Quanzhou Granted World Heritage Status: A Millennium-old City Mounts onto the World Stage

2021-08-19 18:25:09  来源:Website from the Host Country of the extended 44th session of the World Heritage Committee

The red erythrina flower, the city flower of Quanzhou, is a symbol of prosperity, wealth and dignity. 

Today, streets and lanes with blooming erythrina have become rare in Quanzhou, a coastal city in Fujian Province. In ancient times, however, the city was called Zayton (meaning “Erythrina”) for it was blazing with erythrina blossoms. 

On July 25, 2021, the extended 44th session of the World Heritage Committee announced that “Quanzhou: Emporium of the World in Song-Yuan China” was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List, becoming the 56th site in China to be granted this honor. 

Upon hearing the good news, people of Quanzhou held celebrations across the city. 

Over centuries, erythrina blossoms have witnessed the glory and vicissitudes of Quanzhou, one of the starting points of the Maritime Silk Road. The port city has undergone ups and downs like the tide. 

It has witnessed those who committed themselves to safeguarding the cultural legacies of the Maritime Silk Road over decades, letting the cultural relics once lost in the river of history recount stories of the past. 

It has witnessed ships loaded with commodities sailing far away centuries ago, bringing Chinese civilization to every corner of the world. 

It has also witnessed merchants from around the world gathering here some 1,000 years ago, making the city a global maritime trade center. 

The sound of tide has been heard in Quanzhou for centuries. 

A Man Who Has Protected the Mountain for 30 Years

On July 25, 2021, Hu Jiaqi circled the date on the calendar at his home in Quanzhou. 

That day, Hu was eagerly expecting good news from Fuzhou, capital of Fujian Province, more than 100 kilometers away from his hometown, where the extended 44th session of the World Heritage Committee was ongoing. The international event would determine whether Quanzhou could be inscribed onto the World Heritage List. 

The 22 historical sites and monuments across the coastal city, including the Jiuri Mountain Wind-Praying Inscriptions that Hu has spent half of his life protecting, were collectively named “Quanzhou: Emporium of the World in Song-Yuan China” to apply for a World Heritage status. 

Quanzhou Granted World Heritage Status: A Millennium-old City Mounts onto the World Stage

Jiuri Mountain Wind-Praying Inscriptions. Photo by Cheng Dongdong 

“Other than an ordinary hill, Jiuri Mountain is a treasure trove of culture.” Hu spent a decade understanding the meaning of the words himself, and then another two decades convincing more others. 

Known as Zayton in ancient times, Quanzhou was the largest port in the East during the Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1271-1368) dynasties. Back then, the ancient port was swarming with merchant ships, which needed to conform to the monsoon when sailing out or returning. In winter, Quanzhou features north wind, and it is suitable for ships to sail out; In summer, Quanzhou features south wind, and it is suitable for ships to return from the sea in the south. In the fourth and tenth months on the lunar calendar, locals pray for wind to the sea god at the foot of Jiuri Mountain. Back then, local officials regularly presided over the wind-praying ceremonies, and then inscribed poems and prose for recording on the cliffs of Jiuri Mountain.  From the Song Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), a group of wind-praying stone inscriptions was gradually formed on Jiuri Mountain. 

In 1988, when he worked for a foreign trade company in Xiamen, Hu received a call from his hometown, asking whether he was willing to take the job of protecting Jiuri Mountain. At that time, UNESCO planned to send a delegation for a survey in Quanzhou, and Jiuri Mountain was one location to be inspected. In this context, reviving the cultural heritage of the mountain was put onto the agenda of the local authorities. 

The job with humble pay seemed unacceptable for Hu who earned fat income at the foreign trade company. In his own words, it was like “trading a monthly salary of 1,500 yuan with one with only 38.5 yuan.” However, after mulling it over for three months , Hu decided to accept the job. This was because he realized that those “black stones” with inscriptions were actually “invaluable treasures” carrying brilliant culture of the past after referring to a lot of historical records on Jiuri Mountain during the period. 

