mountain upon mountain – some famous in a religious context and others simply famously beautiful – a coastline dotted with charming, small islands and featuring numerous famous cities, and a temperate climate that is neither too hot nor too cold, the province being situated on the cusp between the cooler climes of the East China Sea and the warmer climes of the South China Sea.
Its ideal climate makes Fujian an excellent place for growing teas, fruits and cut flowers, while the coastal waters just off Fujian, thanks again in no small measure to the province's location along the boundary between cooler and warmer waters, is rich in fishes and other seafood. Not surprisingly, Fujian Cuisine, aka Min Cuisine, is famous for its use of seafoods, but also for its remarkable soups and stews as well as for its distinctive visual presentations, since the appetite is triggered as much by the eye as by taste and smell.
One of the most famous Min Cuisine dishes is Fotiaoqiang (Fo-tiao-qiang literally means "Buddha jumps over the wall", a reference to the fact that this delicious dish could supposedly entice even a vegatarian monk, despite the fact that the dish is made of several meats, including – alas! – shark fin (and even the shark's lip)*(4). Two other famous dishes belonging to Fujian Cuisine are Fuzhou Dish and Minnan Dish, representing a (southern) Han Chinese dish and an ethnic Yue dish, respectively.
The mountains of Fujian Province are too numerous to name, but some of the most prominent include: Mount Tailao
, Mount Nanji
(with its ancient Taoist temples, and its sublime beauty in general) and Mount Zhiti
(famous for Huayan Temple), all three mountains located near the port city of Ningde; Mount Guanzhi
and Mount Tiangong
, both located near Longyan; Mount Dongyan
, located near the port city of Putian; Mount Long
("Dragon") and Mount Ruiyun
, both located near Sanming; Mount Magu
("Maiden" Ma), near the capital, Fuzhou; Mount Qingyuan
near the port city of Quanzhou; Mount Niutou
, with its inactive volcanic crater that is the venue for Binhai Volcano National Geological Park; and of course, Wuyi Mountain
near Xiamen, as it is most commonly called, home to numerous temples and other religious edifices, some embracing Buddhism, others embracing Taoism, and still others embracing Confucianism (or Neo-Confucianism, as it is practiced today).
Besides Buddhism, Taoism (alternatively, Daoism) and Confucianism, other religions such as Hinduism, Manichaeism, Christianity (both the Protestant as well as the Catholic variants) and Islam are all present in Fujian Province, albeit sometimes only in trace forms (Manichaeism is no longer an active religion, having been driven out of China and elswhere by the more established religions, and Christianity was itself on the defensive during much of the Qing Dynasty, when the Chinese were fighting a double battle: one to rid themselves of feudalistic Imperial rule (they longed for a republic) and another to rid themselves of Colonial influence, the poster child of which was, perhaps not surprisingly, Western religion).
Fujian Province is one of the provinces of China with the greatest number of Buddhist temples. The rationale behind this is of course partly, if not chiefly, the fact that Buddhist temples – like the Taoist temples that came before them – were traditionally built on mountains, where the monk could practice his religion (pray, meditate, etc.) in relative seclusion from the material world, and if Fujian Province had anything in abundance, it was mountains.
The most prominent islands off the Fujian coast include Gulangyu Island
and Meizhou Island
, but the coastal waters of Fujian Province are blessed with countless small islands and archipelagoes.
Fujian is also known for its adobe style rammed-earth buildings that stem from the Ming-Qing Dynasty period. The Hakka-built (the Hakka
are a Han Chinese ethnic group that migrated southward in ancient times in order to escape warring in the north, and they preserved their ancient traditions, becoming culturally mummified, as it were) rammed earth mini-towers (aka Hakka Earth Towers
) in the village of Chuxi in Yongding County are huge and beautiful – and also a bit anomalous, since they look like an architectural cross between the shortened ruins of a gargantuan medieval tower and a sawed-off, modern nuclear power plant's smokestack (think: the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant – the one that almost went into meltdown – near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in the US). Others have likened these rammed earth structures to flying saucers – they are indeed strange to behold.
