UNESCO ranks Quanzhou as an 'emporium to the world' in granting heritage status

Yao Han
Award for a series of 22 integrated sites takes to 56 the number of China's UNESCO World Heritage properties.
Yao Han
UNESCO ranks Quanzhou as an 'emporium to the world' in granting heritage status
Xinhua

The east and west pagodas of Kaiyuan Temple in Quanzhou, southeast China's Fujian Province. Aerial photo taken on July 8.

"It is one of the two greatest havens in the world for commerce...," wrote Marco Polo, the Italian traveler, in his book over 700 years ago.

It was also visited by Ibn Battuta, a famous North African explorer in the14th century. He called it the greatest port in the world.

The so-hailed southeast China port city of Quanzhou won UNESCO World Cultural Heritage status on Sunday, taking to 56 the number of China's UNESCO World Heritage sites.

UNESCO accepted "Quanzhou: Emporium of the World in Song-Yuan China" as a cultural property on its World Heritage List during the ongoing 44th session of the World Heritage Committee held in Fuzhou, capital of southeast China's Fujian Province.

Quanzhou was known as "Zayton" in ancient times. During the Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1271-1368) periods, it rose to become the largest port in the East with a prosperous maritime trade that attracted numerous merchants and diverse cultures from across the world. 

The UNESCO-acknowledged properties in the classification include 22 sites of administrative buildings and structures, religious buildings, and statues. They housed multi-cultural communities, were cultural memorial sites and monuments, produced ceramics and iron, and formed transport networks of bridges, docks and pagodas that guided voyagers.

It is the second time the city has applied for the prestigious heritage status. In 2018, China's nomination titled "Historic Monuments and Sites of Ancient Quanzhou (Zayton)" was referred back for a second chance when the committee met in Bahrain in 2018.

UNESCO ranks Quanzhou as an 'emporium to the world' in granting heritage status
Xinhua

Anping Bridge in Anhai Town, Quanzhou. Aerial photo taken on July 8, 2021. 

Shanghai Daily asked professor Fu Jing of China Architecture Design & Research Group about the reasons behind the award success and why the nomination was important for Quanzhou, China and even the world. Fu was project leader of the special technical team overseeing Quanzhou's second bid.

She is deputy director of the group's Institute of Architectural History and is mainly engaged in the research and conservation of cultural heritage.

UNESCO ranks Quanzhou as an 'emporium to the world' in granting heritage status

Fu Jing

SD: What do you think are the reasons for the success this time of Quanzhou's bid for the World Heritage List?

Fu: The award process is complex and systematic and this success could not have been achieved without the full cooperation and innovative exploration of all parties.

Our technical team was mainly responsible for the nomination file in accordance with the content requirements and professional perspective of World Heritage.

In this process, we focused on examining Quanzhou's heritage from a holistic perspective, reconstructing and refining the heritage value theme, reshaping and enriching the heritage composition system, innovating and improving the conservation management system, and accomplishing a series of key technical breakthroughs. 

UNESCO ranks Quanzhou as an 'emporium to the world' in granting heritage status
Xinhua

Tianhou Temple in Licheng District, Quanzhou City. Photo taken on July 8.

SD: What technical adjustments were made compared to the first nomination?

Fu: First, through an overall study of the social and economic systems of Quanzhou in the Song and Yuan dynasties, we chose "Quanzhou: Emporium of the World in Song-Yuan China" as the nomination name, highlighting the theme of heritage values.

Focusing on the theme, we reshaped the heritage composition system to fully support the overall value. The 22 component sites we selected can comprehensively reflect the highly integrated maritime trade system and the multicultural social structure of Quanzhou during the 10th-14th centuries.

And finally, the nomination name revolves around the concept of sustainable development. This whole group of properties can be defined as a social system. The protection and management of this system also needed to rely on the existing social governance system, so we combine the requirements of World Heritage conservation management with the existing social governance system, instead of setting up a separate set of rules.

UNESCO ranks Quanzhou as an 'emporium to the world' in granting heritage status
Xinhua

Qingjing Mosque in Quanzhou. Photo taken on July 6.

SD: What's the value of Quanzhou as a global maritime trade center in Song-Yuan era China?

Fu: The core concept of this nomination lies in the interpretation of Song-Yuan Quanzhou from a holistic perspective. The 22 sites all contribute to the overall value of the heritage, and only if they form a whole in combination with each other can they demonstrate the outstanding universal value of Song-Yuan Quanzhou.

At that time, Quanzhou was a maritime hub of the East and Southeast Asia trade networks and also a window for the exchanges and interactions of Song-Yuan China with the outside world. It provided indispensable contributions to the prosperity of the Asian maritime trade of the time and the development of East and Southeast Asia.

The 22 component sites presented a prosperous picture brought by joint development between ports, city and hinterland. 

As a whole, they reflect a highly integrated spatial-economic-social system of maritime trade, and also demonstrate Quanzhou's outstanding development wisdom of economic integration, cultural inclusiveness and diversified prosperity.

UNESCO ranks Quanzhou as an 'emporium to the world' in granting heritage status
Xinhua

The Statue of Lao Tze in Quanzhou's Fengze District. Photo taken on July 7.

SD: What is the significance of the success of Quanzhou's recognition? 

Fu: It's of great significance to Quanzhou, China and the world. "Quanzhou: Emporium of the World in Song-Yuan China" is an in-depth interpretation of Chinese civilization and Chinese culture from the perspective of the sea. The success helps to demonstrate to the international community the development of Chinese civilization in which agriculture and maritime are intertwined.

The history of Song-Yuan Quanzhou also presents the outstanding spiritual qualities of the Chinese culture, such as openness, inclusiveness, and innovation. It also reveals the great contribution of the Chinese nation to the common development of human civilization.

The success shows that the outstanding development wisdom of Song-Yuan Quanzhou has been recognized worldwide. It will also urge and inspire the people of Quanzhou to cherish and protect their cultural heritage for generations, to pass on the wisdom of the millennium, to explore the path of innovation and development, and to make greater contributions to the country and the world.

UNESCO ranks Quanzhou as an 'emporium to the world' in granting heritage status
Xinhua

The remains of Deji Gate and surrounding city landscape in Quanzhou. Aerial photo taken on July 7.

SD: What kind of city is Quanzhou? 

Fu: Quanzhou is my hometown. The people of Quanzhou, on the one hand, are inheriting ancient traditions, and on the other, they still maintain a strong sense of curiosity. Enterprising, openness, inclusiveness, and innovation are main characteristics of Quanzhou. But the most important is that Quanzhou is always unfading as time goes by. 

UNESCO ranks Quanzhou as an 'emporium to the world' in granting heritage status
Xinhua

Jiuri Mountain Wind-Praying Inscriptions in Nan'an, Quanzhou City. Photo taken on July 7. 


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