Fujian: Living towards the Sea (Part 1)!

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Author: Lu Kewen Source: official account: Lu Kewen Studio has been authorized to reprint

Next to Nanyang

On March 15, 2023, Quanzhou was sunny.

At 1 pm, I followed my guide to visit Kaiyuan Temple, then walked to a place called Guandi Temple on Tumen Street.

This temple, also known as the Guanyue Temple, serves both Guan Yu and Yue Fei. It was originally a water god temple. In the early Ming Dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang praised Guan Yu and ordered the construction of seven Guandi temples in Quanzhou City. Without money, everyone changed the water god temple to an IP brand and directly converted it into a Guandi Temple.

Guan Yu’s high status among the people mainly stems from the gradual deification of him in the Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties. In order to prove that he was trustworthy, merchants could trust him to do business with him, and they also worshipped Guan Yu in their trade names. Later, they inexplicably became the god of martial wealth.

According to the guide, this is the ancestral temple of the entire Nanyang Guandi Temple, but the temple is actually relatively short, with several rooms across it, which is not large. Compared to other places in the country where I have walked, it is considered a small temple.


People who offer incense outside the Guandi Temple

After walking in the temple for a while, I came to a main hall and saw many people kneeling there praying for blessings. Beside the hall, there were two large tubes, one containing huge bamboo sticks, about four or five times as large as ordinary bamboo sticks. Someone held the tube and shook the bamboo sticks, then took one of them and left.

On the other straight cylinder, there were many half moon shaped wooden cards, which the guide said were called “letter cards.” Someone kept coming and took two letter cards from the cylinder. He knelt on the main hall futon, folded his hands, and recited words. Suddenly, he released his hand and threw the letter card onto the ground. The letter card made a clear sound and fell to the ground. The person who threw the letter card focused on the front and back of the letter card on the ground.


The guide explained that, like the whole country, the bamboo stick was used for drawing lots for divination, but it was just a bit larger. This letter throwing sign was meant to ask the gods about things. If one side was positive and the other side was negative, it meant that things were feasible, and if both sides were positive, it meant that things couldn’t be done, so don’t do it. If both sides were negative, it meant that things weren’t easy to say.

“I stood in my place and watched silently for a while. Based on the logical thinking formed through years of research, I always felt that the flourishing incense fire and the endless stream of people seeking autographs and divination must be related to economic activities. So I asked the guide, ‘Has there been some high-risk incidents in work and life in Fujian since ancient times?'”?

The guide said, “Going out to sea to fish is a high risk, but going into the Southern Ocean is even more risky.”.

Yes, going to sea and going to the South is the most risky thing for the people of Fujian for over a thousand years.

It is also the initial source of a series of economic and cultural phenomena caused by the uncertainty of life among Fujian people.

“Nanyang” is the name we used to refer to today’s Southeast Asia in the Ming and Qing dynasties. Whenever there is a population explosion, war, and other situations, a large number of people from Fujian and Guangdong come to Southeast Asia to seek living space, so it is called “Xiananyang”, and Cantonese are also called “Guo Fan”. “.

The three major migrations of the Chinese nation in modern history in order to survive were to break through the Guandong Pass, walk through the Xikou Pass, and travel to the Nanyang Ocean.

During the reign of Yongzheng, the governor of Guangzhou, Lan Dingyuan, wrote in his “Book on Nanyang Affairs” that “the people of Fujian and Guangzhou had a dense and narrow land, and the countryside was not enough for farming. They looked at the sea to make a living.”

As Guangdong has a slightly larger living space than Fujian, the difficult past of the people of Fujian going to the Nanyang is more and more dense than that of Guangdong.

“I have come all the way in Fujian, and every time I go to a city, I invite locals to tell me the story of their ancestors going to Nanyang.”.

I often hear late at night, in my notebook, scribbling down the hardships of their generations with a quick pen.