All of the rammed earth buildings (called Tulou in Hakkanese) of Fujian Province are located in the counties of Hua'an, Nanjing and Yongding, and they are all built in the same communal style, and in more or less the same shapes: mainly round, though some are rectangular or square. It is best to think of these stunning examples of Chinese vernacular architecture not so much as dwellings as fortresses, which is of course precisely what they were built as, since the Hakka who arrived in Fujian Province in ancient times feared for their lives – they feared "the natives" about as much as the settlers in the western part of the U.S. feared their "natives" (the American Indian), into whose territory the U.S. settler, like his Hakka counterpart vis-à-vis the Yue tribes of Fujian, encroached.
But the Hakka immigrants to Fujian feared as much the wildlife of Fujian – tigers were still common in the area at the time, and perhaps the northerners, who knew nothing about what else might lurk in the forested mountains of their new home, also feared a giant ape of the likes of King Kong!
The rammed earth structures of Fujian Province are very unique and are well worth a visit; they were registered as a group on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2008.
The art traditions of Fujian Province reflect the province's cultural diversity (there are 31 ethnic minority groups (the Han are the majority) in Fujian, the main groups being the Gaoshan, the Hui, the Man, the Meng and the She). The puppet theater traditions of the cities of Zhangzhou and Quanzhou are good examples of ancient, provincial theater, while the Nanyin music tradition of Fujian, translated as "Native Accent" by overseas Chinese aficionados, is in fact China's oldest music form. There are as well numerous local, dramatic opera traditions in Fujian, chief among these being Gaoji Opera, Lioyuan Opera, Puxian Opera and Xiang Opera.
Like all regions of China, Fujian Province has its share of annual festivals, such as the Spring Festival (Lunar New Year), the Lantern Festival, the Dragon Boat Festival and the Mid-Autumn Festival. If you plan to visit Fujian, you should definitely check with your travel agent to find out whether your visit will coincide with one of these festivals, for during a festival, you will have an opportunity to enjoy the Chinese people 'close up and personal' (i.e., when the Chinese people let their hair down, as it were), in ways that you could never otherwise achieve as a tourist.
This is of course only a partial list of the attractions of Fujian Province. To get a fuller picture of the cultural and historical attractions on offer in Fujian Province, click on the "Tourist Cities" link in the left-hand column above and choose the "Attraction" link for each city (you might also wish to read the "overview" or "Tourist Guide" for the city itself – for example, the overview article on the city of Xiamen has an interesting passage about the hero Koxinga, who took Taiwan back from the Dutch (the Dutch, not surprisingly, thought of Koxinga as a pirate, though they respected him as a military leader... and Koxinga, it turned out, ended up respecting the valiant Dutch defenders of Taiwan enough not to behead them after they eventually surrendered), while the overview article on the city of Quanzhou has an interesting passage about Marco Polo).
As regards overseas Chinese (Chinese expats), Fujian Province, given its coastal location, was one of the main areas of China to have provided manual labor crews (from cooks to simple deck hands) on the many foreign ships that plied these waters during the second half of the 19th century (in some cases, it is claimed, the laborers had no idea that they were being recruited to sail to America or to Europe, at least not until it was too late to object).
Many of these Chinese laborers would end up settling in foreign capitals where they would form so-called Chinatowns. Through the many Chinatowns the world over, work for yet more waves of Chinese migrants in search of opportunity abroad would become available. Most, truth be told, endured a very hard life (many stretches of highways and railroads in the U.S. state of California, for example, were built by grossly-exploited Chinese laborers), but some would be wildly successful, while all who would survive would produce children – and children's children – who, in most cases, would enjoy a much better life in their adopted country than the generation that had gone before them.
