Starting point of ancient Maritime Silk Road in SE China regains energy

By Zhong Ziwei, People’s Daily

Zhongshan Road is a two-kilometer street that runs through the central axis of Quanzhou, a crucial starting point of the ancient Maritime Silk Road in China’s Fujian province.

Extending from the south to the north of the ancient city, the street has many verandas along the two sides of it, which carry both the characteristics of local residence buildings and exotic styles.

It is a great model of commercial streets that adopt Chinese and western features, as well as a witness to the urban development of Quanzhou.

Quanzhou as a city was established in the prime of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and developed into the largest port in the East in the following Song (960-1279) Dynasty and Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368).

In the recent years, Quanzhou, combining modernity with the traditional, launched a renovation program to protect the Zhongshan Road with targeted, science-based and intelligent measures, with an aim to inject new vitality into the historical and cultural site.

Zheng Weizhi, 75, lives in Jinyu Alley along the Zhongshan Road. Having casual talks with her neighbors over several cups of tea in the afternoon has long been a routine for her.

“Such a comfy life was totally beyond my imagination a year ago,” Zheng said. The poor infrastructure in her community in the past is still a fresh memory for the senior. “There were electric wires overhead, and the paths were rough and became muddy whenever it rained,” she recalled.

In October 2017, the renovation program officially kicked off in Jinyu Alley. It was the first of its kind in Quanzhou. After paying hundreds of visits to local communities, Zhuang Shenghong, a Quanzhou official who was in charge of the program, decided to make lifting livelihood and making targeted improvement a priority.

All cables and electric wires were buried underground. Rainwater drainage and sewage systems were separated. Besides, power and water supply facilities were upgraded in both quantity and quality. Out-of-the-way places were also landscaped.

According to Zhuang, ancient architectural elements in Jinyu Alley were preserved, and over a dozen of traditional architectural techniques were applied during the renovation to maintain the archaic appearance of the alley. Even the bricks and tiles used were not newly manufactured, Zhuang added.

In May 2018, the renovation program was completed in Jinyu Alley. Today, the alley is home to over 200 senior residents. Its successful experience was later recommended by Quanzhou to renovate 29 similar alleys in the city in the second half of 2020.

Apart from “hardware upgrade,” Quanzhou also worked to revitalize itself with the power of culture.

It “recruited” street artists, such as instrumentalist, singers and inheritors of intangible cultural heritage to build a “fenceless cultural exhibition hall.” At present, there are around 50 street artists performing at 13 sites near the Zhongshan Road. They have so far launched about 150 street art performances.

Besides, to avoid over commercialization of the ancient city, Quanzhou rolled out regulations to guide the normal development of businesses in its core zones and to foster featured cultural industries. It also offers policy support for inheritors of intangible cultural heritage and time-honored brands.