“During the Opium War, there were about 1.5 million Chinese in Xiananyang, and between the Republic of China and 1939, another 5 million fled. Therefore, most of the stories I heard about Xiananyang were concentrated between the late Qing Dynasty and 1950.”.

The reason why they concentrated during this period was that European colonists gradually controlled Southeast Asian countries and incorporated them into the world colonial trading system. Developing Southeast Asia urgently needed a large amount of labor, and the people of Guangdong and Fujian could find living space in Southeast Asia.

Before 1893, it was not allowed to go to the Nanyang without permission, which was somewhat equivalent to today’s treason. Those who returned home would be severely punished, and if they went out, they would not be able to return.

After being allowed to go abroad, there are very few people who can come back. The best case is to visit them once every two to three years.

Some people in Xiananyang are active, while others are employed in the past.

In the late Qing Dynasty, if someone was hired as a Chinese worker to go to sea and work for Southeast Asian colonists, they usually signed a contract through intermediaries such as Deji Foreign Company. The foreign company hired a person for three to ten yuan, and reselling it to Southeast Asian colonists started at one hundred yuan.

“When crossing the sea, they will be banned in the cabin, eating, drinking, sleeping, and sleeping in one room. The environment is extremely harsh, because not everyone on board has a bowl or a big pot to eat together, just like feeding pigs. Therefore, Chinese workers are called” piglets “, and along the way, they will also be maltreated by piglets’ heads, such as beating with wooden sticks, holding wooden clips, and using a pricked whip. When a person dies, they will be directly thrown into the sea, with a mortality rate of up to 50%.”.


Chinese in the Southern Ocean

Because the mortality rate is too high, in order to make more money, the foreign company will deliberately overload. If a ship can carry 300 people, it can carry 600 people, and even if it dies, it can complete the transportation task.

The details are almost the same as those of the slave triangle trade.

When we arrive in Southeast Asia, we often encounter a pandemic and are taken away by dozens or hundreds of people. The first people to come to open up wasteland in Fujian or Guangdong have tenaciously survived the attacks of cholera, malaria, diarrhea, snakes, scorpions, and pythons.

Due to the limited amount of schooling, the first generation of Fujian people worked hard work, some mining in Borneo or northern Myanmar, some planting spices in the Malay Peninsula, some planting sugar cane in Java, or working as porters, washing toilets, digging dung, carrying corpses, selling kitchen knives, scissors, shaving, fortune telling, reading books, and washing clothes for a living.

An overseas Chinese from Fujian Province told me about the life of his ancestors. He said that his grandfather could only eat half a bowl of rice at one meal and made a living as a stall vendor. After three generations of hard work, he had a foothold in Southeast Asia.

We can often hear legends about Chinese tycoons in Southeast Asia, such as Lin wutong and Guo Henian in Malaysia, Huang Yizhu and Huang Yichong (not two brothers) in Indonesia, Lin Shaoliang, Xie Guomin in Thailand, Chen Jiageng in Singapore, and so on. Behind the legends of these people is the death rate of nearly half of the Chinese when they went to Southeast Asia earlier, the death of about several million Chinese, and the early life history of destitute exile, It is a personal miracle that occurs on this basis, with great risks and extremely low survival probability. If not as a last resort, no one is willing to lead this kind of life.

“Chinese who have wandered and survived in Southeast Asia will soon return some of their accumulated savings to Guangdong and Fujian. Even if they do not earn money, they will also borrow two yuan from others first, and send a letter home to report their safety. In Minnan,” “overseas Chinese” “means” letter “. Sending a letter home to send money is called” “overseas Chinese” “.”.



The vast sea and thousands of words are all in this letter and these two dollars.

The earliest overseas Chinese approval was brought back by a water customer who returned to Fujian without any guarantee. The water customer was already busy, so a few yuan per letter often takes half a year to bring home.

If the water guest really wants to privately swallow the overseas Chinese batch, everyone has no choice but to conduct moral condemnation, saying that Lei Gong is going to bomb him to death.

