Quanzhou, as seen by its stone turtles

1. 开元寺赑屭 / The ancient stone turtle (bixi) at Kaiyuan Temple. It has lost its stele.

If you are the Emperor of China, or just the chairman of a district government, and want to make an important statement, how do you do express your message? That's write: you have it written in stone, and then put the stone on top of stone turtle. Such turtles, which became known as bixi since no later than the Ming Dynasty, come by dozens in cities with strong imperial or Confucian connection, such as Nanjing or Qufu. Even Wuhan has at least one.

What about Quanzhou? Nestled on a river estuary off the remote Taiwan Strait coast, it has never been the capital of anything - but it still has a rich cultural history of its own. Would we see any stone-tablet-toting tortoises in its streets and squares?

The answer is a resounding "yes". Without specially looking (well, almost), I encountered half a dozen of them in a few days of sight-seeing.

The most remarkable of Quanzhou's stone turtles is, no doubt, the one that occupies the place of honor in the main yard of the famous Kaiyuan Temple. It has lost its stele, and I did not see any information about it posted nearby, but it certainly is of considerable antiquity, and has very much a style of its own - quite different from pretty much all bixi turtles I've seen elsewhere.

2. 天后宫之石龟(赑屭) / An ancient-looking turtle in Tian Hou Gong. The stele is illegible (or just blank?)

一幢龟趺碑在位于泉州市博物馆后面的碑林 / Another turtle stele, behind Quanzhou Museum. The inscription is legible, but I can't really read it, beyond figuring that it has to do with someone who earned his jinshi degree

3. 疏筑笋浯溪碑(1998年)/ Teenage bixi turtle

This one, although very much in the Qing style, was actually erected by the district authorities in 1998. It carries a stele commemorating the dredging of the Sunwu Creek, which is apparently of importance for the local flood control.

Restored Quanshan Gate, guarded by two bixi.

These two are pretty recent as well, as probably is [the current incarnation of] the gate itself.

A different kind of turtle

Typical turtle-back tomb / 闽南传统龟甲墓

A traditional grave of southern Fujian's coastal areas: a turtle-back mound surrounded by an Ω-shaped ridge. This was described by de Groot in the late 19th century already.

You see turtle-back graves like this all along the coast, from Hui'an to Xiamen, and in Kinmen as well. They are said to be common in Japan's Ryukyu Islands (Okinawa) as well.

While turtle-back tombs are the predominant type in Quanzhou's Lingshan Islamic cemetery as well, there is also a more Islamic version, where the Ω-shaped ridge is kept, but the "turtle mound" is replaced by a typical Islamic sarcophagus (or several) - just like those you'd see in a mausoleum in Kashgar or Istanbul.

Koxinga's equestrian statue seen on the horizon

[Previous: Lingshan Islamic Cemetery] [Next: Jinmen (Kinmen) ferries]


Lingshan Islamic Cemetery, Quanzhou

One of Quanzhou's sites, mentioned in all guidebooks, but, as it seems, rarely visited by anyone, is the city's Islamic cemetery on Lingshan Mountain (灵山伊斯兰教圣墓). It is somewhat away from the city center, but I stayed nearby, and I went there for a walk. The admission charge is nominal (something like 3 yuan).

As usual, all images are clickable.


My self-guided tour of the place started in a fairly expected way, with the tombs of two famous mediaeval missionaries. Same Islamic sarcophagus-shaped tombs, covered with green fabric covers, as you'd see in any dignitary's mausoleum in Istanbul or Kashgar:

The tombs of the Two Worthies...

... and a stele to go with them.

The walk goes up to the hill next.

A view of Quanzhou's new sections from Lingshan Mountain

The famous "Balancing Rock"

As de Groot described in details a century ago, the traditional tomb style of coastal Fujian is a so called turtle-back tomb: basically, a grave mound in the form of a turtle's carapace, surrounded by a horseshoe-shaped (or, rather, Ω-shaped) ridge. There are apparently complicated feng shui reasons beyond this design. I had seen plenty of tombs like this on an earlier ride along the coast to Hui'an County; however I had not quite expected to encounter them in an Islamic cemetery. However...

A typical turtle-shaped tomb here, none the worse for the wear.

In case you have any doubts that the designers indeed had a turtle in mind...

Same turtle, front view

And another one

A low-budget "turtle".

Hu is buried here.

One, however, did not have to go either for the "Islamic feel" or for the "Fujian feel". One could mix and match:

This, apparently, is a hybrid design of sorts: an Islamic enough tomb in the middle, surrounded by a horseshoe-shaped (or Omega-shaped) embankment characteristic for the coastal Fujian.

The more modern section of the cemetery has large family (clan) sections.

This area is for the Ding (丁) clan.

The ability to mix and match in Quanzhou goes beyond the tomb design.

Apparently, being Christian (see the cross on the second tombstone from the right) does not prevent one from being buried at the city's Islamic cemetery, if you come from the right family.

Another apparently Christian tomb.

[Next: Quanzhou as seen by its stone turtles] - 2012-02-26 -