The City of Xiamen is a modern metropolis by the beautiful Xiamen Bay, a city with the homiest ambience in the southeast China. It is one of the five Special Economic Zones in China, facing Taiwan across the sea. Xiamen, an island of green hills and beautiful gardens, enjoys a mild, pleasant subtropical climate characterized by warm winter and cool summer. The City of Xiamen has been awarded a string of honors, including the “UN Habitat Scroll of Honor Award”, “Nations in Bloom City”, “China’s Best Tourist City”, and “Model of Innovation-oriented City”. Former US President Richard Nixon called Xiamen an “Oriental Hawaii”. The integration of the indigenous Southern Fujian (Minnan) culture with Western culture has resulted in a unique cityscape.
Gongfu Tea in South Fujian
There was ever a famous saying like this: Enjoy three of the best things in life—Gongfu tea, Nanyin music and water pipe. In the book Contribution of Caixiang to the Oolong Tea, the famous tea expert Professor Zhuang Wanfang ever described like this: “In memory of the contribution of Xiacang, the oolong tea was named after “Jun Mo” in Wuyi Mountain. Now the oolong tea is quite popular in south Fujian, Chaohou in Gudong and Taiwan Province…”
The quintessence of Xiamen's tea culture is the teaism (Chadao). Some people think the teaism originated in Japan but in fact, the ancient Chinese tea ceremony is well kept in Xiamen, which lays emphasis on decency of five components—tea leaves, water, tea set, the duration and degree of heating and the environment. Most of the Xiamen people love to drink Oolong tea. When the boiled water is poured into the teacup, the tea leaves are green in the center and red in the edge, and the tea liquid turns yellowish red with fragrant in smell and sweet in taste. Many people in Xiamen are also fond of the Tikuanyin Tea (Iron Goddess Tea), which is produced originally in Anxi County of Fujian Province. Due to the shortage of fresh water in Xiamen, people in the past used the well water to brew the tea, among which the spring water in the Mountain of Five Old Men of South Putuo Temple and the “Sanbuzheng” well water in Gulangyu Island rank the best. But now most of the people choose the household filtered water.When drinking the oolong tea, one must choose the appropriate tea set carefully. The Xiamen people prefer to use the pottery tea set with cover so as to preserve aroma and retain the taste”, “Menggong” teapot and “Ruoshen” Cup are their favorite. At the same time, the water for making tea should be boiled, but should not be over-boiled. For most Xiamen people’s point of view, only with appropriately boiled water can we prepare a cup of mellow tea. The duration and degree of heating should be strictly controlled, three to five minutes will be appropriate. It is universally acknowledge that the tea ceremony is particular about the environment. People in Xiamen like to decorate the sitting room with ornaments, vases, antiques, burn incenses and broad-cast music, making the tea ceremony become a lofty spiritual pursuance and a high-quality leisure way.
Festival for Ancestor Worship
It is a tradition in Xiamen and its neighboring cities that Festival for Ancestor Worship (Jingzu Festival) is seen as one of the largest folk festivals. It falls on the 3rd day of the third lunar month in Chinese lunar calendar and baobing are offered on this very day as sacrifices to worship the passed ancestors.
“Baobing”, is also called “runbing” in Mandarin and spring roll in Taiwanese. There are two main components of “Baobing”, the skin made mostly from the fine flour and fillings made from precooked ingredients such as dried tofu, pork, bean sprouts, bamboo shoot, carrot, ternip and fragrant-flowered garlic. Those deep-fried ingredients are wrapped fully in the shape of bamboo tube. You can dip the Baobing in chili sauce or mustard to make it much more flavorful.
