Today, we had the privilege to visit the city of Quanzhou, a city that in medieval times served as the starting point of the famed Maritime Silk Road, and as a result exhibits a mixing of many different cultures and religions. When I learned about Quanzhou and its historic cultural role, I was very surprised to learn that Chinese people had contact with Europeans and Africans so long ago. I thought it was very interesting to see both how religions such as Christianity and Islam were tolerated and preserved in Quanzhou and how they were adapted to Chinese culture.
Our first destination was the Quanzhou Maritime Museum (泉州海外交通史博物馆), which showcased the unearthed artifacts of the various cultures and religions that came together in Quanzhou. I probably spent the most time exploring the religious exhibits, which mainly displayed relics of Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam. I’d have to say that it was the presence of Christianity that surprised me the most. I knew from Dr. Chen’s culture class that the Chinese Muslims, or the Hui, are one of the five largest ethnic groups in China, and since China’s pretty close to the area Hinduism originated from, and Buddhism, which came from the same area, is one of the most popular belief systems in China, it didn’t surprise me too much that there has historically been a Hindu population in China. However, Christianity historically seems to have been mainly prevalent in the Middle East and Europe, much farther from China than India. Maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised, since Islam also originated in the Middle East, but it’s still amazing how such distant places affected each other in such ways long before the advent of modern-day technology. I also explored the boat exhibits, and got to see how simple rafts and dugouts evolved into vessels capable of traversing the routes of the Maritime Silk Road.
We also visited three places of worship: The Qingjing Mosque (清净寺), a temple designed to worship the Chinese cultural hero Guan Yu called Tonghuai Guanyue Temple (通淮关岳庙), and a Buddhist temple called Kaiyuan Temple (开元寺). While we could see various inscriptions and pieces of places of worship at the museum, here we could see the place of worship itself, examine its structure and see where prayers are made. At the mosque, we were able to see beautiful Islamic architecture and calligraphy. I was surprised to see some rooms with grass-covered ground and other plant life, which I did not expect to find in what appeared from the outside to be an entirely stone mosque. The Buddhist temple also had plenty of fascinating architecture and other structures, including the magnificent golden statues of the Buddha. More significant than the visual appeal, though, is what these places show about Quanzhou’s cultural history and about tolerance in general. The fact that places of worship for such different religions as Islam and Buddhism have coexisted in the same city for such a long time shows just how much of a mixed and diverse cultural history Quanzhou has, and more generally and importantly demonstrates that people of different religions and cultural backgrounds have always been able to live together in tolerance and peace.
UDNSLIY students visiting a temple in honor of the Chinese cultural hero Guan Yu called Tonghuai Guanyue Temple (通淮关岳庙)