Various descriptions of Fuqing/Gaoshan through the last century
From the memoirs of John Caldwell, who grew up in the region during the 1910s and 1920s as the son of American Methodist missionaries:
To the East of Futsing, the country is ugly indeed. There is a harbor of sorts at Haikow, six miles away. Just south of Haikow, Lungtien Peninsula, surrounded on three sides by vast tidal flats, extends eastward nearly forty miles towards Formosa. Off shore are countless islands of every size and description. The peninsula, the islands, the whole coast line is a jumble of grotesquely shaped rocks giving the impression of having been tossed there by a giant's hand. Here and there are flat spots suitable for rice paddies, but for the most part there are only tiny fields of wheat and sweet potatoes set amongst the boulders. Every village has its fleet of fishing boats— and its smugglers. For whether in peace or war, there is always something to be smuggled and a place to smuggle it to and from. In my boyhood, the smugglers brought opium and guns for the bandits; during World War II, they became rich bringing in luxury goods from Shanghai; today the agents of Chiang Kai Shek and of Mao Tse Tung vie for their favor and the use of their sea-going junks. And always among the islands off the coast there have been pirates, men of easy allegiance, willing to fight for China or for her enemies, attaching friend or foe alike without compunction. -- John C. Caldwell, China Coast Family (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1953), 24-25.
From the Shanghai Mainichi shinbun, 1928-11-25:
Fuqing County is only about 4 li away from Fuzhou. It faces the coast, and behind it loom , the topography thus making it a most difficult place from which to escape. The inhabitants all farm, but their staple food is sweet potatoes that they've cut into small strips and dried. For clothing, they wear baggy khaki trousers. They have extremely primitive customs.
Other Japanese reports:
In January 1930, Consul Tamura, summarizing the report of police Sergeant Amemiya, described a region that was sandwiched between largely treeless mountains and the coast, where the inhabitants farmed on poor soil with limited access to irrigation. The larger villages had formed self-defense associations, some of them well-armed, to defend against bandit gangs and rapacious government military units (the two, as Phil Billingsley (1988) has shown, could often exchange labels as power shifted hands). The Chinese police had only two outposts south of the town of Fuqing proper, and as they were unable to inspire any respect, gambling was rampant and every village had a secret opium den. Children received only limited education, so most people were illiterate; but because of large-scale migration to Japan, many people — in some hamlets, every man — spoke Japanese. (In a 1926 report, Foreign Affairs Police (Gaiji keisatsu) officials had noted that because “there are many who understand Japanese or dress in Japanese clothes, not a few travelers to this region get the impression that several hundred Japanese reside here” (Gaiji keisatsu hō 50 (August 1926): 165). Another writer noted the locals’ predilection for Japanese saké, song, and dance (Hatano 1929).
Fujimoto Sōbi's memoir:
Chen/Fujimoto Sōbi, who was taken to Fuqing by his stepfather during the war, later recalled the area's poverty and the hardships of the Japanese women and children he encountered there. For example:
After a week I reached my stepfather’s hometown, Houancun, in Gaoshan Town, Fuqing County. Fuqing is a peninsula; it lacks water, and the fields had nothing but sweet potatoes and peanuts. In wintertime, people could eat only dried sweet potatoes; since long ago, this place was widely known as a poor region where the peasants could only eat twice a day. Many peasants emigrated overseas. Now it is famous as a place of origin for Huaqiao/Kakyō/Overseas Chinese. In Houancun, my stepfather’s five brothers all farmed fields they had acquired through partible inheritance. But my stepfather had no fields, and because of the small population, he couldn’t open a barber shop in the village. So he left all his luggage with his step-grandmother and opened a barber shop in Gaoshan. The overseas Chinese Chen Jinyin, who had recently returned to Luoyuan County [on the coast north of Fuzhou, about 170 km from Gaoshan], was struggling to make a living, so he sold his [and his Japanese wife’s] kids (Takao and Suzumi) and went to work as an interpreter for the Japanese army. His Japanese wife was sick at the time, so my stepfather saved her and the children and brought them to our house. At that time the four of us in my house were struggling but we lived in safety. On old maps of Republican China made in Japan, Fuqing Xian [county] is written in black ink and Gaoshanzhen [today's term for town] is written as Gaoshan-shi [the older term for city or town] in red. In terms of old Chinese understandings, a shi was still bigger than a xian, and people called Gaoshan Gaoshan-shi. But in reality, there was no electricity, no running water, and no bicycles, so the place was only a morning market where the peasants brought their agricultural products and the fishers brought their marine products.
[The whole memoir is powerful and contributes to our understanding of this place.]
The Mao era:
The reform era:
In more recent years, it's the pace of change that has marked visitors.
But this change has also come at a significant environmental cost: "In China, Farming Fish in Toxic Waters," New York Times, 2007-12-15.