Throughout the history of China there have been foreigners within the borders, exploring, settling, trading and living. However it wasn’t until after the first opium wars that this fair city of Fuzhou was forced, rather literally and brutally at gun point to open her borders to foreigners, who they fondly referred to as Foreign Devils. It is little wonder therefore that they were not very welcoming and hospitable to these new comers. They placed them in run down houses made out of boards that afforded them little comfort, and only just the minimum shelter. It didn’t help either, that these ‘houses’ were placed over a river, and therefore they flooded twice daily with the tides.
This couldn’t be exactly the comfortable living the settlers were looking for, but they could hardly expect much more, they were the unwelcomed intruders.
Whenever they tried to build any new buildings such as accommodation within the city walls, or business buildings, they were met with unflinching resistance. Tall buildings ruined the Feng Shui, and therefore they were unable to build, and improve their current situation. The Locals came up with many reasons, such as this one to try to stop the foreigners from expanding and feeling welcomed.
It wasn’t until a while later, that the locals decided that it would be best to put these unwelcomed devils on Nantai Island, on an old burial ground. It was believed in those times that NantaiIsland was full of Chinese ghosts, because of this burial ground, and therefore it was a rather poetic solution. Put the Devils and Ghosts together. The Locals didn’t use this island as Chinese people were notoriously afraid of ghosts and spirits, and therefore were not losing anything y allowing them to live there.
This afforded the Foreign settlers a little more comfort. They were here at least able to build their large colonial styled mansions and business centres. They were able to build their own settlement actually, including banks, schools, churches, residential homes, and warehouses for business, and they wouldn’t affect the Feng Shui. However, due to the location on the GhostIsland, few Chinese locals were willing to live and work there, due to the fear that many people had about ghosts, and actually still have today.
Even arriving at this settlement was a mission. Many people were forced off of their boats at the main port and had to take a smaller boat downriver to reach NantaiIsland. Even despite placing the Foreign Devils out of their way, the locals were still unwilling to play the welcoming nationals, and made life as uncomfortable and difficult as possible.
This, whilst not helpful, didn’t stop the expansion of the settlement, and the successful implementation of a roaring trade.
Most of the Foreigners that came to Fuzhou were here to export goods, largely Opium and tea to places such as America and England. They were rather successful, with even the King and Queen of England having stated that the tea from Fuzhou was, in their opinion, better than that from India or Ceylon. High Praise indeed.
This meant that there had to be a business relationship between the Chinese and the Foreigners exporting these goods. The Chinese, as had already shown were unwilling to allow the foreigners to live within their city walls, but did reluctantly do business with them. Over the next few decades, both parties prospered, but the working relationship was never something someone would call anything other than cordial. They still would not be friends. That did not stop the foreigners being impressed by the work ethic of the locals. It had been noted that many business did not need to have written agreements, as the local businessman ws as good as his word, despite local feelings towards these newcomers.
Due to this success in business, many consulates would appear, representing countries from all over the world. These included, but were not limited to: Britain, Spain France, Italy, Holland, Denmark, Switzerland, Norway, Portugal, Germany, Austria, America, Russia and Japan. The expansion meant that the old methods of trading on wooden sails ships were replaced by steamboats, and the goods continued to pour out to all over the world. People and money poured in.
As with any other settlement, families moved here, and brought their children with them. Schools were opened, but not just to these foreign children. The schools were opened to everyone. Another benefit to the local population. A lot of their children, should their parents wish it, were able to receive a foreign education, and a lot like today these students then went abroad to continue studying and take up various positions within the respective countries. Becoming a doctor or a lawyer seemed to be the choice of many, and considering the people, makes an awful lot of sense. This was the first, and original, educational migration. Many people and families still opt and hope for this option for their children, which whilst buildings fade and knock down, beliefs and ideals remain unwavering and unchanging in the constantly evolving society.
Once these settlers left, and all the landowners had returned home, the buildings and Nantai Island effectively reverted back to the Chinese locals. A lot of the buildings purposes have been changed, and some still remain standing, but if the current government of today have their way, they may not be standing for much longer.