However, this kind of money exchanged for life is also known as the importance of water passengers in their hometown, and there is rarely a phenomenon of embezzlement. They travel between Guangdong, Fujian, and Southeast Asia three times a year, serving as couriers between the two places. Due to the increasing number of water passengers and the increasing amount of money, there is a need for systematic management, and there is an overseas Chinese approval bureau that specializes in helping people transfer money and letters. The couriers responsible for running errands are called “feet approval”.

The family members who stay in Fujian Province wait for news from their loved ones every day, only to hear a few words for half a year. They usually don’t know whether they are alive or dead, so they can only go to the temple to pray for incense and ask for good luck.

So there was the flourishing incense fire in various temples in Fujian, as well as the bamboo sticks and letter signs I saw in the Guandi Temple.

Behind every living habit and cultural custom, there must be a connection with local economic activities.

The person who kept coming to drop the token asked for the good fortune of his family thousands of miles away and asked for their safety. The temple became a spiritual refuge for the Fujian people and a spiritual buffer against risk.

Two Mountains and the Sea

After experiencing the hard work of the first generation of Chinese going to Nanyang, and through the mentoring of relatives and friends with local guilds, there are currently over 20 million Chinese and overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia.

Among them, there are 10 million people in Indonesia, about 7 million in Malaysia and Thailand, 3.6 million in Singapore, and 1.5 million in the Philippines, the vast majority of whom have joined local citizenship.

After a century of hard work and three or four generations, Chinese have firmly controlled 70% of the wealth of Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia. Among the top 10 richest people in Malaysia, 8 are Chinese.

Throughout Southeast Asia, only Vietnamese Chinese did not control the local economy because they were continuously suppressed by the French colonial government and the Vietnamese government, and their businesses and private property were constantly deprived.

The Chinese generally control resource industries in Southeast Asia, such as sugar making, tobacco, mining, and so on. Later, they have gradually upgraded to profiteering industries such as banking, real estate, media, and insurance. However, the Chinese have not penetrated into the political field and generally rely on local dignitaries. In the event of a social crisis and serious class conflicts, local dignitaries will introduce the Chinese as scapegoats. Therefore, in Southeast Asia, every few decades, There will be a Tuhua incident.

Before China became strong, the role played by Chinese in Southeast Asia was very similar to the role played by Jews in Europe before World War II.

In Southeast Asia, the largest number of Chinese is in southern Fujian, and they are the number one in many countries. They respectively account for 37% of Chinese in Malaysia, 7% of Chinese in Thailand (Thailand is the world of Chaoshan, accounting for 56%), 47% of Chinese in Indonesia, 40% of Chinese in Singapore, 26% of Chinese in Myanmar, and 90% of Chinese in the Philippines (mainly from Jinjiang). Together, there are about 10 million Chinese in the Philippines.

When I was wandering in southern Fujian and asked why they had gone to Southeast Asia, where they had become so strong economically, an old scholar told me that because Chinese could save and work harder, they were more capable of doing business compared to local people, which was an advantage. However, the biggest advantage was that early Europeans needed Chinese to act as agents in Southeast Asia.

In the world, the traditional means of controlling local areas by European colonialists is to use fewer to control more. Europeans are afraid that the majority of the population of the indigenous people will engage in armed revolution. If they only cooperate with local dignitaries, and if one day a certain dignitary suddenly has a brain to play his life with himself, with such a wave of his hand, the appeal of the villagers is also quite strong. Only by finding intelligent and capable Chinese who lack the foundation of the local people as housekeepers, can they be safest.

The Chinese butlers served the Europeans very comfortably, taking care of almost all major and minor matters in an orderly manner. The Europeans were not as happy as they were, much more comfortable than their management of the Americas and Australia, thus giving the Chinese more economic rights and interests.

