MANUFACTURING BASE: A variety of products on display at a market in Quanzhou, southeast China's Fujian Province (LIU BOYI)
Tea has been produced in the district of Anxi, in the periphery of Quanzhou, for at least 1,000 years. It was exported to as many as 58 countries in Europe, Africa and Asia during Tang, Song and Yuan dynasties. Until the middle of the 19th century, Fujian remained the top region in the world for tea exportation, before India took over.
The porcelain sector also reflects the intertwining of art, innovation and mass production in Quanzhou. Many companies were successful in introducing new technologies for porcelain production. Some of them now meet the expectations of the global market by producing occidental-style porcelains that are exported en-masse to the United States and Europe. But Quanzhou also attracts many artists that revisit handicraft traditions and make them all the more alive.
Besides its tradition of handicrafts, Quanzhou is also well known as a historical example of successful trade relations and strong entrepreneurial culture.
The Maritime Silk Road and local traditions have indeed contributed to the development of a very original economic model, based on a multitude of small familial enterprises. Even today, unlike many other industrializing areas in China, the majority of Quanzhou's factories and enterprises are neither joint ventures nor public enterprises, but privately owned companies that rely heavily on familial relations.
This economic tradition may explain why Quanzhou has recently become a very prosperous city in Fujian and has developed rapidly over last decades. The city has successively attracted thousands of migrant workers from all over the country to work in the production of shoes and sportswear.
Quanzhou also benefits from very important commercial ties with overseas Chinese. The Silk Road during the Song and Yuan dynasties, as well as the closing of all seaport trade with the outside world during the Ming and Qing dynasties, have indeed encouraged many people from Quanzhou to settle in other countries in Southeast Asia. Today, Quanzhou is said to be the hometown of over 60 million overseas Chinese.
In spite of its glorious past, Quanzhou's cultural heritage has only recently become an asset for the city's tourism industry.
Quanzhou declined after the Ming Dynasty, while Xiamen, a few kilometers away, became one of the most important ports in China in the previous more than 100 years. For this reason, Quanzhou suffers from a lack of attention from Chinese tourists and international travelers alike.
Several steps have already been made in recent years toward a wider recognition of Quanzhou's cultural past. First of all, Quanzhou was one of the first historic cultural cities approved by the State Council, China's cabinet, in 1982.
In recognition of the role played by Quanzhou as one of the major ports along the Maritime Silk Road, a team from the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization also visited the city in 1991. The city is now present in a number of different heritage lists of the organization, including the World Heritage and the Intangible Heritage lists.
The author is an editorial consultant with the ChinAfrica magazine
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