Bordered by Zhejiang to the north, Jiangxi to the west, and Guangdong to the southwest, Fujian spans an area of about 121,000km2, making it roughly the size of North Korea. Fujian sits on the east coast of China, facing Taiwan across the Taiwan Strait.
Fujian became part of the Chinese Empire during the Qin Dynasty, but after the Qin’s fall, the region reverted back to a tributary kingdom until it was loosely reintegrated into the Han Dynasty about 100 years later.
Thereafter, the region remained within the Chinese domain, sometimes as tributary kingdom, sometimes as a part of the Chinese empire, until the Song Dynasty firmly integrated it into its empire. The 4th century CE saw a wave of immigration into Fujian; today, four of those extended families who came – the Lin, Chen, Zheng and Huang – make up the majority of surnames in the province.
Fujian’s coastal location has meant that maritime trade has always played an important role in its history and economy. The Fujian city of Quanzhou, today a prefecture level city of approximately 8 million inhabitants, grew to be one of the world’s largest ports during the Song and Yuan Dynasties. A main stopover in maritime silk route, Marco Polo talked about the city in his travel memoirs.
During the Yuan Dynasty it was home to an estimated 100,000 Arab traders and was also an important center of shipbuilding. Later, during the Ming Dynasty, Quanzhou helped supply and stage China’s largest period of naval exploration. Between 1405 and 1433, China launched seven expeditions under the command of Admiral Zheng He whose explorations took his fleet to Southeast Asia, Arabia and Africa.
A subsequent Ming-era sea ban hurt Fujian’s trading position and economy. Its harbors were subsequently supplanted by ports such as Shanghai once the ban was lifted in 1550. During this time, the first Fujian peoples began migrating abroad to seek opportunity. Today, many of Chinese communities in Southeast Asia and the United States have Fujian roots, as does a large percentage of Taiwan’s Chinese population.
It wasn’t until after the first Opium War and the 1842 Treaty of Nanking that China was forced to re-open Fujian’s port of Xiamen to foreign trade. Its economy subsequently expanded. In 1886, Taiwan was detached from Fujian and established as an independent province.
Once China’s 1978 market reform began, Fujian’s economy began growing rapidly. Fujian’s cities of Xiamen and Fuzhou were two of the first special economic zones created. They were encouraged to attract foreign investment and to trade internationally. As a result, Fujian has profited significantly from Taiwanese, Hong Kong and other international investment.
Around 38 million people live in Fujian, 98% of which are Han. The largest minority in Fujian is the She people, most of whom make their living through agricultural work. Other minorities include the Hui, Miao and Manchu peoples. Over half of Fujian residents now live in cities, with a majority settling in the coastal towns of Fuzhou, Xiamen, Quanzhou and Ningde. Fujian is renowned for its mobile population and is the source of a great deal of Chinese migration around the world. More Chinese Americans can trace their ancestral roots to Fujian than any other province.
Fujian has a GDP of approximately $392 billion US dollars. Fujian mines gold, graphite, tungsten, molybdenum, coal, iron, and copper. It also has good reserves of kaolin, used for centuries as the base ingredient for Chinese porcelain. Its iron and coal reserves support some steel production.
Since the 1980s, Fujian has seen the rapid development of light industries through joint-ventures with foreign companies. These industries include electronics, garments, plastics, toys, synthetic fibers, precision instruments, and assembling. Other products produced include lacquer ware and fireworks.
Lay of the Land
Through Fujian’s mountains course many river systems, the most important of which is the Min. Its drainage area covers over 50% of the province. The upstream Jin, Futun and Shaowu Rivers all converge into the Min at Fujian’s inland city of Naping, located in the center of the province. The Jiulong flows south of the Min reaching the sea at Xiamen. The Han River runs across Fujian’s southwestern border. For centuries, Fujian’s rivers have been of vital importance to the province, providing not only its water, but its main transport system. Fujian’s first railway, for instance, was not completed until 1955. Its mountainous topography also delayed the construction of road networks.
Fujian’s coast is jagged, curving in to form many natural harbors. Off its coast is an array of islands. Only 180 km of Strait separate Fujian from the island of Taiwan.
Interesting Aspects for a Traveler
Located on an island linked to mainland China by a 5 km causeway, the city of Xiamen became a major seaport and commercial center during the Ming Dynasty from the late 14th century onwards. By the 16th century, Europeans were attempting to establish trade relations with the city; by 1750, the city was closed to foreign trade until China was forced to open it as a treaty port in 1841. Its waterfront architecture and old town reflect the history of this time, especially nearby Gulang Yu island where Europeans and Japanese built consulates and over 1000 colonial villas amongst the rabbit warren of narrow alleys.
Throughout the southwest of the province are scattered over 3,000 often extremely large, circular, tall, multi-story buildings made to protect from bandits the Hakka – people who migrated to Fujian from the north during the Jin Dynasty during the 4th century and the Minnan – native Fujianese people. Called, Tulou, these earthen towers were the olden day equivalent of apartment living. The larger Tulou could fit whole clans. 46 of the best preserved of these Tulou have now been made a UNESCO world heritage site and are Fujian’s premier tourist attraction.
The fishing village of Xunpu is also just south of Quanzhou and was also a stop on the maritime silk road before traders reached Quanzhou. Interesting Oyster shell built houses are still preserved, as is the Temple of Mazu which is dedicated to sailors.
Chongwu, 50 km east of Quanzhou, has 2.5km of walls dating from the 14th century and a well preserved city center built during the Ming Dynasty as part of its defense system against Japanese pirates that harassed the coast during this era.
Wuyi Mountain, in Fujian’s northwest, provides beautiful scenery and a chance to escape Fujian’s coastal heat. It offers many hikes through forests, along streams and waterfalls.