Europeans also use this method to control Hong Kong and Shanghai, which is why these two cities used to be called compradors.

After the end of World War II, the colonists were driven back to their hometown. At this time, the local dignitaries took over the country with guns and became new interlocutors. However, the local dignitaries could not govern the country, making business even worse. They also tried to use local people and found that they were not able to use the Chinese. They used the old system left by the colonists to continue to let the people of southern Fujian and Chaoshan make white gloves for them.

As I introduced in the Guangdong article, Chaoshan people admit that they are Minnan people, so in essence, the economy of Southeast Asia is mainly controlled by Minnan people.

The ethnic concept of Minnan people is so strong, their distribution is so vast, and their economy is so strong that they can even connect with Southeast Asian countries. Considering the central control of local forces, Minnan people cannot be allowed to form a single block. Therefore, Minnan people must be divided into Fujian and Guangdong provinces, creating a Chaoshan people.

Now, let’s take a look back from Southeast Asia and return to Fujian to take a look at the living environment of the Fujian people and understand what is the driving force behind their emergence into the sea.

Just click on the topographic map of Fujian Province, and the suffering of the people of Fujian is clear at a glance.

The whole Fujian Province is full of mountains. Mount Wuyi, Daimao Mountain, Jiufeng Mountain, Daiyun Mountain, Taimu Mountain and Boping Mountain almost fill Fujian. There is less space for human survival than Guangxi, which is famous for its mountains.

When we talk about Fujian, we often think of its many temples and tea leaves. The temples are psychologists who hedge against the crisis of going to sea, and the tea leaves are a little apology to the people of Fujian due to too many mountains.

Fujian is rich in Anxi Tieguanyin Tea, Wuyi Rock Tea, Zhenghe Dabai Tea, Fuzhou Daihao, Fuding Silver Needle, Wuyi Dahongpao, etc. When I travel in Fujian, I drink wherever I go, just as I do in Chaoshan. Unfortunately, the tea industry chain can provide too little employment, and it is still unable to pacify too many mountains, causing harm to the people of Fujian.

Among the mountains in western Fujian, there are three cities, Nanping, Sanming, and Longyan, which are located in the gaps between mountains. These three cities are too small to accommodate too many people. Nanping has only 2.67 million people, Sanming has only 2.48 million people, and Longyan has only 2.73 million people. The three cities in the western mountainous region, combined, have less than 8 million people.


In the east, Zhangzhou has a population of 5.05 million, Xiamen 5.2 million, Quanzhou 8.8 million, Putian 3.2 million, Fuzhou 8.3 million, and Ningde 3.1 million, the smallest.

Moreover, the 33 million people in the west are not evenly distributed in various cities, but are all crowded in the coastal areas of Zhangzhou Plain, Quanzhou Plain, Xinghua Plain, and Fuzhou Plain.

The cultivated land in Fujian Province is only 14 million mu, only a quarter of that in Hunan and half of that in Guangdong. It is difficult to feed 42 million Fujian people.

There are many desperate mountainous areas in Fujian, with nine mountains, half water, half farmland, and a poor geographical environment. After Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty conquered Fujian and Vietnam, he burned down the city palaces, moved all the population to the Yangtze River and Huaihe River, and gave them up. This led to a cultural fault in Fujian for three hundred years, causing the villagers in Fujian to ridicule them as “a place where no military can compete.”.

Fujian’s water system is also not good, and the province does not have the rivers that run through the entire territory of Jiangxi. They also run short distances in the province, roaring directly into the sea. The short water system made Fujian’s transportation basically closed in ancient times, with only the Tingjiang River flowing outward to Chaozhou, but the Tingjiang River is so small that it is really useless.

As a land of poverty and bitterness, Fujian has always been disliked by the Central Plains dynasty, and few people lived here. Before the Tang Dynasty, the population of the province often ranged from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands, but until the prosperous Tang Dynasty, there were only over 500000 people in the province, which was so desolate that there was no sense of existence. During the Northern Song Dynasty, the population moved southward in large numbers that it finally had more than 2 million people, and only reached more than 3 million in the Southern Song Dynasty.

