Hoklo People

Like the Hakka, the Hoklo people are not one of China’s 55 ethnic minorities but are also just a subgroup of the Han ethnic majority. They are sometimes referred to as Hokkien, Hokuro, Min-nan, or Hokkien Lang people and, in the same vein, their language can be referred to as Hoklo, Hokkien, Fukien, Amoy, Minnan, Min, Fujianese, and Taiwanese.

However, unlike the Hakka, there is no strong cultural identity linking the subgroups of Hoklo people and they have seemingly failed to hold on to any significant cultural traits. Some people are not even aware of their Hoklo heritage and, to this day, there is no standard Chinese term for “Hoklo”. Since many of them intermarried or assimilated with Hakka people or Taiwanese aborigines, the term “Hoklo” became more of a linguistic heritage.

Their language is a branch of Min-nan or “Southern Min” Chinese, which is a dialect that is mutually unintelligible to Eastern Min, Standard Chinese, and Cantonese. They are believed to have originated from lands bordering the Yellow River in northern and central China, much like the Hakka, and settled primarily in southern Fujian province, although communities of Hoklo people can be found in Guangdong and Hainan.


Nowadays most Hoklo people live in towns and cities, but a few still live in large earthen constructions known as Tulou. These fortress-like buildings were designed by the Hakka and are usually round or square in shape. They can be several stories high and were initially built to protect inhabitants from bandits and wild animals. Evidently the Hoklo knew a good thing when they saw it, because they took to these safe havens immediately!

However, by far the largest constituency of Hoklo people can be found in Taiwan, where they make up 70% of the population and are thus the ethnic majority. Hoklo Taiwanese is a term generally used to mean anyone whose ancestors emigrated from Fujian to Taiwan prior to 1949. In the north and south of Taiwan, there are two marginally different dialects of their language that point to their diverging origins. It is believed that the Hoklo people in the north originated from Quanzhou Prefecture and those in the south originated from Zhangzhou Prefecture. No matter how they got there, the Hoklo Taiwanese have developed their own unique culture that continues to thrive to this day!


Get more stories about Hoklo people on our travel: Explore the distinctive Tulou(Earthen Structure)

Explore the distinctive Tulou(Earthen Structure)

hongkeng tuloucover02

An amazing opportunity to experience the distinctive South Min culture in China

Fujian Province, which is sometimes shortened to “Min”, is located in southeast China and it takes up a large part of the southeast coast. Nearly 90% of Fujian’s land is mountainous, making it very suitable for growing tea and subtropical fruits.

South Min region refers, as its name implies, to an area in the south of Fujian province. It is the homeland of the Hoklo and Hakka people1. Both of these ethnic minorities speak their own dialects. We usually prefer to call them languages, rather than dialects, as they are so different from Mandarin that they are barely intelligible to the average Han Chinese person. Aside from their unique dialects, many of them also live in an unusual type of dwelling – a Tulou (meaning “Earthen Structure” in Chinese).

Tulou in Fujian

These peculiar structures are hidden up in the mountainous regions of Fujian, and entering one is like entering a different world, a peaceful and magical world.

Xiamen is the central city of South Min, and historically it was known as Amoy. It is an island city just about 1 kilometre away from Jinmen Island, which belongs to Taiwan. Xiamen was one of the first economic zones that were specially opened up to foreign investment in 1981. Nowadays, it is the most economically successful city in Fujian.

This fantastic journey will show you both the traditional and the modern sides of China.


During this tour, we will

  1. explore Tulou life in Southern Fujian;
  2. enjoy the extremely beautiful scenery in the mountainous areas of Southern Fujian;
  3. taste a variety of local teas as part of a traditional Fujian tea ceremony.
  4. visit a colonial-style island (optional);
  5. visit modern Xiamen City (optional);
  6. learn about the history of the Hakka and Hoklo people;
  7. try various kinds of local food and subtropical fruits.

We offer a 5-day tour exploring Tulou in the mountainous regions of Southern Fujian, plus an optional 2-day tour of Xiamen city as a potential add-on.

Taxia village

The highlights of this tour:

I. Marvel the Unique Local Architecture

  1. Qilou


Qilou, or Tong lau, appeared during the late 19th century, and are commonly found in the south of China in places such as Guangdong, Fujian, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.

This style of building originated from Guangzhou, which was the most important commercial port for foreign trade during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). It is easy to see that the Qilou’s architectural style has been influenced by western architecture. The earliest Qilou were built by wealthy men to be stores in the business districts.

You will find various types of Qilou in Xiamen’s old business sector. It is a common sight in Southeast Asia. Most of the Qilou in Zhangzhou city were built in the traditional Chinese style, and did not adopt too many western features. This is because Zhangzhou is not as big a port as Xiamen so it was not subjected to as much western influence.


  1. Tulou (Earthen Structure)

Fujian Tulou04

A Tulou is a large enclosed construction that is usually circular or rectangular in shape and is used to house multiple families. There are more than 3,700 Tulou in the mountainous regions of South Min, which were all built by Hakka or Hoklo people. These large clay buildings are usually two- to five-storeys high and were built in such a way for defensive purposes. One Tulou is usually for one clan and the people of said clan would often conduct all of their social interactions inside of this “castle”. (Read more about Fujian Tulou)

Twelve Tulou have been selected by us to visit on this tour. All of them are listed by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. We will also be given the opportunity to visit other Tulou in the nearby villages either together or separately.