Now, three decades have passed. Hu still remembers the bitter days in the first two years after he took the job. At that time, Jiuri Mountain was just a desolate place drawing little attention from the public, and its wind-praying stone carvings wore away with time. Hu dwelled at a small cabin at the foot of the mountain. The first three things he did before patrolling the mountain were: open the door, clean the yard, and boil a kettle of water. In addition to routine patrol, he also undertook the duties of building bridges and roads, cleaning the stone carvings, and repainting the inscriptions. 

During the 12 years when he protected Jiuri Mountain alone, Hu served as a janitor, manager, fireman and tour guide. It was not until 2001 when Quanzhou began to apply for a World Heritage status that Hu had such duties removed. 

Last year, Hu in his 70s left Jiuri Mountain where he had served for 32 years. He cherishes every chance to tell stories about the mountain to others. “I tell its stories to one person, and he and she then tells to 10 others. If things continue going this way, the audience would be enormous.”

After Quanzhou was added to the World Heritage List, the Jiuri Mountain Wind-Praying Inscriptions would receive an increasing number of tourists. Excited at the prospect, Hu recited a poem written by him—

“To enjoy the scenery of Jiuri, you must visit the mountain personally.”

A Boat That Has “Cruised” for 200 Years 

Blue-and-white porcelain bowls with reishi mushroom patterns, cups with reishi mushroom patterns, plates with fire dragon patterns, Yongli-style plates with figures… Two years ago, 194 Dehua blue-and-white porcelain objects of the Qing Dynasty returned to China after being submerged in the sea for nearly two centuries, drawing wide attention nationwide. 

Quanzhou Granted World Heritage Status: A Millennium-old City Mounts onto the World Stage

Yongli-style blue-and-white porcelain plates with figures. Photo by Lin Xiaoli/People.cn 

All of those blue-and-white porcelain wares came from the wreck of the Taixing, a 1,000-ton wooden trade ship. It was the largest sailboat of its era. In January 1822, the Taixing sailed out from the Xiamen port to Java (today’s Indonesia). Unfortunately, it foundered on reefs en route, and 350,000 pieces of precious blue-and-white porcelain wares as well as other commodities onboard sank to the seabed. 

In 1999, the wrecked Taixing ship was lifted out of water, and the Dehua blue-and-white porcelain objects onboard were also brought to light again. After many twists and turns, they eventually returned to their homeland after being lost for nearly 200 years. 

According to Zheng Changlai, donor of the porcelain wares, Dehua blue-and-white porcelain wares are the embodiment of the history of the Maritime Silk Road, and salvaging them from the wrecked Taixing ship was an effort to relive the culture of the Maritime Silk Road. 

Dehua in Quanzhou is known as one of the three ancient porcelain capitals in China. Besides unparalleled blue-and-white porcelain, Dehua is more famous for white porcelain. For this reason, it is dubbed the “hometown of Chinese white porcelain.”

The Dehua white porcelain has won global fame for its exquisite carving technique. Historically, the flourishing of this genre of porcelain was closely related to the prosperity of the Maritime Silk Road. As early as the Song and Yuan dynasties, Dehua white porcelain wares had been exported abroad via the Quanzhou port, becoming a major commodity along the Maritime Silk Road. At that time, numerous merchant ships like the Taixing cruised along the maritime trading route to transport Dehua white porcelain wares to every corner of the world. 

“The entrance of the market are thronged with traders; once merchant ships (with Dehua porcelain wares) come from the sea, their price doubles due to the surging demand,” wrote Zheng Jiancai, a poet in Dehua, on the local porcelain industry at that time. 

Of the 22 historical sites and monuments in Quanzhou that applied for World Heritage status, the sites of Dehua Kilns (including the Weilin-Neiban Kilns and Qudougong Kiln) are outstanding representatives of ancient kilns specializing in porcelain export in the inland areas of Quanzhou during the Song and Yuan dynasties. 