The population of 34 million was already the limit that ancient Fujian could accommodate. At that time, the thin fields on this side of Fujian produced only two or three tons of grain per acre, and only meat could be eaten during the Spring Festival. Therefore, Fujian women, especially those in southern Fujian, were diligent and virtuous. They had to take care of children, handle household chores, and earn a little change by spinning and weaving cloth, often weaving until midnight. This was forced by the poor environment in Fujian.

If it weren’t for the compulsion of life, who would be willing to become knowledgeable, virtuous, and skilled? Everyone wants to be the happy foolish son of the landlord’s family.

Until the middle of the Qing Dynasty, due to the vigorous promotion of sweet potatoes with a yield of 1000 kilograms per mu (today, sweet potatoes can yield 6000 kilograms per mu, which is really a lifesaving thing), “Fujian and Guangdong coastal areas are widely planted, and farmers rely on salt for half a year’s food.” The population of Fujian finally exceeded 10 million, reaching 20 million in Xianfeng. At this time, population growth broke through the land limit, and there was not enough sweet potatoes to eat. Fujian people began to travel overseas to seek survival, such as the aforementioned Southern Ocean, Adding to the chaos of war, by the time New China was founded, Fujian had only 12 million people.

So as soon as Hu Jianren (not mistaken) started, there were many overseas relatives, directly affecting the economic development process of Fujian today.

III. Pattern

This time writing the Fujian chapter, I’m a bit tired of the way cities talk about the past, and I’ve decided to adopt the Jiangsu chapter approach, which is highly summarized and only covers one or two cities in detail.

So before focusing on the history of the Fujianren’s rise, I must first outline the history of the formation of various regions in Fujian, in order to facilitate everyone’s understanding of the bizarre legends that follow.

Round after round of wars in the north forced a large number of Han people to move south. In addition, the weather in the south improved after the Tang Dynasty, making it suitable for human habitation. The population of the north rapidly flowed in, rapidly occupying various viable areas in Fujian.

The earliest Han people migrated from the Jiangsu and Zhejiang regions, coming from Nanping, Pucheng, and Chong’an in the northernmost part of Fujian, and then arrived in Fuzhou by boat along the Minjiang River. Therefore, Fuzhou was built relatively early. A few of these people continued to move south to the coastal plains, reaching Putian and Quanzhou to settle down. (It is recommended to cooperate with the topographic map and water system map above to make it clear at a glance.)

During the Tang Dynasty, many soldiers entered Zhangzhou to suppress the rebellion and settled down. After the war, they settled here and multiplied.

Later, Han people passed through Mount Wuyi in the south of Jiangxi, entered Changting, Fujian, and then reached Quanzhou and Zhangzhou from here. At this time, the basic population size was finalized, and the coastal land could not carry more new population.

For this reason, the Minnan language has always retained the ancient Chinese pronunciation of the Song and Yuan dynasties.

Finally, we talked about the main force of the Hakka people, who arrived later and also traveled from Jiangxi to the south along the Ganjiang River, from Shibi and Changting in Ninghua to Fujian. At first glance, the best plains were completely occupied, and the descendants of those soldiers seemed not easy to provoke, so they stayed in the mountain areas. Then, they entered the mountainous areas of Guangdong from the mountainous areas of Fujian, which are today’s Meizhou and Heyuan cities.

“As long as you have a general idea of the above process of population migration, unless you want to study dialects or local chronicles, there is no need to understand it in particular detail. We mainly understand a place, not delve into it.”.

Due to the special process of population aggregation, coupled with the fact that people in ancient times basically traveled by boat and relied on water transportation, the five major ethnic groups in Fujian today are Fuzhou and Ningde people who speak the eastern Fujian dialect; Xinghua people who speak Puxian dialect; Minnan people from Xiazhangquan who speak Minnan language; North Fujian dialect speakers in Jian’ou area; Hakka people in the Tingjiang River basin and Longyan region.