Although we fail to trace the history of “Bobing”, there is an old saying goes like this: after Zheng Chenggong recapturing Taiwan from the Dutch colonialists, great efforts have been made by this famous general in Ming Dynasty for Taiwan’s development. After his death, his son Zhengjing followed his father’s wishes and continued defending Qing army against invasion. When he called out his troops to the southern Fujian province, they met fierce resistance from the Qing army and his troops suffered heavy casualties. Finally they won the battle after several times’ stalemate. The local masses were so excited about this news and they welcomed Zheng army’s coming with great hospitality. At the same time, people made the “Baobing” to pay respect to the deceased. Thereafter, it becomes a common practice for the local people to offer Baobing as sacrifice in memory of the ancestors on March 3rd of the Chinese lunar calendar.
One of the five local forms of opera, Gaojia has been newly recognized by the government as part of China's cultural heritage. Gaojia Opera is very popular in South Fujian, Taiwan and areas of Southeast Asia where Minnanhua is spoken.
Gaojia emerged at the end of the Ming and early Qing Dynasty. At first, it was an improvised form which was part of a religious parade. Later it developed into Songjiang drama, which involved plenty of acrobatic fighting and a rather simple plot. In the middle of the Qing Dynasty it absorbed the influences of a number of other performance traditions, and expanded the range of plots considerably. By the late Qing it was mixing Hui Opera (from Anhui) Beijing Opera and Yiyang music (an improvised percussive folk music) into a unique style.
Gaojia Opera uses Southern Music for its scores. The music is also influenced by Liyuan Opera — another local form. The tenor of the music varies according to the role of the singer onstage. It can be bold and unconstrained, fine and smooth or lively and lighthearted. Gaojia Opera has particularly good female (dan) and clown (chou) roles. The dancing of the clown is in imitation of puppets, and can be very funny indeed. Since the 1950s, Gaojia has developed fast. There are Gaojia troupes spread all over South Fujian. There have also been a series of excellent new opera which have received critical and popular praise: Promoted Three Times, Dreaming of the Emperor's Bedchamber, Jade Chain, Jin Kuixing, and The Party of Golden Sword.
Xiamen Jin Liansheng Gaojia Opera Troupe is one of the most famous troupes. The name reflects its embrace of the whole region, combining the Jin of Jinmen with the name of a district in Tong'an. The troupe has been invited to perform in Hong Kong, Taiwan and the Philippines many times, and has always been well received.
Worship of the Color Red
The color red is of great significance for people in South Fujian Province and it is traditionally used as a symbol of happiness and good luck.
When festival comes, red is found everywhere in Xiamen. During the Chinese New Year, people paste red couplet on both sides of the doors. A barrel of rice with red spring flower on are also prepared on the New Year’s Eve. For the pronunciation of the word “spring” sounds like “surplus” in dialect, the spring flower symbolizes the abundance of harvest or prosperity. Meanwhile, the red dates and red flower are usually decorated when people make “Fagao” (a steamed cake). On the New Year’s Eve, children were given New year gifts of cash wrapped in red paper, but now the money are usually stuffed in the red envelop with “Gong Xi Fa Cai” in gold letters on.
Lantern Festival falls on the 15th day of the Lunar Calendar. It is almost customary for the local residents to have sweet dumplings on lunar June 15th, or during the annual the winter Solstice Festival and the Lantern Festival.
The traditional Chinese wedding was even full of red color in the past. The red couplets were pasted on windows and doors at wedding ceremonies. When a baby turns one month old, the family would prepare the red cake called “Moon Round”, the oil rice and the two red eggs for relatives and close friends to celebrate the first month of the baby’s life. for the birthday of the elderly, besides the birthday peaches and red tortoise cake, the birthday couplets are also prepared, which are composed of a pair of poetry lines such as “Heaven attains greater age and people live to longer year; spring fills the earth and every hearth procures more happiness”.
Vegetarian Dishes in South Putuo Temple
The South Putuo Temple is also well known for its 40 vegetarian dishes, of which the main ingredients are rice and noodles, beans, vegetables, mushroom and edible fungus. The vegetarian food made in South Putuo Temple is superior of its shape, color, flavor and taste. Each dish has its own unique flavor and is of unique shape. Elegant names are also brought to the dishes such as “Half-moon at the River Bottom” and “Golden Lotus in South Sea”.