  1. Traditional Chinese (Han-style) buildings


Hoklo and Hakka people were both originally Han people. They still maintain some aspects of traditional Han culture, including Han architecture. So in the Hakka villages you will not only find Tulou but also traditional Han-style buildings.



  1. Colonial-style buildings in Gulangyu Island

Gulangyu Island

Gulangyu is a small island that is just a few minutes’ drive away from the main island of Xiamen. It is the most famous tourist attraction in the Xiamen area because of its peaceful atmosphere and seemingly colonial style. From 1850 through to 1900, after the Opium War, many western traders settled on Gulangyu and built western style houses there. You may feel as though this small island is more like a western city rather than an Asian island.


  1. Modern skyscrapers in Xiamen City


As one of the most economically successful cities in China, Xiamen has many new and modern buildings. It serves as a typical example of the rapid development happening in certain Asian cities, but it is much more beautiful than many of these other Asian cities.



II. See the Amazing Land Views

Fujian is one of the most prominent tea growing provinces in China. There are tea fields on almost every mountain in Fujian. What’s more, since Fujian is a mountainous region, terraces must be carved into the hills and mountains in order to grow rice there.

Fujian Terrace


III. Try the Subtropical Fruits

You will find many fruits in Fujian that you will have only previously seen in books. Feel free to try them, so long as you have a strong stomach.



IV. Try the Local Food

The food in South Min is very similar to the food in Taiwan. The Hoklo people are also notoriously good at cooking seafood.

On top of that, if you love Chinese tea, Fujian is the province for you, since a wide array of top quality Chinese teas are grown there.


V. Taste the Various Local Teas

Hakka and Hoklo people are famous for producing high-quality teas. In the Tulou area, they make tea not only from tea leaves, but also from fruits and wild flowers. These types of tea have a light fragrance but a strong and sumptuous flavour that will linger in your mouth. Each type of tea has different medicinal properties according to its ingredients.

Tulou Tea


VI. Stay in Tulou Hotel

No one can gain a real insight into any culture by just visiting local attractions and villages. In order to give you an up-close and personal look at Hoklo and Hakka culture that you will never forget, we have chosen a real Tulou as our accommodation for the tour. Let’s explore real life in a Tulou together.

tulou hotel


The Location of Fujian in China:


Accommodation: We will stay in Tulou hotel in the mountainous regions of Fujian for 2 nights of the tour, and a 3-Star hotel in Zhangzhou for 1 night, a 4-Star hotel in Xiamen for 1 night of the tour (plus an extra 2 nights in a 4-star hotel should you decide to expand your tour of Xiamen).

Note: : There are no en-suite bathrooms in the Tulou hotels because of their design. All rooms will have a shared toilet and bathroom.

Food: We will provide 3 meals per day, consisting of local Chinese food, when staying in the mountainous region of Fujian. Breakfast and dinner will be provided in Xiamen city. Our guide will be on hand to help you order lunch in Xiamen.

Transportation: mini coach

Duration: 5 days and 5 nights (plus an extra, optional 2 day tour in Xiamen as specified above)

Dates of the tour:

10th of Dec to the 14th of Dec, 2017 (or the 16th of Dec, 2017 should you choose to add the extra 2 day tour of Xiamen to your trip)

Cost pp:

£680 (including: 5 nights of accommodation; all entrance fees to the attractions; all meals during the 3 days spent in the mountainous region of Fujian and 2 breakfast and 2 dinner in Xiamen; all transportation costs during designated tour times; the services of an English speaking guide; a pdf file with information about Tulou; help with any further travel in China following the tour).

£880 (all of the above plus: an extra 2 day tour in Xiamen, including the services of an English speaking guide and transportation costs during designated tour times; two extra night of accommodation in Xiamen; one extra dinner in Xiamen)

Single supp:£280

Please Note: the cost is based on the subscription of no less than 4 participants; the maximum number of participants being 10.


Day 1 Meeting up in Xiamen

We will meet you at the hotel in Xiamen. If you are planning on flying into Xiamen, the hotel is within the airport area and can be easily found. If you are planning on coming to Xiamen by train, you can either make your own way to the hotel or we will happily pick you up from the railway station and take you to the hotel. You need to book this service in advance.

Accommodation: 4-star hotel near Xiamen airport

Day 2 Tianluokeng Group of Tulou

In the morning we will head out towards the most famous group of Tulou – Tianluokeng, or “Four Dishes and one Soup” Tulou.

Tianluokeng consists of three circular Tulou and one square-shaped Tulou, which, from above, resembles the common layout for a family dinner. Its unique appearance earned it the name “four dishes and one soup”.

First we will enjoy the panoramic view from up the mountain, and then we will travel down the mountain to visit the village. Although Tianloukeng village is the most famous Tulou village, most of its visitors tend to just view it from a distance, up on the mountain, and do not enter the village itself. Unlike them, we will get to experience a real Tulou village by going there directly. Read more about Tianluokeng Village.


