Quanzhou rose to fame as a trading port, but it is the city’s unique and curious legacy as a religious melting pot that has caught modern observers’ attention. At its peak from the 10th through the 14th centuries, Quanzhou drew a diverse array of merchants from across Eurasia, including Muslims, Hindus, Zoroastrians, and Nestorian Christians. After settling in the city, they dedicated altars to their faiths, built temples, and erected statues — many of which still stand today.
Among the most noteworthy of these sites is the Cao’an Temple and its Radiant Buddha Mani wall carving. Its name is somewhat misleading: The carving does not depict a Buddhist deity, but the third century Persian prophet Mani, the founder of the Manichaean faith. The story of how his likeness wound up on a temple wall half a world away from where he was born is one of persecution, resilience, and the vast networks of exchange that make Quanzhou worth remembering now.