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Quanzhou: Start of the Maritime Silk Road

The city of Quanzhou, in China’s southeastern province of Fujian, boasts one of the richest religious and ethnic blends in the country. For centuries, it was used by merchants traveling the ancient Maritime Silk Road. We look at how traces of the past are clearly visible today in the people of Quanzhou, and what the future holds for the city.

Quanzhou resident Ding Yi is a devout Christian. He always starts his day at the town church. And yet he traces his roots to Muslim immigrants.

“The ancestors of the Ding family in Quanzhou were Arab businessmen hundreds of year ago. They settled down here, married local women and expanded the family tree in this new land,” Ding said.

As the starting point of the ancient Maritime Silk Road, Quanzhou has always been a hub of cultural diversity. Tumen Street perfectly illustrates this blend of religions and ethnicities.

Many different religious institutions have stood side by side here in Tumen Street for hundreds of years. Followers of Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity and other religions practice their faiths while respecting others.

The Qingjing Mosque is the oldest in China, dating back to the early 11th Century. It serves as a testament to the enduring interaction between Quanzhou and the Arab world. Less than 100 meters away, the Guan Yue Temple blesses followers from near and far.

“Followers of different religious groups live in harmony in Quanzhou. You see, we’re old neighbors in this street. We know each other quite well,” said Wu Yuren, board office director of Quanzhou Tonghuai Guan Yue Temple.

What’s known as the Zayton cross was commonly used on the tombstones of Christians in Quanzhou. It incorporates elements from different cultures, including angels and lotuses.

“Most of the descendants of Muslim immigrants live the same as other locals, but they’ve kept their cultural identity. You can see that on special occasions, such as Ramadan and ceremonies to worship their ancestors. The city and local residents are very open-minded,” said Ding Yuling, head of Quanzhou Maritime Museum.

Now Quanzhou is looking forward. It hopes China’s plan to revive the Maritime Silk Road will open even wider its doors to the outside world.