We will sample the local tea in a Fujian-style tea ceremony. Before you get the wrong idea, this isn’t a luxury experience! You’ll get to enjoy drinking tea in the same traditional way that the locals do, looking out at the lofty mountains while listening to the folk tales of the Hakka people.

Accommodation: Tulou Hotel in Tianluokeng

Day 3 Yuchang Lou, Taxia Village and Hongkeng village

On the way to Hongkeng village, we will come across another very famous Tulou, Yuchang Lou, which is particularly amazing because all of its pillars are made out of plum wood. It is also the tallest Tulou in existence. Yuchang Lou is in a small, tranquil and traditional village without tourists.

Fujian Tulou, Yuchang lou

Then we will go to explore the village of Taxia, which is famous for the seamless way in which the Tulou blend in with their natural surroundings. Read more about Taxia Village.

Accommodation: Tulou Hotel in Taxia Village

Day 4 Yunshuiyao Village, Zhangzhou

We will spend the whole morning in Yunshuiyao village soaking in the peace and beauty of the mountainous countryside.

Yunshuiyao is village with hundreds of years of history behind it, particularly with reference to the Jian clan. It is reminiscent of the legendary “Shangri-la” in appearance and atmosphere. Most of the buildings in the village are clay houses which were built during the Qing Dynasty, including a big Ancestral Hall2 for the Jian family. There are several banyan trees on the riverside that are hundreds of years old. One of them is the biggest banyan tree in Fujian Province and this banyan tree has some branches that are more than 30 meters long. Read more about Yunshuiyao Village.


We will visit two Tulou, which are near to Yunshuiyao village.

Huaiyuan Lou is considered a perfect example of the round-style of Tulou, while Heguilou is the best example of the rectangular-style of Tulou (more details about these two types of Tulou can be found in the article entitled “Fujian Tulou”). Another distinguishing feature of Hegui Lou is that the whole compound has been built on marshland. Isn’t that amazing?

In the late afternoon, we will head for Zhangzhou.

Accommodation: 3-star hotel in Zhangzhou

Day 5 Xiamen

We will visit the Ming-Qing Streets in Zhangzhou (streets which were built during the Ming and Qing Dynasties).

We will return to Xiamen in the late afternoon.

Accommodation: 4-star hotel in Xiamen


beachDay 6 Xiamen City – Qilou, Zengcuo An and the Seaside

Siming district is the business centre of Xiamen Island and there you will find many typical South Min-style buildings, known as Qilou.

Zengcuo An is a small village on the seaside. All of the villagers used to be fishermen. Nowadays it serves as a typical example of a coastal village in Xiamen. All of the houses have been changed so that their architectural style incorporates more western features. However, you will still find some of their original, local features are intact. You will also find all of the traditional South Min style dishes and local subtropical fruits in Zengcuo An. They are all worth trying so don’t forget to sample some local delicacies whilst you’re there.

At the seaside, there is a long plank road that runs alongside the beach, which you can take a walk along if you like. Or you may prefer to just sunbathe on the soft, white sand.

Read more about Xiamen.

Accommodation: 4-star hotel in Xiamen

Gulangyu IslandDay 7 Gulangyu Island 

We will go to Gulangyu Island by ferry. After we have visited the buildings of major interest on the island, you will be given the opportunity to explore the island and enjoy some of the local attractions by yourself. Read more about Gulang Island.

Accommodation: 4-star hotel in Xiamen




  1. Hoklo people and Hakka People:

From the West Jin Dynasty (307-12 BCE), there were several great immigrations from central China to Fujian, among them the one took place in the late Tang Dynasty (7th-8th century) was on a particular large scale. Those who settled down in southeast of Fujian Province became the Hoklo people. During the Song Dynasty, because of the conquest by the Jin ethnic group in northern China, many people fled from central China again, bringing with them the culture and language, and finally settled down in Fujian, Guangdong and Jiangxi. These people formed the Hakka group.

  1. Ancestral Hall:

It is a kind of temple for a family or a clan to worship their ancestors.



Please Note: You can choose to stick to this tour entirely, or you can just incorporate it as part of your wider plans to travel across China. We can provide you with information and help you with any other travel plans you may have if you need us to. We also provide a hotel booking service and a flight or train booking service for all of our members’ traveling in China outside of the 5 designated days of the tour. We will also provide a consultancy service for you, which will help you to plan your journey across China and give you useful tips on traveling in China.

We hope that you will have a wonderful time traveling with us! 

For more information, please contact us at: info@asiaculturaltravel.co.uk.


xiabanliao village

The sleepy village of Xiabanliao, located just southwest of Tianluokeng village and Shuyang Town, has been the home of the Liu clan for twenty-five generations. And, when you take in the lush greenery of the surrounding mountains and listen to the soft bubbling of nearby brooks, you’ll understand why they’ve stayed for so long! Yet Xiabanliao isn’t just your ordinary Chinese village; it houses one of the most magnificent architectural wonders the country has to offer.