*(1) A short note on the usage of BP versus BCE: BP stands for "Before the Present era", while BCE stands for "Before the Current Era". These are simply alternate ways of writing the same thing, which is an alternative, religion-neutral means of denoting the era before (or after, if we are speaking of AP ("After the Present era") versus CE "Current Era) the birth of Jesus Christ, which, in any of these reckonings, corresponds to year zero (0). Some seem to be confused about this usage, seeing, for example, BP as being "Before the Present", which is not the same as "Before the Present era" (by about 2010 years!). Five thousand years "before the present" is just 5000 years ago, or the year 2990 BC ("Before Christ") in the Christian calendar (i.e., 2010 + 2990), while five thousand years "before the present era" is obviously 7010 years ago, or the year 5000 BC.
*(2) The Austronesian family of peoples include: the Formosans; the Malaysians (Malaysia includes the southern half of the Malay Peninsula (the northern half – on which is located the small tourist island of Phuket, one of the hardest hit places during the 2004 tsunami – belongs to Thailand), which peninsula lies just east of the Indonesian island of Sumatra, and the northern edge of the island of Borneo (the rest of the island of Borneo belongs to Indonesia); the Melanesians (Melanesia includes the island of New Guinea (whose eastern half belongs to the country of New Guinea, while its western half, Papua, belongs to Indonesia) and a lateral swath of islands due west of New Guinea, plus a huge swath of archipelagoes and individual islands that stretches east and south of New Guinea); the Micronesians (Micronesia is the huge lateral swath of archipelagoes and individual islands lying just north of Melanesia); and the Polynesians (Polynesia is a vast triangular swath lying east and north of Australia whose corners are described by New Zealand (left lower corner), Hawaii (upper corner) and Easter Island ("Rapa Nui", which belongs to Chile and which is located about 1600 kilometers, or 860 nautical miles, east-southeast of the Pitcairn Islands).
*(3) A competing Austronesian migration theory, advanced by the Norwegian explorer, Thor Heyerdahl (1914-2002) – who constructed a unique raft christened Kon-Tiki whose purpose was to demonstrate Heyerdahl's theory – holds that Polynesia was inhabited by pre-Columbian Era (before the appearance of Christopher Columbus, i.e., before the Europeans arrived on the shores of America) seafaring migrants from South America, the assumption being that from there, the rest of the islands and archipelagoes of Southeast Asia were gradually populated with humans whose immediate ancestors stemmed from Polynesia, and before that, from South America.
Heyerdahl's theory rests solely on the possibility that such a raft – which was modelled on drawings made by 16th century Spanish conquistadors of a presumably native South American raft – could indeed make the journey in question, which Heyerdahl and a crew of fellow Norwegians (plus a single Swede) demonstrated was possible, at least in 1947, using a raft made of South American balsawood and surviving solely on food and drink that was believed to have been widely available in the region in the pre-Columbian Era. Heyerdahl and his crew set sail in April of 1947 from Peru and let the winds and currents take them, by happenstance, westward. They eventually made land on Raroia, one of the tiny atoll-islands of the Tuamotu Archipelago in French Polynesia, about 1200 kilometers northwest of the Pitcairn Islands (the reader will perhaps recall that the Pitcairn Islands was the final port of call for the HMS Bounty, and the final resting place for Fletcher Christian and his fellow mutineers).
*(4) One would hope that the restaurants of Fujian might soon be able to find a substitute flavor for the very marginal parts of the now greatly endangered shark. There are some 30 ingredients involved in the preparation of Fotiaoqiang, including numerous fishes and other seafoods, so the question is just how much these highly marginal shark body parts actually contribute to the overall taste of Fotiaoqiang, or whether an extra dash of soya sauce – or perhaps Thai fish sauce – might not serve as an adequate taste substitute for the missing shark body parts, if, indeed, such a substitute is at all necessary, given the long list of tasty ingredients that go into the making of Fotiaoqiang.