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Cultural Heritage / Trip Ideas

Xunpu Women along the sea

By Niu Jingjing

December 15

There is a small coastal fishing village, called Xunpu village, in Quanzhou. The women in the village have their own unique traditions that are closely related to the sea.

There is a small coastal fishing village, called Xunpu village, in Quanzhou. The women in the village have their own unique traditions that are closely related to the sea.

Starting from Quanzhou on the southeastern coast of Fujian, China, the Maritime Silk Road took shape in the Qin and Han dynasties (221BC-AD220) and flourished in the Tang and Song dynasties (618-1279). Along it, silk, porcelain, tea and Chinese arts and crafts were exported to foreign countries, while spices, plants and tributes for the royal court were shipped to China.

There is a small coastal fishing village, called Xunpu village, in Quanzhou. The women in the village have their own unique traditions that are closely related to the sea.

Xupun women [Image Credit: Jiang Yu]
What do they do?

According to historical records, Xunpu village has existed for 1,000 years.  In keeping with life at sea, villagers are loyal followers of Mazu, goddess of the sea, and make their living by selling oysters.

Local men work in the boats or at the oyster farms, while the women mainly sell the oysters in the marketplace, take care of their children and do the housework. Oyster omelets are the local specialty, where oysters are fried with eggs, sweet potatoes starch and chives.

The oyster omelet [Image Credit: Niu Jingjing]
What do they live in?  

Xunpu villagers live in hekecuo (蚵壳厝), or oyster shell houses.

In fact, locals started to build these kinds of houses as early as the Song Dynasty (960-1279). Experts traced these shells to Africa.

Xunpu was part of the Maritime Silk Road in ancient times. People there shipped silk, tea, pottery and porcelain, and other items to African countries. To prevent the empty vessels from capsizing during their return to the village, they carried oyster shells from Africa as ballast. Gradually, the oyster shells piled up on the beach and villagers used them to build houses.

A hekecuo [Image Credit: Jiang Yu]
 “These oysters all came from the deep sea and as you can see, they have growth rings like trees do. Most of them are over 1,000 years old,” said Ms. Zhuang, a member of the local community. The shell-built wall can resist corrosion and water seepage better than walls built with red bricks, and it is also “warm in winter and cool in summer.”

What do they wear?

In order to work freely, Xunpu women tie their hair in a bun, insert an ivory or red chopstick as a hairpin that is decorated with colorful flower garlands called zanhuawei (簪花围). The flowers are chrysanthemum, jasmine and magnolia buds, which were originally from Arabic countries along the Maritime Silk Road and replanted in the village in the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279).

The hairstyle and headdress of Xupun women [Image Credit: Jiang Yu]
They have the tradition of presenting gifts with flowers during events held for good luck. The more flowers a woman wears on her head, the closer she is to the event host.

The costumes they wear are loose and short and their colors are mainly blue and dark.

The traditional clothing of Xupun women [Image Credit: Jiang Yu]
“As Xunpu women work along the sea, these two colors are not only close to nature but also hide dirt well,” said Huang Chen, the inheritor of clothes making technique for Xunpu women.

Huang has been engaged in making local clothes for 40 years. He keeps the tradition and makes some improvements, but “the clothes still stay in accord with their wearers’ living environment and habits.”

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