Fujian Tulou, Yuchang louThe Tulou of Fujian are huge earthen fortresses that were designed to protect inhabitants from bandits. They have enjoyed great fame in recent years due to their unique appearance and unmatched fortitude. Xiabanliao’s Yuchang Lou, which was built by the Liu clan in 1308 during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), is one of the oldest and most resilient of them all. At the grand old age of 700, this tulou is still home to 23 families and about 120 people from the Liu clan. It may not have all the modern conveniences of a new home, but at least the Liu family never have to worry about a mortgage! It towers in at five-storeys in height and 36 metres in diameter, making it is the tallest tulou in China.

In spite of its age, the 25 kitchens on its ground floor are all equipped with their own private well, making it the only tulou in existence with such a convenient water supply. With 250 rooms, 25 kitchens, and a spacious courtyard in the centre, Yuchang Lou is so roomy that it could almost be called a village itself!

In recent years, it has earned the alternate name “the zigzag building” because the wooden post structure within the tulou, which is meant to be vertical, appears to zigzag left and right on the 3rd and 4th floors. This bizarre phenomenon was not intentional but was in fact due to an error made in measuring the building materials. Don’t let the unsteady appearance fool you; this tulou has survived more natural disasters, wars, and sieges than you can count!


Xiabanliao is one of the many wonderful stops on our travel: Explore the distinctive Tulou(Earthen Structure)



Taxia village

The ancient Hakka village of Taxia, tucked away in the lush green mountains of Fujian, is one of the oldest and most spectacular villages China has to offer. It is located in a valley just west of Shuyang Town and is split by a clear river, which flows through the heart of the village and is lined by over 20 traditional Tulou. These gigantic, fortress-like buildings are made of packed earth and resemble fortified villages. They come in a number of styles, from those of a square or rectangular shape to round and oval ones. They were initially built to protect inhabitants from bandits and wild animals but have seemingly failed to shield them from the curiosity of tourists!

That being said, Taxia is a sleepy village that sees very little traffic and the locals, who have long become accustomed to rural life, while away the hours fishing, farming, and drinking tea. Sometimes it really is the simple things that make life worth living! The village was established in 1426 by the Zhang family but most of the remaining buildings were constructed during the 18th century, with the oldest, Fuxing Lou, having been built in 1631. Diaojiaolou or stilted wooden houses are also littered along the riverbanks of Taxia and only add to the idyllic pastoral scenery. The large tulou made of rich earth and the rustic wooden Diaojiaolou appear to be at one with both the manmade and natural surroundings.

Taxia Village square TulouThe village’s main attraction is the Zhang Family’s Ancestral Hall, which is located near a pond and flanked by 20 stone flagpoles that rise up like a petrified forest. This shrine to the Zhang’s ancestors was built over 400 years ago and is one of the most well-preserved of its kind in the country. The gateway is engraved with a vivid image of two dragons playing with a pearl, inlaid beautifully with coloured ceramic chips, and the whole compound is embossed with lively decorations of Chinese deities, legendary figures, mythical creatures, wild animals, and charming flowers. At the back of the hall, a dense forest creeps its way up the mountains.

Bizarrely, an almost exact replica of this ancestral hall can be found in Taiwan’s Tainan County and was built during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) by members of the Zhang family who had moved there. Evidently the Zhangs were a wealthy bunch, but not very creative!

On hot summer nights, the village comes to life as countless fireflies wind their way through the streets and create a sort of fairy tale atmosphere. Imagine spending a balmy evening watching these ethereal lights dance their way through the long grass or skitter above the surface of the river. I can’t think of anything more romantic!


Taxia is one of the many wonderful stops on our travel: Explore the distinctive Tulou(Earthen Structure)




Tianluokeng is perhaps one of the most famous villages in Fujian but, with a name that literally means “River Snail Pit”, you’re probably wondering why. Is it full of river snails? Do they “pit” the snails against each other? Of course not! Tianluokeng achieved its fame because it is one of the many stunning villages in rural Fujian that boast magnificent earthen buildings known as Tulou.

The village’s name may originate from a Fujian folktale known as “The Snail Girl”, in which a poor young farmer named Xie Duan is helped by and eventually falls in love with a snail fairy called a tianluo. Some local legends even suggest that the founder of Tianluokeng, Wong Baisanlang, was helped by a fairy named Miss Tianluo. This may explain why the local farmers move at a snail’s pace!

The village rests just outside of Shuyang Town and is home to a cluster of five tulou. These gigantic, fortress-like buildings are made of packed earth and resemble fortified villages. If you look closely at their upper levels, you can still see the small gun holes that were used to shoot at bandits. Snails may hide in their shells in times of danger, but the locals of Tianluokeng preferred a more aggressive approach!

The cluster is made up of one square-shaped tulou in the centre with three round tulou and one oval-shaped tulou surrounding it. Its unusual appearance has earned it the name “four dishes and one soup”, as it resembles the layout for an average family dinner in China. Just don’t try to eat out of these dishes, or you’ll end up the size of a building yourself!

tianluokeng 01The square tulou in the centre is known as “Buyun Lou” or “Reaching for the Clouds Building” and is the oldest of the set, having been built in 1796. Unfortunately its three-storey high exterior was not enough to discourage ne’er-do-wells, as it was burnt down by bandits in 1936 and had to be rebuilt in 1953. Its four sets of stairs were designed to express the founder’s wish that his descendants achieve greatness “step-by-step”. At least he provided them with plenty of fire exits!

