Fujian Province, 593km (371 miles) SE of Wuyi Shan, 109km (68 miles) N of Xiamen

According to Marco Polo, Quanzhou, then known as Zaytun, was "one of the two greatest havens in the world for commerce." Franciscan friar Odoric da Pordenone, who was in China from 1323 to 1327, effused that it was "Twice as great as Bologna." The great Moroccan explorer Ibn Battuta, who visited the area in 1345 to 1346 lavished it with praise, "The harbor of Citong is one of the greatest in the world -- I am wrong; it is the greatest. I have seen there about a hundred first-class junks together; as for small craft, they were past counting." The Franciscan bishop of Zaytun wrote of Genoese merchants in 1326, and the city had other foreigners, including many Arabs.

After the Ming expulsion of the Mongol Yuan dynasty in 1368, China gradually closed up, and by the time of Europe's next contact, via the Portuguese in the 16th century, Zaytun had withered. In the 19th and 20th centuries, while almost all its neighbors became treaty ports with resident foreigners and trading, Quanzhou was somehow overlooked. Today Quanzhou's center has been overtaken by a different kind of commerce, mainly cheap sneakers and plastic sandals. The suburbs are filled with factories and white-tiled blocks of apartments. The downtown area is even more depressing, with Wenling Nan Lu, the main drag, consisting primarily of karaoke clubs interspersed with sleazy short-time hotels, along with a few large brothels thinly disguised as hotels. Still, Quanzhou's interesting history does manage to surface in places, and the city has a clutch of fairly new museums and a host of sites to explore outside of town. Just be prepared for some serious disinformation -- it seems that at the moment, more money is earmarked for propaganda than for serious archaeological study.