Xiamen cuisine is noted for seafood such as garoupa, yellow croakers, red crab and local squid. Such dishes were considered as traditional Xiamen cuisine since the Qing Dynasty. The ingredients must be fresh in cooling the seafood dishes. It is better to cook them immediately when you get them from the market. At the restaurant, customers can pick out live seafood, and pass them to the chef for a freshly prepared dish.
Maci (Glutinous Rice Cake)
Maci is a kind of glutinous rice cake, inside which are the peanut powder and white sugar. Let the wrapped glutinous cake roll on a thin layer of black sesame powder, the Maci will be done. There is a stall called “Yecheng’s House” at the crossroad of Longtou Road and Fujian Road. It is a family making Maci for generations and has gain a reputation. People in Gulang Island call it “Wu’s Maci” with great affection. Each Maci costs only one yuan and sometimes you might have to queue in line.
Sweet Peanut Soup
The ingredients of sweet peanut soup are simple, but its cooking is quite complex. Firstly, using the boiled water to soak the peanut, and then peel the peanut skin. After that, cook the peanut by the pressure cooker. When the peanut is cooked thoroughly, put sugar into the cooker and continue to cook it until the peanuts are completely soft. You can enjoy the sweet peanut soup together with deep fried dough sticks, deep-fried jujube, fried leek dumplings, meat buns, sweet buns and fried glutinous rice, etc. The most famous peanut soup must be in Huang Zehe at Zhongshan Road (a famous snacks store in Xiamen).
Tusun Jelly is a well-known Chinese style cookie of Xiamen. Sea worm, literary called “sipunculid”, is a kind of worm found in muddy seabed. Before the cooking, the sea worm should be washed to remove the guts and sands thoroughly. When the worm is cooked tenderly, the pectin of it mixes with water and finally become a kind of jelly. It is extremely refreshing and tasty.
Sweet Pie (Xian Bing)
The sweet pie is one of the typical desserts in Xiamen. The main ingredients are mung beans with white sugar and fine flour. Take a piece of the pie into your mouth, it tastes sweet but not greasy, and it is extremely tasty and refreshing. The Gulangyu Island Pie and Wangji Pie in Xiamen are the best places to taste the sweet pie.
Gulangyu (鼓浪屿) is an island in Xiamen, a few minutes by ferry from downtown. It has a population of around 17,000 and an area of about two square km (500 acres). It was a foreign enclave from the 1840s until the 1930s, and is now both a residential suburb and a major tourist area. In 2017 it was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
During the Ming Dynasty，the island was called Yuanshazhou Island.It got its present name from the huge reef surrounding it. When the tide comes in, the waves pound the reef and it sounds like the beating of a drum. Thus the island came to be named Gulangyu.Gu in Chinese means drum，and Lang waves.
Some readers may know the place from Neal Stephenson's novel ReamDe; much of the story takes place in Xiamen and one character, the female British spy, has an apartment on Gulangyu. Those who do not know the novel might consider picking up a copy for on-the-road reading when heading for Xiamen.
Books and films about Gulangyu
The Sound of an Island: Gulangyu As Seen and Described by Famous Writers (Gulang Wenyin: Mingjia Bixia de Gulangyu), edited by Zhu Shuiyong (朱水涌). The Publishing House of Electronics Industry, 2011. This is a collection of fifty-five short essays and poems about Gulangyu by forty-eight well-known modern and contemporary writers.
The Wind and Waves of Gulangyu (Tianfeng Hailang Gulangyu). Released in 2004, this is a 20-minute documentary directed by Wang Honghai (王鸿海) , which won the China Huabiao Film Awards.