Hechang Lou was built not long thereafter and, in 1930, the circular Zhenyang Lou followed. In 1936 Ruiyun Lou was constructed and the last of the bunch, Wenchang Lou, was completed in 1966. The sheer size of these tulou is a miracle in itself, as each one may have taken upwards of two years to build. This means the entire complex would have taken at least ten years to finish!

According to the Chinese philosophy of Feng Shui[1], the placement of the five tulou is particularly auspicious. It is believed that bad luck is more likely to hit the corners of buildings, so many of the tulou are circular in the hopes that misfortune will slide off of their round roofs. Since the square-shaped Buyun Lou is the only one that has corners and is coincidentally the only one to have been burnt down, there may be something to this theory! Nowadays the corners of Buyun Lou are bedecked with lucky symbols in the hopes of warding off evil. Let’s just hope they fireproofed it too!


[1] Feng Shui: This theory is based on the premise that the specific placement of certain places or objects will bring good luck.


Tianluokeng is one of the many wonderful stops on our travel: Explore the distinctive Tulou(Earthen Structure)


Gulangyu Island

Gulangyu Island

The musical roots of the magnificent Gulangyu Island are so deeply entrenched that even its name literally means “the islet of drumming waves”. Supposedly the sound of the ocean waves hitting the reefs sounds like the thundering of mighty drums, so Gulangyu is an island permanently permeated by natural music.

The island is located just southwest of Xiamen City and is sometimes colloquially referred to as “Piano Island” because, on such a small island with a population of just 20,000 people, there are a staggering 5,000 pianos and even a Piano Museum! To put that into perspective, that’s one piano for every four people. This unusual pastime, along with the bizarre colonial architecture and curious number of Christian churches, can only be explained by Gulangyu’s history.

After the First Opium War (1839–1842), China agreed to a pact known as the Treaty of Nanking with Great Britain, France, Japan, and 10 other countries. In this arrangement, Xiamen was named as one of the five seaports opened up to foreign trade. In 1903, Gulangyu Island was designated as an international foreign settlement, which allowed members of the 13 partner countries to settle, build houses, start their own businesses, and control the administration of the island.

gulangyu islandDuring this time many colonial-style mansions, churches, and hospitals were established throughout the island and are some of the only buildings of their kind throughout China. Along with the unusual style of architecture, newcomers to the island also brought with them their love of Western instruments and many of their competitive sports. After all, if the islanders won’t go to the piano, the piano must go to them!

Nowadays the island is almost completely pedestrianized, as no vehicles are allowed except small electric buggies and a handful of fire engines. From designer furniture to bushels of fruit, all produce on the island is moved by handcart. The only way to access the island is via ferry, which can be caught from a number of ports in Xiamen. Just don’t try to skip the fare and swim across instead!

Sunlight Rock represents the island’s highest point and can be found in the south-central part of Gulangyu. With an altitude of just under 93 metres (304 ft.), it’s hardly vying for the top spot among China’s other mountains but does look particularly beautiful bathed in the soft light of the sunrise.

The Memorial Hall of Zheng Chenggong, also known as Koxinga, was built at the foot of the hill in honour of this war hero, who drove the Dutch colonists out of Taiwan in the 17th century. The Dutch regard him more as a marauding pirate but, after all, history is written by the victors! As you scale this tiny peak, you’ll find poignant inscriptions engraved into the rock by poets, some of which date back over 400 years. At the summit, a breath-taking panorama of Xiamen City can be seen.

Shuzhuang GardenMany of the other attractions on the island were once simply residential houses, including Shuzhuang Garden, which was built in 1931 by a wealthy Taiwanese businessman named Lin Erjia, or Shu Zhuang to his friends. The garden was opened to the public in 1955 and serves as a perfect example of the three most important characteristics of Chinese gardening; hiding elements, borrowing from one’s surroundings, and different types of movement.

An example of a hidden element is the way in which the ocean remains covered even if you walk right up to the garden’s gate. Once you finally emerge from the bamboo forest, the stunning seascape is considered your reward. The term “borrowing from one’s surroundings” refers to the clever use of natural scenery in the garden, such as coral reefs and slopes that were organically formed before the garden was built. Yet, like your wayward neighbour, they’ve “borrowed” these elements for so long that it’s likely they’ll never give them back! Finally the interplay of connected caves and forests, intermingled with pavilions, encourages the different types of movement, from elders resting on benches to children rushing through the trees.

Within the garden, the island’s renowned Piano Museum can be found. The museum houses more than 100 beautiful pianos of all shapes and sizes that were donated by a Gulangyu local named Hou Youyi, who went on to study music at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels before eventually settling in Australia. Among them, you’ll find a street musician’s barrel piano from France and a stunning grand piano crafted in 1801 by composer Muzio Clementi.

Other highlights of the garden include the Forty-Four Bridge and a hidden cluster of sculptures designed after the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac. For the music aficionado, a complementary Organ Museum can be found on the northwest part of the island. Just don’t go in there expecting a new heart!

