Following In His Footsteps: Hainan Through the Eyes of Su Dongpo

By David Janke / HICN / Updated: 22:19,11-February-2023

The first China (Hainan) Dongpo Cultural Tourism Festival will kick off on February 18, with a whole host of events and activities including forums, exhibitions, performances, culinary and cultural experiences, and competitions due to take place.

With spring having made its return, it’s the perfect time to trace the millennia-old footsteps of Su Dongpo—a Song-Dynasty literary giant with a rebellious streak who some of you might know as ‘Su Shi’—around Hainan. If you have an affinity for Chinese culture, this is definitely the trip for you.

Haikou City

In the 4th year of Song Dynasty Emperor Zhezong’s Shaosheng era (1097 CE), the 62-year-old Su Dongpo was demoted and banished to Danzhou in Hainan. On the way, he stopped by Qiongzhou Prefecture (modern-day Haikou). He took up lodging and taught for a while in Jinsu Temple (now part of the Temple of the Five Lords in Haikou). He also oversaw the construction of numerous works, including the Xixin and Fuli water fountains and the Jiongzhuo Pavillion, which can still be seen today.

The Fuli water fountain in the Temple of the Five Lords in Haikou. (Photo / Feng Shuo)

Today, Haikou is a great place for people looking for a slower pace of life, with its Laobacha culinary culture and seaside promenades. The city is also home to six duty-free stores, where you can purchase the finest in luxury products from around the world. If you’re looking to step up the pace, Haikou’s East and West Coast areas offer a range of water sports and pleasure cruises, and also play host to sailing competitions.

The Wormhole Library has become a famous landmark on Haikou Bay. (Photo / Feng Shuo)

Chengmai County

Luoyi Village, located in Hainan’s Chengmai County, was once a major post station and inn on the roads between Qiongzhou, Lingao, and Danzhou in ancient times. It was the first place Su Dongpo stopped off at on his arrival in Hainan, and also the last place when he departed three years later.

Aerial view of Luoyi Village in Chengmai County. (Photo / Su Xiaojie)

In the village stands a Ming-Dynasty Paifang (memorial archway), a Qing-Dynasty ancestral hall as well as many other ancient edifices, roads, and wells constructed from the volcanic rock that is abundant in the area. One such road, which still remains today, is referred to as “Dongpo’s Way” by the locals.

Chengmai is also a famed center of coffee production, with the Fushan coffee grown here enjoyed both locally and across China. Baoliang Ancient Village in Fushan Town (from where the coffee derives its name) was established here over 300 years ago. In the village, a number of activities are on offer for you and your family to enjoy: parent-child coffee picking, drip coffee making, as well as a range of outdoor activities like camping and picnics.

Aerial view of the Fushan Coffee Culture Town in Chengmai County. (Photo / Li Xinghuang)

Lingao County

In Lingao County’s Bolian Town lies a place called “Sulai Village”. The village gets its name from a significant event in its history: After Su Dongpo was demoted and exiled to Hainan, he stopped here for a while and composed the “Duanzhou Inkstone Inscription” (《端砚铭》) which is inscribed on a plaque above a door of the village’s ancient schoolhouse. The village has several other features prefixed with “Sulai” in honor of Su Dongpo’s visit, such as its well, a trough and the aforementioned schoolhouse.

Su Dongpo’s  “Duanzhou Inkstone Inscription” (《端砚铭》) hung on the wall at Sulai Village’s schoolhouse. (Photo / Li Jiafei)

The Lingao Confucius Temple (临高文庙) is Hainan’s oldest, largest, and most beautifully constructed ancient building complex, and encompasses a clutch of ancient cultural treasures, including a statue of Confucius, the Zhuangyuan Bridge, stone doorways and numerous inscribed stele.

Lingao has a fishing culture that stretches far back, and the “Li-li-mei” fishing shanty and the man-and-puppet show, which both originate in Lingao have achieved national-level intangible cultural heritage status. The Lin'gao Man-and-Puppet Show, in particular, is a rare form of theater that can only be found in Hainan.

Puppets used in the Lin'gao Man-and-Puppet Show (Photo / Liu Bo)

Danzhou City

Danzhou, a place Su Dongpo called home for three years, is home to the “Dongpo Academy”. Constructed at his behest, the academy, located on the fringes of Zhonghe Town, was built to teach locals with scholarly potential about the culture of China’s central plains (where China’s political and cultural center was located at the time) and give them a proper education. On the grounds of the academy stands a statue of Su Dongpo in his sixties wearing a straw hat and sandals, a memorial to this humble genius who did so much for the people of Danzhou.

Dongpo Academy in Danzhou. (Photo / Chen Yuancai)

The statue of Su Dongpo that stands on the grounds of the Dongpo Academy in Danzhou. (Photo / Chen Yuancai)

Danzhou Diaosheng is a form of folk song unique to Danzhou that holds national-level intangible cultural heritage status. Su Dongpo once wrote praises about this style of choral singing and dancing, and even dedicated a few lines of poetry to it.

Danzhou Diaosheng is a popular type of folk song sung in a local dialect with a lively rhythm and beautiful melody. (

Changjiang Li Autonomous County

During his time in Hainan, Su Dongpo once took a trip to the Changjiang area to climb to the top of the Changhua Great Ridge. While there, he admired the views and wrote a stele inscription in reverence to the local Taoist god “King Junling” at the temple dedicated to him. The “King Junling Culture Zone”, comprised of Changhua Great Ridge, the Junling King Rock, and the Junling King Temple, has been listed as a local intangible cultural heritage conservation project.

A fragment of the stele inscription written by Su Dongpo at the Junling King Temple in Changjiang (Photo: Hainan Daily)

Changjiang is at its most resplendent during spring thanks to the blossoming of Kapok trees that line the banks of the Changhua River like red-hot flames licking the water’s edge. While in Changjiang, you can check out the Bawangling area of the Hainan Tropical Rainforest National Park (home to the Hainan Gibbon), Qizi Bay Tourism Resort Zone, the authentic Li village in Wangxia Town and the Haiwei National Wetland Park.

The brilliant red blossoms of Kapok trees cast a delightful contrast to the emerald green terraced fields in Changjiang. (

Aerial view of the Bawangling area of the Hainan Tropical Rainforest National Park. (Photo / Li Tianping)



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