The name of the city of Foshan is well known among martial artists. It is home to great figures of our history. Our ancestors Wong Kai-Ying and Wong Fei Hung were born there as well as the Wing Chun master Ip Man. But apart from that, Foshan is a city with a long history.
From Qin to Qing
From the Qin Dynasty to the southern dynasties (420-589), the settlement belonged to the Panyu region under an unknown name. During the Sui Dynasty (581-618) Foshan Jihua was called Xiang and was assigned to the Nanhai region. Only in 628, in the Tang Dynasty, the place got the name Foshan. In that year, residents found three Buddha statues in the ground. Hence the name. Foshan means mountain of the Buddha. During the Tang Dynasty a Buddhist monastery was built in Foshan, probably because of the find of the three statues. In 1391 the monastery was destroyed. The Taoist temple (“ancestor temple”) of the city moved into the focus of attention. It is dedicated to the god Beidi, the dark warrior.
During the Ming Dynasty, Foshan grew to be one of the biggest trade and cultural cities of the empire and flourished in wealth. The city was known for its artistic ceramics and had a flourishing iron industry. This did not change even during the Qing Dynasty. Between 1720 and 1800, the Cantonese Opera House in Foshan also received its present form.
The 19th century was more and more marked by the turmoil of a declining dynasty. Inspired by the Taiping uprising (1850-1864) against the Qing government, the Red Turbans’ revolt began in Foshan in 1854. This was initiated by the Tiandihui (Hongmen). In contrast, the city, which was located too far south, was little affected by the Boxer Rebellion.
Foshan in the modern age
In 1912, Foshan became the capital of Nanhai District. Economically, however, the city suffered a lot during this time from the eternal competition with Guangzhou. In addition, the waterways, which were essential for the city, silted up more and more. Development stagnated. As a result, not only Foshan, but the entire province of Guangdong was affected by emigration.
After the Chinese Communist Party under the leadership of Mao Zedong won the victory in the Chinese Civil War in 1949, the Ancestral Temple was converted into a municipal museum. (Nevertheless, it was to be destroyed in the Cultural Revolution. The people of Foshan, however, successfully protected it from the Red Army. The ancestral temple belongs to the monuments of the People’s Republic of China just like the Old Nanfeng Kiln (built around 1515)).
In 1951, Foshan was separated from Nanhai again and was given the status of a separate city. In 1954 it became the seat of the district government. With the Cultural Revolution in 1970, the economy further collapsed as traditional ceramics were banned.
After a long period of stagnation, Foshan experienced a strong development in the economic sector from 1980 and became an industrial city. Foshan is struggling with heavy air pollution, which is especially caused by the ceramic industry. In 2010 Foshan had a population of 7 million.