Out and about
Despite being one of the most heavily polluted places in southern China - quite a distinction - Foshan (also known as Fat Shan, which means Buddha's Mountain) contains much of historic interest. The name is taken from three relics of the Buddha that were brought here in AD628.
Pottery has long been Foshan's economic mainstay, and kilns in the Shek Wan sub-district are hundreds of years old. Nan Fung kiln, built between 1506 and 1521, is open to the public. According to local legend, kiln fires here have never been fully extinguished in 500 years. Handmade Shek Wan green-glaze tiles and decorative features, such as pilasters and roof cornices, were widely used in heritage-grade buildings. The recently vandalised (the owner began destroying its distinctive features to prevent it being declared a monument) King Yin Lei mansion on Stubbs Road contained some of the best examples of pre-war Shek Wan ware in Hong Kong.
Kung Jai Gai (Doll Street), located next to the Nan Fung kiln, has dozens of shops that sell examples of Shek Wan ware. These range from colourful, inexpensive pottery figurines to exhibition-grade specimens that cost hundreds of yuan. Most shops along Kung Jai Gai will arrange transportation to Hong Kong for bulky items at reasonable rates.
Ceramic manufacture remains vital to Foshan. According to some statistics, the city manufactures about 40 per cent of all sanitary porcelain produced in the world.
In his fascinating book Kwang Tung or Five Years in South China, first published in 1894, missionary J.A. Turner described Foshan as 'one of the greatest trading marts and manufacturing centres of the south, second only to Canton in importance'.
Leung Yuen, in Chan Cheng sub-district, is a well-maintained 19th-century public park. The garden is a dream of fabled Cathay, with moon gates, small ornamental lakes filled with lotus, water lilies and slow-swimming koi fish, dozens of bonsai, isolated pavilions and prospects so positioned to best enjoy the sunset or moonrise. The place is best enjoyed in the early morning or late afternoon, when the crowds are less overwhelming.
Built over several decades in the first half of the 19th century, Leung Yuen also contains residential architecture that provides an excellent illustration of the building styles favoured by wealthy Cantonese from this era. By the late 1980s, Leung Yuen had become dilapidated but extensive, sympathetic restoration work in the 90s has returned it to a place of beauty.
Direct daily services link Kowloon and Foshan; the city is also easily accessible by bus and train from Guangzhou and Shenzhen.