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The heart of downtown Fuzhou is not all fast food restaurants and hotels, there’s also a preserved historic district brimming with local flavor.
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You’ll find many “historic neighborhoods” often called “Old Streets” in many Chinese cities and Fuzhou is no different. Fuzhou’s Three Lanes and Seven Alleys is one of the most extensive, however, and it is unusually charming for the way the touristy souvenir shops blend seamlessly in with the surrounding neighborhood, where locals still live in the crumbling structures of their ancestors. The neighborhood is emblematic of the Chinese approach to historic preservation – important buildings are maintained by turning them into money-making ventures. The wooden structures you see are centuries old, dating to the Ming and Qing dynasties, but refurbished. To allow them to become dilapidated would represent a loss of face. If you want a more “authentic” look into a similar neighborhood, where the buildings are indeed falling apart, head to the Taijiang District on the bank of the Min River.
As you wander around this neighborhood, stop to read the plaques along the way to get a sense of why the buildings, lanes and alleys have been preserved. They were the family homes of important ministers, scholars, artists and poets in the dynastic period, built in a distinctive architectural style only found in eastern and northern Fujian. Stop for a tea or coffee at one of the numerous cafes, you might even consider the Starbucks picturesquely carved out of the shell of an old wooden building. Get lost in the maze of alleys in the backstreets and go for a stroll along the canal between Ao Men and Tong Hu Roads, especially at night when the lanterns are lit. There’s an Indian restaurant along the canal where you can find a decent curry and naan.
Another point of interest just beyond the bounds of the old neighborhood is the Lin Zexu Memorial Hall and museum. As you might expect, the museum offers an unabashedly biased view of Lin Zexu’s life and times. Lin was China’s best-known Opium warrior, a scholar-official famous for publicly destroying caches of opium in Canton and for writing a fiery letter to Queen Victoria herself condemning British (or, in his words, “barbarian”) trade practices in China. Lin’s righteous belligerence was one of the catalysts of the Opium War itself. He was blamed for Chinese military failures and exiled to the far west in Xinjiang, where he continued his tireless work in exile, eventually being reinstated as governor of the western regions, Shanxi-Gansu and Yunnan-Guizhou. Here, in his later life he aided in the war against the Taiping Rebels. Today, he is revered as a national hero in China and Taiwan for his incorruptible and principled moral character. He’s little known elsewhere, although there’s a statue of him in Manhattan.
The museum is built within Lin’s childhood home and you’ll be able to read the broad narrative of his life as well as other details, such as his role in preserving Fuzhou’s West Lake. There are also numerous exhibits on the dangers of drugs in the rear of the museum.
How to get here: Take one of the bus routes listed below to 双抛桥 bus station. You could also take Fuzhou’s brand spanking new metro to the 东街口 station.
Prices and Hours: The neighborhood itself and the Lin Zexu Memorial Hall and museum are free to enter. Many of the old residences require an entrance ticket, which are between 15-20 RMB a piece. You can buy a 120 RMB combo ticket for entry to all the residences.
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