Alongside Shuzhuang Garden, the Haoyue or “Bright Moon” Garden is another local favourite located in the southeast of the island. The garden contains two magnificent statues of the national hero Zheng Chenggong, as it is believed he stationed his troops in this part of the island. The bronze statue is nearly 5 metres (16 ft.) in height while the granite statue, which guards Dingfu Rock on the eastern seashore, is a staggering 16 metres (53 ft.) in height. To put that into perspective, that’s about five times the size of an African elephant!


Gulangyu Island is one of the many wonderful stops on our travel: Explore the distinctive Tulou(Earthen Structure)




Zhangzhou is a prefecture-level city in southern Fujian that has tragically been somewhat overshadowed by its neighbouring cousins. It rises up alongside the banks of the Jiulong River just southwest of Xiamen and Quanzhou, yet it has failed to achieve the same illustrious heritage as these two renowned seaports. However, with a population of just under 5 million and a plethora of stunning Qilou-style buildings, Zhangzhou has more to offer than you might think!

It was first established as a county sometime between 502 and 515 AD but was not instated as a prefecture until 686. Throughout the 8th century, it was only considered a minor Chinese outpost with a meagre population of about 1,600 families. If only all cities were that small, then perhaps rush hour wouldn’t be quite so unbearable! From the 9th century right through to the 13th century, the city rapidly began to grow as one of the major trading ports on China’s southeast coast. During the Song Dynasty (960-1279), lucrative trade between Zhangzhou, Indonesia, and other countries in Southeast Asia allowed it to expand exponentially.

zhangzhou 500Throughout the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) it continued to prosper by trading its famous, locally produced sugar and silk textiles with the Philippines. With sugary treats in their mouths and silk on their skin, the Zhangzhou locals were enjoying the height of luxury! Yet, like many success stories, this one has a tragic end.

In 1604 the city was first visited by Dutch ships, heralding the much longed for European investment and prosperity that Xiamen and Quanzhou both enjoyed, but around about the same time the river began silting up. The flourishing trade industry that Zhangzhou had once enjoyed gradually shifted further downstream towards Mamazhen and, by the 17th and 18th centuries, had moved to Xiamen entirely. While Xiamen became southeast China’s major port, Zhangzhou looked on with tearful, silty eyes.

However, the city did not give up on its trading roots entirely and still acts as a collecting centre for fruit, jute, sugarcane, and timber, which is then exported to Xiamen. Nowadays the only remnants of its glorious past are the Qilou-style buildings, whose architecture resembles a perfect intermingling of Chinese and European styles. Since Zhangzhou was not exposed to as much Western influence as other seaports, its Qilou are unique as they are distinctly more Chinese than European.

The surrounding towns and villages are resplendent with Tulou; large, fortified earthen buildings that have housed the local Hakka people and Hoklo People for centuries. These fortress-like constructions attract visitors every year, and have helped Zhangzhou earn back a little of its past popularity. Dongshan County, home to Dongshan Ancient City and the magnificent ruins of Tonghshan Castle, is a collection of 44 islands under the jurisdiction of Zhangzhou and can be found just off of its coast. The historic value of its architecture is unmatched, as can be said for many of the famous structures in Zhangzhou Prefecture. In short, though Zhangzhou’s glory days may be behind it, it’s still a long way from retirement!


Zhangzhou is one of the many wonderful stops on our travel: Explore the distinctive Tulou(Earthen Structure)


Zengcuo An

Zengcuo An

Throughout the Song (960-1279), Yuan (1271-1368), and Ming (1368-1644) dynasties, the Maritime Silk Road largely overtook its grounded cousin and this led to numerous foreign traders landing, settling and influencing the seaport cities along China’s southeast coast. From 1850 through to 1900, after the First Opium War, many western traders settled on the island of Gulangyu near Xiamen City, further adding to this foreign influence. In the small fishing village of Zengcuo An, just southwest of Xiamen, the effect of this can be felt most palpably in its architecture. From austere churches to colonial mansions, it’s a melting pot of cultures, religions, and styles.

zengcuo an增厝安02The ancestors of the Zeng family were fishermen who settled here long ago, bringing with them their unique lifestyle. Their religious beliefs primarily revolved around ancestor worship and worship of the goddess Mazu, who was the patron deity of seafarers. This is evidenced by the many temples to Mazu that can be found dotted throughout the village.

As the port of Xiamen grew and people from across the world flocked to the city, practisers of Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity, Islam, and numerous other religions settled in Zengcuo An. Nowadays the village’s small, winding roads are all that remain of its humble past and are flanked by magnificent colonial buildings, religious monoliths, and extraordinary works of art.

In 1998, a Chinese artist named Chen Wenling was attracted to the slow pace of life in the village and decided to settle there. This represented a major turning point for Zengcuo An, as several other artists followed suit. By 2003, over 20 sculpture studios had been opened and a plethora of professionals, from filmmakers to musicians, had taken up residence in this tiny village. Nowadays many of these artists have moved on, but the fantastic sculptures, paintings, and murals they left in their wake attest to their presence.

Zengcuo an 01In 2001, waves of students from Xiamen University began renting student apartments in the village as it was far cheaper than living in the city itself. These students became so enamoured with this picturesque paradise that many of them decided to stay and open up their own shops. This helped to put Zengcuo An on the map, since many of these students could speak English and welcomed foreign tourists to enjoy this place so close to their own hearts.

