Quanzhou-the Ancient Port City

In I974, a large wooden 12th or 13th century ship was discover- ed at the bottom of Quanzbou Bay on China’s southeast coast. In it were found large quantities of perfume and spice from Southeast Asia. The ill-fated ship was apparently just returning from a trip to the South Sea islands. Arousing great interest both in China and abroad this discovery was further proof that Quanzhou was, in the tath or i3th century, already an important shipbuilding center and China’s biggest seaport comparable to Alexandria in Egypt. The ship is now displayed here in a special exhibition hall.

Quanzbon is situated on the bank of the Luoyang River south of Fuzhou, capital of Fujian (Fukien) Province. It became a trading port in about the 6th century. Toward the latter part of the Tang dynasty (8th and 9th centuries), when the Perfume Route by sea began to replace the overland Silk Road as China’s link with the outside world, Quanzhou became one of the country’s four major foreign trade ports. Ships leaving Quanzhou carried celebrated Chinese porcelains and silk fabrics to various parts of the world in exchange for perfumes, spices and precious stones. The period of the Five Dynasties (10th century) saw the city enlarged and coralbean trees planted all around the city. Quanzhou came to be known to many foreigners as tile Coralbean City. Today, there are only a few of these trees left.

The temple, first constructed in the year 686, was originally named the Lotus Flower Temple. The site, according to legend, was once covered by a grove of mulberry trees. One day the owner of the trees dreamed that a Buddhist priest asked him for permission to build a temple here Reluctant to do SO, he said,Only if the mulberry trees in my garden bear lotus flowers.” A few days later, lotus flowers did indeed blossom on his trees. Today in the courtyard west of the main hall there’s an ancient mulberry tree bearing a sign: “Mulberry Lotus Tree.”

The temple wag later renamed several times until finally in 738, the Tang Emperor Xuan Zong, devout Buddhist, ordered every large town in China to name one of its temples “Kai Yuan”, the title of his reign. The temple thus became known as Kai Yuan Temple. Lt is one of the outstanding examples of Chinese architecture and art. One hundred heavy stone columns support the roof of the main hall-the Hall of One Hundred Pillars. Flying musicians are carved on some of the pillars, their beautiful Crowns supporting the beams. The upper pan of their bodies is that of a woman and the lower part that of a bird. Wearing thin skirts and bolding musical instruments or sacrificial objects, they are poised in flight. There are numerous stone carvings in the temple-figures resembling the Sphinx, animal heads and birds, dragons and tiger. Interestingly there are columns here in the ancient Greek style. Many of these works were once religious decorations on other buildings around Quanzhou, moved to Kai Yuan Temple when it was refurbished. On either side of the main hail stand two large stone pagodas. The two pagodas are often used as trade marks on local products and are the object of some local pride. They are octagonal in shape and five tiers high. Two images of Buddha are carved on each of the eight sides. Forty ancient Buddhist tales are inscribed on the walls of one of the pagodas.