Glancing Back at Gulangyu (Huimou Gulangyu). Released in 2014, this film is a ten-episode mini film series directed by Lü Zusong (吕祖松) and produced by the local U&A Television, Film, and Media Corporation.
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South Putuo Temple
Situated at the foot of Mount Wulaofeng and facing the blue sea, South Putuo Temple is deemed to be a must-go tourist place near to Xiamen University. Founded in the Tang dynasty, the Temple has a long history and embodies the Southern Fujian (Minnan) culture and, therefore, it is known as A Millennium Ancient Monastery. The temple was first founded by Ven. Master Qing Hao during the Five Dynasties (A.D. 907-960) and was known as the Sizhou Temple. Later, it was reconstructed and renamed as Wu Jin Rock (Boundless Rock) by Ven. Master Wen Cui in the Song Dynasty (960-1279). Destroyed during the Yuan Dynasty in 1314, it was rebuilt by Ven. Master Jue Guang and renamed as Puzhao Temple in 1368. The temple was renovated during the reign of Ming Emperor Yongle (1403-1423), but then again was destroyed in warfare in 1628. During the reign of Qing Emperor Kangxi (1662-1722), General Shi Lang, the Marquis Jinghai, rebuilt it and named it South Putuo Temple. The main buildings of the temple are the Cāturmahārājika Hall, the Mahāvīra Hall, the Mahākaruṇā Hall and the Sūtra Depository which are built down the hillside and they create a majestic atmosphere.
Books and films on South Putuo Temple:
South Putuo Temple Annals. Published by South Putuo Temple, it consists of eight chapters: History, Architecture, People, Training, Charity, Outreach, Scripture, and Literature, covering nearly every aspects of the temple since its beginning.
A Bright Moon. Released in 2005, it is a film about the life of the legendary monk, Hongyi Fashi (Li Shutong), and his connection with Buddhist College of Minnan and South Putuo Temple.
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Tong’an Confucian Temple
Tongan Confucian Temple is a symbol of ancient Tong’an, bearing the profound historical and cultural deposits of Tong’an. The Confucian Temple maintains the features of ancient buildings of southern Fujian in the Qing Dynasty. Facing Dongxi River and leaning close to ancient city walls, Halberd Gate features a height of 4.4 meters which is higher than the main gate of Quanzhoufu Confucian Temple with Qingyun Road right under the walls and four dragon stone pillars at the front porch. With a double-eave gable and hip roof, Dacheng Hall possesses 8 supporting round stone pillars in distinctive shapes with square bottom, octagonal middle section embossed with different patterns such as “kettle” doors in each side and scalloped conical top. Inherited from the original Confucian Temple firstly built in the Five Dynasties, this type of pillars is unique in Fujian Province.
The Hulishan Fort was first constructed in the 20th year of the Guangxu reign of the Qing Dynasty, with an area of over 70,000 square meters. The auxiliary equipments include the eastern and western platforms to protect the fort, tunnels, ammunition depot, barracks, residence of officers and observation tower at the hilltop. The semi-bunker and semi-wall fort shows the European style, as well as the architectural style of the Ming and Qing dynasties. The cannon, known as the King of Cannons, was purchased from the Krupp Munitions Plant in Germany. It is the oldest and largest coastal cannon on the original site in the world, and was included in the 2000 Guinness Book of World Records.
Yuanqian Community of Qingjiao Village
Yuanqian Community of Qingjiao Village in Haicang District is the first Fujian-Taiwan ecological and cultural village in Xiamen City. Located at the intersection of Xiamen and Zhangzhou, Yuanqian Community is a main birthplace of Baosheng Ciji Culture, the second most popular folk belief in Taiwan and it is also the hometown of Yan Siqi, the pioneer of Taiwan. Close to Yuanqian Community stands the Qingjiao Ciji Palace ranking among the fourth batch of Major Historical and Cultural Sites Protected at the National Level where Wu Zhenren, a renowned doctor in Northern Song Dynasty is enshrined and worshiped.