From a simple walk along the seaside to a day spent sunbathing on the soft, sandy beaches; from a taste of sweet local fruit to a banquet of Min-nan style delicacies; Zengcuo An is full of so many simple delights that you too may not want to leave!


Zengcuo An is one of the many wonderful stops on our travel: Explore the distinctive Tulou(Earthen Structure)



Quanzhou 01

Quanzhou is the largest city in Fujian and boasts a staggering population of over 8 million people. Its residents speak a variety of Min-nan Chinese, a dialect that is unintelligible to standard Mandarin, yet its local language isn’t the only thing that makes Quanzhou different from your average Chinese city. Its status as an ancient seaport has meant that, over a period of centuries, countless foreigners from across the globe have settled here and influenced the architecture, cuisine, lifestyle, and religious beliefs of its locals. So if New York is the Big Apple of cultural melting pots, then Quanzhou is the Watermelon!

The city was officially established in 718 and, during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), it rose to become one of the four major seaports in China. However, it didn’t reach the height of its prosperity until the Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1271-1368) dynasties. As the old Silk Road’s popularity began to wane due to banditry and frequent warfare, merchants looked to the sea and the Maritime Silk Road was established.

Quanzhou swiftly developed into the largest seaport in southeast China and at one point it was linked to over a hundred other ports, including Madras in India and Muscat in Oman. Foreigners from across the globe flocked to Quanzhou and eventually settled there, making their cultural mark on the city. The famous explorer Marco Polo even noted in his travelogues that it was one of the busiest seaports in the world, second only to Alexandria.

Sometime during the 10th century, tiger’s claw trees were planted around the harbour to give it a more impressive and welcoming exterior. The fiery red flowers of these trees soon caught the eyes of many sailors and the Arabic nickname for the city, Zayton, may have been derived from the Chinese name for the tree, “Citong” (刺桐). This Arabic name, meaning “olive”, was symbolic of peace and the English word “satin” is derived from it, as this fabric was mainly exported to the West via Quanzhou. Evidently in ancient times, naming anything was like one big game of Chinese Whispers!

quanzhou 02Quanzhou’s glorious past is evidenced by the many historic sites connected to the Maritime Silk Road and the numerous shipwrecks that have been excavated from Quanzhou Bay. In particular, the wreck of a commercial vessel found in Houzhu Harbour is thought to have originally been built in Quanzhou during the 13th century and was returning from Southeast Asia at the time of its unfortunate demise. This has led researchers to believe that Quanzhou was not only an important seaport, but also a centre for shipbuilding and the development of navigation equipment. However, since one of the only examples of their ships appears to be complete wreck, we’re not altogether confident about Quanzhou’s shipbuilding abilities!

The city is sometimes referred to as the “World Museum of Religion” because of its staggering number of religious buildings. Numerous ethnic groups from countless religious backgrounds settled here, including Buddhists, Hindus, Taoists, Manichaeans, Christians, and Muslims. Somehow these conflicting religions were all able to coexist peacefully in the city and this led to the development of the many houses of worship you’ll find there today.

For example, Kaiyuan Temple is one of the oldest Buddhist temples in China; Qingjing Mosque is one of its oldest mosques; and the Cao’an Manichaean Temple hosts the world’s only stone statue of Mani, the prophet of this now extinct religion. Numerous shrines to the Chinese deity Guandi can be found littered throughout the city, as this deity controlled weather and wealth and was thus one of the most popular among fishermen and traders. Similarly Tianhou or “Heavenly Goddess” Temple is an important feature of the city as Tianhou, also known as Mazu, was considered the patron goddess of sailors. After all, in a time when Health and Safety Regulations were non-existent, the only thing you had protecting you were the gods!

Unfortunately, when the emperor cut off all foreign expeditions and trade during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), Quanzhou rapidly declined and many of its great ships were left to rot. The overcrowding and financial instability led many of its locals to seek new homes abroad. According to Chinese government statistics, nowadays more than two million Quanzhouese live abroad, while only half a million remain in the city.

quanzhouIn a city abounding in such a rich history, it’s no wonder they have multiple museums! From the Puppet Museum, where visitors can learn about Quanzhou’s famous marionette shows, to the Maritime Museum, which gives visitors an insight its salty seafaring past, the history of this city still lives and breathes within its walls. Yet it’s not all about history, as the city abounds in natural beauty, from the magnificent Mount Qingyuan to the lush green East and West Lake parks. However even the mountains haven’t escaped the city’s religious fervour, as an enormous statue of Lao Tsu, the founder of Taoism, adorns the peak of Mount Qingyuan!

Like any large Chinese city, Quanzhou comes to life at night. When night falls, the local people sample tantalising delicacies in makeshift outdoor restaurants, the children fly kites in the park, young people head to the most stylish bars, and older people head to the theatre to enjoy a local opera. In the park near the Confucian Temple, amateur and professional musicians gather every night to practice Nanyin, one of the oldest musical genres in Chinese history. Some of these charming melodies date all the way back to the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD) and are performed using traditional Chinese instruments with the ballads being sung in Min-nan dialect.






