One City, Many Religions

(With apologies for posting this out of chronological order — Richard) Tuesday was a long, fun, sweaty day – as most days are turning out to be here.  It was the first day that there were blue skies, but the temperature probably hit 87, as predicted, with very high humidity. I’m sort of getting used to having a sweated-through shirt.

We began the day here in Quanzhou with a visit to a Buddhist temple library.  The library was a bequest of Guang Qin (1892–1986), a renowned Buddhist monk, and contains publications on Buddhist philosophy and practice.  Its library director used to work for Xu Zhaokai, our guide for the day and the director of the Quanzhou Public Library.  Their collection is too large for the current building, so a new, adjacent building is currently under construction (actually nearing completion).  This is the only temple library open to the public in China as all other such libraries are reserved for local monks. This particular library’s holdings are represented online in the Quanzhou Public Library’s catalog, completely integrated with the holdings of all the other libraries in the system.

Architectural detail from the old library — Front entrance to the new library extension

Mr. Xu grew up in the neighborhood of the temple.  He told us that as a child, he and his friends would climb on the stone turtle below, near where we exited the temple compound.    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

He also seemed to know everyone.  A couple of times, he exchanged greetings with people on the street that he knew and was friendly with the priest who ran the Buddhist restaurant where we had lunch. How is that possible in a metropolitan area of 8 million?

After the Buddhist temple, we walked to the Ashab mosque, the oldest in China and one of the oldest in the world (built in 1009), still in use by the Muslim community.  A large room in the complex of buildings serves as a museum on the history of Muslims in Quanzhou.

Further down the street was a Taoist temple.  We began to understand that the city’s character comes in part from the many ethnic and religious groups that have settled here over the centuries.

In the afternoon we went to the Kaiyuan Temple, another Buddhist temple and listened to the chanting of the worshipers there.  This temple is the largest in the province and one of the oldest in China, dating to 685. Hindu stone carvings are also found on the grounds of the compound, remnants of the Tamil Hindu community that lived in Quanzhou in the 13th century.  Within the compound is housed the remains of a boat dug up in Quanzhou Harbor about 40 years ago, along with all the artifacts from that archaeological dig.  Mr. Xu said his father had worked on that dig!  When asked why this museum was on the grounds of the temple, he stated that the boat had been transferred to some available space there and since it was too fragile to move again, they left it where it was.

We also visited a district (branch) library of Quanzhou Public and then capped the day with a trip to another museum, this one quite large, dedicated to Taiwan-Fujian relations – or  something of that sort.  It focused on all the ways in which the people of both places had the same religion, language, customs, ethnic origins, political relations, etc.  I did wonder if that idea was being driven home a bit much and perhaps was a reflection of mainland China’s claim to Taiwan – although there are significant cultural, religious, and ethnic connections between the two areas.

Dinner that night at a restaurant near the hotel was a very relaxed, with the conversation covering fasting, weight loss, veganism, and whether people are tall because of their diet, the climate they live in, how much sleep they get, or genetics.  We did not reach any firm conclusion, but I do find it rather implausible that people in warm climates are shorter because no one eats much in hot weather!

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