Edition: English | 中文简体 | 中文繁体 Монгол
Homepage > Culture Video

Stone relics a testament to Quanzhou's rich history


03-31-2017 08:40 BJT

(Source: CGTN)

The port city of Quanzhou was the starting point of China's ancient maritime Silk Road, and it was also the country's biggest and one of the world's largest trading seaports during the Song and Yuan dynasties. Bustling trade led to the merging of different cultures, and evidence of the melting pot can still be found in the city today -- in the form of beautiful stone monuments and carvings. Historian and scholar Wu Youxiong, who has spent many decades studying the ancient creations, shares with us the stories behind some of the stones and how to decipher their patterns.

At his home tucked away on a lane in the historic city, Wu churned out his latest book about China's maritime Silk Road and the vibrant cultural exchanges in ancient Quanzhou. He's no stranger to the southern city's ancient sites but Wu had no qualms paying visits -- again and again -- to the historic areas to verify facts while writing his book. And with his in-depth knowledge of all the stone carvings scattered throughout Quanzhou, he is the perfect person to tell us their back stories. Let's start with this set of carvings situated at the main hall of Kaiyuan temple.

"This row of stone carvings is made up of 72 pieces in total. Depicted are creatures with a human face and a lion's body. This pattern originated from ancient Egypt. Then the art form was brought over to Greece, and later India before, finally to Quanzhou," Wu said.

Behind the main hall, there are some columns with fragments dating back to the Yuan Dynasty. Wu told us these fragments originally belonged to a temple dedicated to Hinduism. That temple was destroyed at the end of the Yuan Dynasty, and these columns were transported to Kaiyuan temple during the Ming Dynasty.

"These sculptures tell the stories of Vishnu and his disciples. According to the Hindu legend, the elephant and crocodile were originally disciples of Vishnu. But because of their wrongdoings they were reduced in the human world as these two animals. One day the elephant came to drink water and this led to a fight with the reptile. The crocodile bit into the elephant’s leg so that he couldn’t move. The elephant thought that his master Vishnu might come to save him. So he conjured up a lotus flower and held it high with his trunk, to ask for his master’s help. And as expected, Vishnu came to save him," Wu said.

These stone carvings with Hindu roots have been part of the Buddhist temple for centuries. That's testament of the co-existence of various religions and cultures in Quanzhou during its time as one of the world’s biggest ports. During the Song and Yuan dynasties, prosperous trade nurtured a large foreign community, who were believers of various religions. These religious stone carvings have been well kept, helping people in the present day understand that era. The carvings represent Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Manichaeism and Buddhism. Steeped with so much history, it's no surprise they drew the fascination of Wu's father, Wu Wenliang, who began buying carvings in the 1930s. Much of his collection was found in the bricks of demolished walls.

"Zheng Zhenduo, then director of the National Bureau of Cultural Relics, heard that there was a person in Quanzhou that had collected a lot of religious stone sculptures and carvings. He came to visit my father and felt really excited about my father’s collection. He urged my father to write a book on it. And my father really did it. We all know about the land Silk Road, but my father’s book traces back the history of the maritime Silk Road. As the starting point of China’s maritime Silk Road, Quanzhou was really a melting pot of different cultures and religions," Wu said.

His father Wu Wenliang published the book “Religious Stone Carvings and Sculptures of Quanzhou” in the late 1940s. The book include pictures and the background stories of the stone relics. When the new China was founded in 1953, he donated more than 200 of his stone relics to the country. And a museum was built to house the donated collection. After Wu Wenliang died in 1969, Wu Youxiong carried on his father’s passion for the ancient stones -- enriching and republishing his father’s book. And just like his father, he knows the entire back story of each stone, their whereabouts and origins.

"This is the tombstone of a missionary of the Catholic church. The missionary once wrote a letter to a bishop in Italy, stating that he lived very well here in Quanzhou. Although he did not receive specific permission, he felt he could freely pass on his beliefs. This letter reflects the openness of China during the Yuan Dynasty towards different religions," Wu said.

On top of the stone relics, architectural ruins showcasing different beliefs can also be found across the city. And thanks to the efforts of people like Wu Youxiong and his father, Quanzhou's glorious history as a world cultural hub will never be forgotten.

Follow us on

  • Please scan the QR Code to follow us on Instagram

  • Please scan the QR Code to follow us on Wechat