Quanzhou Granted World Heritage Status: A Millennium-old City Mounts onto the World Stage

Qudougong Kiln. Photo by Cheng Dongdong 

“Through archeological excavations, we first discovered dragon kilns, dragon kilns with separated burning chambers, and staged kilns with horizontal burning chambers that are overlaid with each other, spanning the four dynasties of the Song, Yuan, Ming (1368-1644) and Qing, in the same kiln site,” said a member of the working team responsible for World Heritage application in Dehua. “They comprehensively manifest the evolution process of Dehua kilns from the dragon kiln of the Song and Yuan dynasties to the staged kiln with horizontal burning chambers. The archeological finding filled the void in the history of ancient kiln technology in Dehua.”

Sites of Dehua Kilns and Cizao Kilns that showcased ancient porcelain handicraft techniques, the Xiacaobu Iron Production Site of Qingyang Village in Anxi County that witnessed the development of the smelting industry in Quanzhou during the Song and Yuan dynasties, and others together constitute the representative heritage elements of export commodity production in “Quanzhou: Emporium of the World in Song-Yuan China” and testify to the commercial prosperity of Zayton in ancient times. 

A City that Has Listened to the Sound of Tides for Centuries 

Li Wei, a native of Quanzhou, lives on a hill nearby the seashore. Standing atop his old house, he can clearly hear the sound of waves crushing upon the shore although the scene is beyond the range of his vision. 

When he was young, after lunch Li often came to the beach to collect razor clams and crabs with his parents. They would pass by a small dock called the Houzhu port on their way to the beach. His parents told him that once upon a time it was a bustling harbor, with numerous foreign merchant ships berthing here. However, Li hardly believed that the small dock with only a few fishing boats was once a busy harbor. 

How should Quanzhou natives understand the culture of the Maritime Silk Road? Li thought it over but failed to get any satisfying ideas. To answer this question, one must trace the origin and conduct meticulous investigation just like reeling silk from cocoons. 

Nevertheless, the culture of the Maritime Silk Road does cast concrete influence on everyone in Quanzhou. For instance, residents in Xunbu, a village not far from Li’s home, used to live in old houses built with oyster shells. Women in this village like to wear beautiful flower hairpins, big skirts and wide-legged trousers, which forms a unique style. When he grew up, Li figured out that Xunbu was an important harbor of the Maritime Silk Road in Quanzhou during the Song and Yuan dynasties, from which oceangoing merchant ships carried Chinese products including silk, tea and porcelain to various parts of the world. The unique hairpins that local women wear were introduced from Central Asia. 

Quanzhou was once one of the most bustling commercial hubs of the world maritime trading system, and served as a window for China to dialogue with the world during the Song and Yuan dynasties. Italian traveler Marco Polo once wrote in his travel notes: “The port of Zayton is crowded with more than 100 ships.” This indicates the prosperity of the port at that time. 

Many ancient poems depict the Zayton bustling with merchants from around the world: “Across cloud mountains are passages to every parts of southern China; From around the world merchants gather in the bustling market” and “In the shade of green pines are roads linking to different continents; Along the rise of tides come merchants from various countries.”

Quanzhou Granted World Heritage Status: A Millennium-old City Mounts onto the World Stage

A corner of the Shihu Dock. Photo by Cheng Dongdong 

Centuries later, Quanzhou spent two decades successfully presenting its culture of the Maritime Silk Road to the world. 

In 2001, Quanzhou began to apply for a World Heritage status in the name “Quanzhou: The Maritime Silk Road,” which was added into the preparatory list of China’s World Cultural Heritage sites. In 2016, Quanzhou joined hands with several other cities to push forward the joint effort to make China’s Maritime Silk Road onto the World Heritage List. In 2018, Quanzhou lost in its effort to apply for the World Heritage status as one of the most representative port cities along the Maritime Silk Road in the name “Historic Monuments and Sites of Ancient Quanzhou (Zayton).” Then, the item was renamed “Quanzhou: Emporium of the World in Song-Yuan China” for another round of application. 

This time, the well-prepared Quanzhou succeeded in its application. 

“Quanzhou succeeded in its application for a World Heritage status!” At the moment when he heard the news, Li Wei seemed to once again stand atop his old house, listening to the sound of waves that awakened people’s memories of the prosperity of the Zayton port centuries ago. 

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