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Explore China's History Off the Beaten Path in Old Fuzhou

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During a tour of Fujian many overlook Fuzhou in their rush northeast to the tea fields of Wuyi Mountain or south to Xiamen – home to a much-revered collection of colonial villas. But while many use Fuzhou as a point of transit, this semi-prosperous provincial capital it is in fact a pleasant place to while away a few days. The city and surrounding region has its own culture and an architectural style distinct from other regions in China and Fujian, which informs the area’s unique culinary and linguistic traditions.

There are a number of interesting historical spots that bespeak of Fuzhou’s eminent maritime and mercantile past. The city straddles the mighty Min River (from which the Fujianese derive their “Min People” epithet) and has a long been a gateway between the Chinese world and the world beyond heaven’s dominion. Marco Polo once visited. And it was here that the enormous Baochuan was constructed to spearhead admiral Zheng He’s fleet during the Ming Dynasty. Fuzhou also bore Lin Zexu, the Qing-era official who attempted to quash the illegal British opium trade in Guangdong.

Lin Zexu Memorial Hall

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Life wasn’t too kind to poor old Lin Zexu. The eminent scholar-official took a hard-line against the British opium trade famously dropping 2.6 million pounds of the drug into the Pearl River in Humen near Guangzhou. But when his actions resulted in the disastrous Opium War the Daoguan Emperor largely blamed him. He was banished to distant Xinjiang for a number of years before being partially rehabilitated and made governor of various provinces in the Chinese interior. Posthumously Lin has been returned to the status of national patriotic hero and revered scholar. His old family house near the Three Lanes and Seven Alleys has been turned into a museum celebrating his many achievements including his moral stand against foreign aggressors. The Memorial Hall also offers visitors an insight into the kind of classic house and garden Qing officials would have inhabited.

Three Lanes and Seven Alleys

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This refitted ancient quarter is now downtown Fuzhou’s principle tourist hub. The neighbourhood is so named because of the shape of interlocking streets that bind 268 classic residences together, many of which are now open to tourists (for a fee). The main drag Nanhou Jie is festooned with snack stores, galleries and shops selling local handicrafts. It’s a tad sanitised but offers an intimate look into the past lives of Fuzhou’s well-to-do business class, a class that seem to have returned to prominence judging by the eating and shopping options surrounding the neighbourhood. For our money check out Old Fuzhou restaurant on Shenfen Lu for a taste of the local fare.

West Lake Park

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Converted into a royal garden from a water conservancy project during the Five Dynasties period, the lake has enjoyed a high reputation for its beautiful scenery ever since. Now a pleasant place to get some relief from urban noise, there are also some houses of historical importance to take in as well as the Fujian Provincial Museum. The museum houses thousands of pieces of porcelain and examples of primitive iron tools.

Fuzhou Photos

There are several must-get snaps in Fuzhou. The first is the enormous Mao Zedong statue overlooking the Wuyi Square, the city’s central plaza. This gleaming white Chairman commemorates the Ninth Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in 1969, an event that ratified Maoism as the “state ideology” of China, and named the (subsequently disgraced) Lin Biao as the official heir to Mao.

Second, you’ll need to get a picture (or two) of the Black Pagoda and its mirror opposite the White Pagoda. The 41 meters high, seven-tiered, octagonal White Pagoda stands on the western slope of the Yu Hill. Its original name was Ding Guang Ta meaning Pagoda of Eternal Brightness. The Black Pagoda, so named because it stands on the southern slope of the Black Hill (Wu Shan) is 31 meters in height, also seven-tiered and octagonal. From either of the twin pagodas, one gets a stunning bird's eye view of the city.

Finally, Hualin Temple is perhaps Fuzhou’s finest hidden treasure. The Buddhist temple located on Hualin Road currently functions as a small museum and no longer provides Buddhist services. But what makes it so fascinating is that it was built in 964AD and has survived over 10 centuries of fires, plagues and wars, making it the oldest wood architecture extant in South China. The temple has a typical Tang dynasty style, which emphasises simplicity and elegance.

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About the author

Thomas grew up beneath heavy clouds in the South Wales suburbs. After reading too many books, he decided to see for himself what this weird world had on offer. Now an itinerant traveler, writer and photographer usually lost somewhere in East Asia, he prints his musings in a number of notable publications and has contributed to several guidebooks including Rough Guides China and Dunhuang: A City on the Silk Road. When he's not wandering, he can sometimes be found practising mandolin in Beijing.

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