With a lush mountainous interior and a narrow but fertile coastal zone fronted by the Taiwan Strait, Fujian offers travelers a wonderful diversity of experiences, from the historic ports of Xiamen, Fuzhou and Quanzhou, to the rugged natural splendor of Wuyi Shan, to the fortress-like Hakka tulou dwellings in villages like Chengqi and Zhencheng Luo. And, while the charms of Fujian are many, tourists are scarce compared to the rest of eastern China, making it a prime destination for those looking to get off the beaten path.
Fujian's capital, Fuzhou, is flush with Taiwanese investment and boasts a rapidly developing modern veneer behind which you'll find evidence of the ancient port that Marco Polo judged "a veritable marvel," most notably the Yu Shan Scenic Area's White Pagoda and Fuzhou city walls, the Black Pagoda, and relics housed in the Fujian Provincial Museum, among other Fuzhou attractions.
Down the coast from Fuzhou lies Xiamen, one of China's most comfortable cities, where the beach is just a walk or a bus ride away, delicious seafood dishes famed throughout China are to be had, and ocean breezes waft through charming streets. Once known as Amoy, it possesses a wealth of colonial architecture dating from the days of Portuguese, French, British and Dutch settlement when it was one of the few Chinese ports open to foreigners. The unique island of Gulang Yu, just offshore from central Xiamen, features a particularly outsanding collection of old colonial buildings, both ramshackle and restored, as well as many of the best Xiamen hotels.
Inland to the west, near the border with Guangdong, visitors can visit the Hakka heartland, with a number of traditional villages within easy reach of the city of Yongding. Featuring unique rammed-earth buildings that rise like fortified apartment buildings, ancient Hakka towns are remarkable sites of living history where tulou dating back centuries are still in use today.
Heading northwest toward the Jiangxi border, Fujian's sparsely populated mountains give rise to the spectacular destination of Wuyi Shan, where sharp volcanic rock peaks jut above twisting rivers amidst lush foliage, giving way in areas to distinctive red sandstone formations. Nine Twists River boat tours are a particularly pleasant way to take in the region's phenomenal landscape.
Tea is a Fujian specialty, with an impressive variety of leaves growing in the province, from top oolongs to Wuyi black teas to fragrant Fujian jasmine. In fact, the English word for "tea" comes from the ancient Fujianese language known as Min Nan. And while tea thrives in the interior, the coast is renowned for its seafood, the basis of Fujian cuisine, one of the eight great Chinese culinary traditions.
Fujian 's people have always shown a strong independent streak. To this day, the ancient kingdom of Minyue (ca. 334-110 BC), which dominated the region until the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD) absorbed it, is honored along with its kings and their temples. Fujianese independence can also found in the characteristic wanderlust of its people, many of whom have crossed the seas in recent centuries to settle in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan, the Philippines, the United States and beyond.
Back in Fujian itself, the truism that "geography is history" is a reality. The mountainous interior's inpenetrability has meant that development has always been concentrated along the coast; it's also a factor that has propelled many an ambitious Fujianese emigrant seaward. In even more recent times, the province's proximity to Taiwan places it at the forefront of what is perhaps contemporary China's most sensitive and enduring line of political friction and potential armed conflict.
Going way back, Fujian's archaeological record reaches into to the Stone Age, with pottery shards, fragments of spinning wheels and cut jade recently uncovered at sites like Keqiutou, some 70 kilometers outside of Fuzhou, indicating the presence of sophisticated early human settlements as far back as 7,000 years ago.
The aforementioned state of Minyue is the first known instance of a higher level of political organization in Fujian, founded by refugees from the state of Yue, which around 334 BC fell to the rival state of Chu. In subsequent times, Fujian, easily defensible thanks to its geography, continued to serve as a refuge for immigrants fleeing violence elsewhere in China. For example, it took the Kingdom of Wu, which arose during the Three Kingdoms era (220-280 AD), over 20 years to defeat the Yue in the mountains—and even then, stubborn pockets of resistance remained.
In the 4th century AD, the fall of a dynasty once again led to the infusion of immigrants into Fujian. T his time, it was the Western Jin (265-316), many leading citizens of which fled the onslaught the northern "barbarians" that destroyed their empire. Today, many families in modern Fujian still trace their lineage to Jin aristocracy.
The basic pattern would repeat: In times of relative peace, isolated Fujian would lag in population growth, coastal trading centers aside; then, as dynasties fell, immigration would increase. So it was with the fall of the Tang Dynasty (618-907), and again with the Ming (1368–1644).
Fujian also often exported population, failing to develop a significant economic base beyond its coastal cities. And as Guangdong's Pearl Delta grew in importance, even urban Fujianese from Fuzhou, Amoy and Quanzhou flocked south. Another wave of emigration took place when Taiwan was incorporated into China in 1689, drawing a flood of Fujianese settlers.
With the onset of the 20th century, dynastic rule was out and Fujian remained a relatively isolated backwater. Its coast, however, made it vulnerable. Japanese pirates had long plagued the region. In the late 1800s, with the rise of modern imperial Japan, the threat from across the East China Sea grew. And as Japan began to take ever-larger bites out of a weakened China, Fujian suffered the loss of its prize ports, Fuzhou and Xiamen—yet the Japanese would never conquer the mountainous back country.
After the 1945 defeat of Japan and the 1949 communist victory over the Guomintang, Fujian began to integrate more fully into greater China. In 1950, the first rail line connecting Xiamen to the rest of the country was completed, and in recent decades the province's population has exploded, fueled both by the influx of Chinese from overpopulated regions elsewhere and by major financial investment from prosperous Taiwanese, many of the descendants of previous generations of Fujianese.