The old colonial style buildings will disappear from Fuzhou, and along with them part of their colourful history. Fuzhou will lose a big part of what has made it the city it is today.
Of the old buildings still standing, there are the French Consulate, which has been turned into a warehouse, probably as a rebuke after the Sino-Franco War. The American Consulate has been incorporated by the university, and is used in educating future Nurses. The British Consulate was torn down, and built over, and now houses retired Army Generals. The Rotary Club next to it is now left abandoned, slowly crumbling apart. Further Buildings include:
TrinityCollege which was modeled after the original in Dublin, was torn down and instead has now been replaced by a number of different buildings. However, in 1993 the site became the FuzhouForeignLanguageSchool. As a touching salute to the history of the location, the Irish Consulatebell tower still stands in the courtyard, and a bronze plaque on the front wall of the former Russian Consulate commemorates those who contributed to its renovation in 1996. So whilst the original building has been destroyed, the memory of it remains.
Behind the former Russian Embassy, there was an OldChurch, which is now used as a general storage area and warehouse, which seems to be such a waste of a beautiful building. Especially with the number of churches in this area, and the fact that religion the Protestant religion is still here within Fuzhou, and practiced.
The Huanan School for Women was used as a cheap hotel until the 90s, but now the stately building is FujianNormalUniversity’s Institute of Geography. This at least means that the building has reverted back to its original purpose, unlike a lot of the other buildings.
Fuzhou Seminary is further up the hill, just past where the British consulate was. The Seminary was originally a church, however after the foreigners left it was turned into a camera factory, but the photo business never developed, so now it’s a seminary. Again. Another building that has been returned to its original purpose.
The Old Stone Church is such a picturesque and beautiful building. When you imagine churches, this is what you would conjure up in your imagination. It is such a beautiful building that, even though the church bell has been destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, it became a protected historical relic in 1992. This had not protected the actual building itself though, which is in a disgraceful state of disrepair, and really needs some work on it. Furthermore, to add to the sad story of this beautiful church, it is now used as a printing factory for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. This is pure sacrilege of such a beautiful building, which should be used for worship. It is made even more depressing by the fact that we are not even sure what is printed within the building.
The Anglo-Chinese School is were many Chinese politicians, intellectuals, academicians, and scientists, graduated from the century old Anglo-Chinese School. The beautifully restored church, one that was actually restored, is still not used for it’s original purpose, but is in fact now a gymnasium. I know many people are serious about their sport, but using a church? I am pretty sure any deity would not show preference over them just because they use his place of Worship.
Further up the road are the old estates of wealthy foreigners, and the French consulate, which is now the headquarters of the Chinese Navy. That move was probably further revenge for the French-Chinese naval battle in the 1880s. I am sure that the French are please about their contribution to Fuzhou and it’s military.
Whilst most of the old consulate area has been destroyed, and the purposes changed, the effect and inspiration they caused can still be seen throughout parts of Fuzhou. Just walking along CangShan by the MinRiver you can see Catholic Churches, built in the traditional Gothic style, and the purpose remains the same today. Services are held, and Wedding photographs taken there. It is a reminder of the past, the troubled beginnings between local Fuzhou people and foreigners, and now an acceptance and embrace of these Foreigners, no longer called Foreign Devils by the majority of people, but now accepted by the local society and even welcomed. There are a number of jobs and businesses that are thriving in this historical port city, whose ultimate purpose has not changed, even if its landscape is forever changing.
It is therefore of importance, like it is in any constantly developing and modernizing city, to retain some part of the history that made it what it is today. Those consulates played an important part in the number of foreigners that came to Fuzhou. A number that is also increasing today.
Note: FEX performed its due diligence in the creation of this article, yet we are not able to guarantee the 100% correctness of the facts. Thanks to FZCUO.com (Fuzhou Architecture Heritage) for courtesy of providing pictures.