The Wuyi Mountains

mount wuyi 01

The Wuyi Mountains are a mountain range located just to the south of Wuyishan City in Nanping Prefecture, Fujian. It rests on the border between Fujian and Jiangxi, and its highest peak, Mount Huanggang, is the highest point of both provinces. The range boasts altitudes of 200 metres (660 ft.) at its lowest to over 2,100 metres (7,000 ft.) at its highest! Yet tall, dark, and handsome though these mountains may be, their true value lies in their cultural, scenic, and natural importance. In fact, this range has played such a significant role in Chinese history that UNESCO listed it as a World Heritage Site in 1999.

mount wuyi danxiaThe range is characterised by rushing waters, deep river valleys, columnar cliffs, and complex cave systems. In the western portion, the peaks typically consist of volcanic rock, while in the eastern area they are mainly made up of red sandstone with steep slopes and flat tops. This creates a myriad of landscapes, from sheer white cliffs to rusty red plinths. The mountains form a protective barrier against the northwesterly winds and, as a result, the climate within the range is humid with a high level of rainfall and plenty of condensation. Watching the peaks rise mistily out of the fog is truly breath-taking, that is if you can see through all the sweat on your face!

The range represents some of the finest examples of both Chinese subtropical forests and South Chinese rainforests. These habitats support a rich ecology and biodiversity that has thrived since the Ice Age over 3 million years ago. From evergreen broad-leaved forests to bamboo forests and meadow steppes, the plethora of greenery will not leaf you wanting more! In fact, these diverse environments house over 3,500 species of plant, 4,500 species of insect, and 450 species of vertebrates.

These include 49 species that are endemic to China and 3 that are endemic specifically to the Wuyi Mountains, such as David’s parrotbill and Pope’s spiny toad. Just watch your step; Clifford H. Pope named that toad for a reason! Numerous endangered species, including clouded leopards and South Chinese tigers, all prowl the expanse of these mountains. Yet by far the most revered and feared members of the Wuyi community are its snakes. From King cobras and bamboo vipers to 33-foot-long pythons, these slithery serpents have been worshipped, eaten, and used in medicine by the locals for hundreds of years. Steak and chips? Why not try snake and chips?

Archaeological evidence indicates that the Wuyi Mountain region was occupied by humans before the Xia Dynasty (c. 2100-1600 BC) but was not consolidated into the Chinese empire until the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD). In the 1st century BC, a large administrative town named Chengcun was established there and, during the 7th century, the royal Wuyi Palace was built nearby.

It was then that Wuyi achieved its status as a sacred mountain. It became the first centre for Taoism in the region and many Taoist temples and academies were founded here, until Taoism was superseded by Buddhism in the 17th century. By the Tang Dynasty (618-907), the mountain had become such a holy spot that Emperor Xuanzong issued a decree forbidding fishing and logging in the area; a decree which is still active today. So if you’re hankering for some fish fingers, you’ll need to look elsewhere!

mount wuyiDuring the Song Dynasty (960-1279) it reached the height, or should I say peak, of its cultural importance as it became the cradle for the revolutionary school of thought known as Neo-Confucianism. In 1183, scholar Zhu Xi established the famous Wuyi Jingshe Academy on the mountain range and began developing the doctrines that would evolve into Neo-Confucianism. This school of thought is considered to be the most influential of its kind throughout the whole of the Far East.

From the 11th to the 16th century there was an imperial tea farm here, which produced tea solely for the imperial court. Tea cultivation has become a main source of income for the Wuyi locals and, of the many types of tea grown here, the four most famous are: Big Red Robe, Iron Arhat, White Cockscomb, and Golden Turtle Tea. The mother bushes of all these teas can be found on this mountain range and tea from one of only three Big Red Robe mother bushes is so valuable that, in some instances, it can sell for up to $1,025,000 a kilogram (approximately £657,000)!

Nowadays, the incredible history of these mountains can be witnessed in the 18 wooden boat coffins sheltered on its steep cliffs that date back to the Shang Dynasty (c. 1600-1046 BC); the remains of 35 ancient academies that were built from the Song to the Qing (1644-1912) dynasties; and the 60 Taoist temples and monasteries that are littered throughout the range in varying degrees of ruin. Only four administrative buildings of the ancient city of Chengcun remain and the ruins of the Wuyi Palace have now been incorporated into a sort of living museum.

The Nine-Bend River meanders through a deep gorge in the centre of the range and is a staggering 60 kilometres (37 miles) in length. A bamboo raft ride down the river rewards any visitor with stunning views of the surrounding peaks and historical ruins that make this mountain so precious. However, if you’re feeling a little seasick, you may want to try hiking along the mountains instead! Other areas of scenic value include the celebrated Jade Maiden Peak, Water Curtain Cave, Heavenly Tour Peak, and Roaring Tiger Peak.

Impression Da Hong Pao is a 60 minute show that was masterminded by Zhang Yimou, the director behind House of Flying Daggers and similar shows such as Impression Liu Sanjie in Guangxi and Impression Lijiang in Yunnan. It is a stunning lightshow that uses the Wuyi Mountains as its natural backdrop and incorporates hundreds of local actors.