Source: Looking at the World

The complexity of dialects in various regions of Fujian is similar to that of Guangdong. In particular, Longyan City is located in the middle of the south, and Putian is adjacent to Quanzhou. I once suspected that these two places were also from southern Fujian. I only learned from a previous inquiry that Longyan is mainly inhabited by Hakka families, while Putian people form their own faction throughout Fujian. Only Xiazhang Quan is known as southern Fujian.

Among these regions, Putian is the most unique, resulting in the incompatibility between Putian and other regions in Fujian.

Putian is so important and strange, I’ll talk about it later.

Before the reform and opening up, the suffering of the people of Fujian mainly came from geographical oppression.

One is that the land cannot support so many people, and a large number of people are forced to flee to Southeast Asia, Taiwan Island, Hainan Island, and other places. The other is that we need to recover Taiwan. Fujian will always be the front line during the war. Therefore, for a long time, there was no national investment in Fujian at all. Pity for Fujian, which is so large, there was only a provincial railway built in 1958, called the Yingxia Railway, connecting Yingtan and Xiamen, but also only leading to Jiangxi, which is also not rich, It is completely out of touch with the wealthy Zhejiang and Guangdong provinces.

This railway is still a single track railway, which can easily derail and fall if it is too fast, so it travels very slowly. It takes more than a day to complete the entire Yingxia Line.

The construction of the railway in Fujian Province is also extremely slow and slow. In 1958, the first railway in the province, from Zhangping to Quanzhou, was planned to be built. Considering various factors, the railway was suspended for repair. More than 2600 workers spent 32 years until the 1990s, when the railway from Zhangping to Anxi Jiandou was paved for more than 40 kilometers, with an average progress of only over one kilometer per year.

In 1998, the passenger transport route of the Zhangquanxiao Railway began to operate. It took 40 years to complete the process from opening and repairing to passenger transport.

An elderly person in Zhangzhou told me that there was no railway. In 2008, they took the Longjiang bus to Fuzhou, which took 4.5 hours. The journey was very arduous. After 2011, the first railway to Fuzhou was built, which saved them the hardships of traveling all the way.

It is precisely because of Fujian’s harsh geographical environment and the geographical pattern of “being ready for war at any time” that Fujian’s GDP has always ranked eighth from the bottom of the country in the early days of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, only slightly higher than those of Tibet, Ningxia, Qinghai, Xinjiang, Guizhou, Gansu, Guangxi, and other border and poor areas.

By 2022, Fujian Province ranked eighth in the country with a GDP of 5.3 trillion.


This is an easily underestimated number.

The total GDP of Fujian is likely to exceed that of Sichuan, which ranks sixth with a total GDP of 5.67 trillion in the future, while Fujian has only 41.88 million people, while Sichuan has 84 million people. For example, the per capita disposable income of Fujian in 2022 is 43000 yuan, which is higher than that of Sichuan, which ranks first with 30700 yuan, Henan with 28200 yuan, and Hubei with 32900 yuan.

However, according to my actual visit, Fujian’s per capita disposable income is seriously underestimated. In all provinces of the country, the quality of life of ordinary people in Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Guangdong, and Fujian is significantly higher than that of other provinces, ranking first in China.

The reason for this phenomenon is that Fujian’s private economy is very developed.

I have introduced in several articles that a local private economy is strong, and the local people are relatively wealthy. There are many places in China with high GDP, such as some cities in Henan and Hebei. However, those are data accumulated by large enterprises, and the local people have not received tangible benefits. However, the money from the private economy usually directly enters the pockets of the local people, promoting local employment.

So in the next article, we will talk in detail about how Fujian Province has won the turnaround battle, developed the private economy, and become a national counterattack example.

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