China Focus: After centuries, religions still active in port on Maritime Silk Road

Source: Xinhua| 2017-05-13 12:26:06|Editor: Yamei
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FUZHOU, May 13 (Xinhua) -- Quanzhou in east China's Fujian Province was the country's major port for foreign trade during the Song and Yuan dynasties (960-1368).

If a resident from ancient Quanzhou Bay was magically teleported to the modern city, they would be awed by the bustling streets, lights and noise, but they might also find some peace in local temples where the same religions are practiced to this day.

Foreign traders and missionaries, drawn to the starting point of Maritime Silk Road, were enchanted by what they found there and often elected to stay, bringing with them an array of religions, traditions and cultures.

Archeologists tell us that, in its heyday, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Taoism thrived side-by-side in Quanzhou.

Today, the centuries-old temples and mosques, many with a mixture of artistic styles, still receive believers and pilgrims from home and abroad. Now, with a local government determined to protect and renovate these unique edifices, a future which was once crumbling seems guaranteed.

Zhang Lianzhu has worked for 23 years in Quanzhou's Qingjing Mosque, the only surviving mosque in China from the Song Dynasty. She says that more and more people visit the mosque every year.

"Now, about 200 people come for Friday prayers. A few years ago, there were rarely more than 70," she said.

Zhang attributes the rise to better publicity and financial support from the government. In 2015, Quanzhou was one of the four venues outside Beijing to host the Spring Festival Gala, China's biggest annual TV event.

The government, which gave the mosque around 200,000 yuan (about 29,000 U.S. dollars) at the turn of the century, now donates four times that much, according to Zhang.

The mosque has always been important to Chinese Muslims, Zhang said. Each year, the mosque receives around 200,000 visitors from inland provinces and regions with large Muslim populations.

"These Muslims have a saying: If you cannot afford to travel to Mecca, go to Quanzhou instead," Zhang said. "Some go so far as to bottle our water used for cleansing before prayers and take it back home."

Many come to Quanzhou not just to pray, but to visit the Islamic cemetery, where two Islamic saints from 7th-century Quanzhou are said to be buried.

Zhang, a Muslim herself, said the city is well-known for its rich history of cultural diversity. "It is famed as a 'museum' of religions," she said.

Quanzhou Maritime Museum has the largest collection of Islamic and Hindu gravestones, capstones and inscriptions in the country, according to Chen Shaofeng, a historian at the museum.

Lin Yongquan, a priest at the Catholic church in Quanzhou, said there are about 2,000 Chinese Catholics in Quanzhou, and around 100 foreigners from India, the Republic of Korea and the Philippines.

"Many of these foreigners work in local factories," Lin said. "We set up a WeChat group for them and they talk about anything from religion to their everyday lives."


In Kaiyuan Temple, a Buddhist temple built around 685 during the Tang Dynasty, there are two columns with fragments of a temple dedicated to Hindu God Shiva.

"The interaction of religious cultures was frequent in Quanzhou. Some religious art has Chinese characteristics," said Wu Youxiong, a religious historian.

At the gate of Qingjing Mosque, two stones feature auspicious clouds, a traditional Chinese symbol.

Back in Yuan Dynasty, the word "Fo" -- the Chinese translation of Buddha -- was commonly used by local people to describe their own particular god, Wu said.

"The fact that these religions coexisted in harmony in Quanzhou was indispensable to interaction and integration," he said.

"I love living here as no one treats you differently because of your religious belief," said Hazim Alrikabi, an Iraqi businessman who has been in Quanzhou for 13 years.

Father Lin said religions in Quanzhou share strong bonds today. "I often meet with the heads of our Buddhist and Taoist temples and mosque during our various festivals."