Xiamen Gulangyu Scenic Tourist Attractions


Gulangyu's Houses. by Jakob Montrasio. Sourced via Flickr under Creative Commons Attribution License.

Gulangyu scenic spots, Xiamen (厦门市鼓浪屿风景名胜区) is a small island with a big history. This was once a major international trading port which in the 19th century, rivalled Hong Kong in importance. All major trading nations set up consulates on the island. They built large houses of a western, 19th century style. The foreigners also imported their culture to the island. This makes it distinct from other places in China.

The island is located just a few hundred metres from Xiamen (also an island city), off the coast of Fujian Province in the south of China. It is accessed by a short ferry ride from Xiamen. The island has been well preserved in its original colonial state. The modernisation that removed most old buildings form other cities didn't happen to Gulangyu. The Chinese had always preferred to live on Xiamen island. It was the foreigners who preferred Gulangyu. With the founding of the People's Republic and the closing of China to the outside, the Gulangyu island was left as was. Xiamen is now a busy prosperous city full of skyscrapers. However, in contrast, Gulangyu remains with it's old colonial buildings and streets. Even cars are not allowed on the island, thus ensuring the true feeling of travelling back in time.

The island is very densely populated. Buildings are crammed into almost every space. The narrowness of the roads and alleys - designed for pedestrians only - increases the density yet further. However the buildings are not tall. Typically just two or three stories. Much of the island is now devoted to the tourist trade. Many old houses have been converted into hotels, guest houses and hostels. The larger mansions have often become homes to the many museums on the island, such as the piano museum, and the organ museum. The island contains two churches and a cathedral, which dominate most views.


The original name of the island was Yuan Sha Zhou. The name Gulangyu came into uses during the Ming Dynasty. The island at that time was sparsely populated by fishermen and farmers living a traditional lifestyle similar to the rest of Fujian province. In the 17th century, the island was visited by the famous Ming dynasty warior, Koxinga. There is a well on the island called Koxinga Well, which he is credited with finding. On the south point of the island, a large statue of Koxinga stands looking out to sea. It is thought that Koxinga made use of Xiamen and the surroundings prior to his invasion of Dutch controlled Taiwan.

It was not untill the mid 19th century that Gulangyu came into imporance. At the end of the First Opium War between China and Britain, a treaty was signed in Tianjin. Opening up China to foreign trade. Prior to this time the old foreign trade with China was through the southern city of Guanzhou (Canton). The rest of China had been closed to foreign traders. The treaty of Tianjin gave the British the upper hand in trade with China. It ceded to the British the island of Hong Kong, as well as opening up for other cities to trade. The city of Amoy (present day Xiamen) was one of the ports opened up by the treaty.

The Chinese did not wish the foreigners to mix and interact with the common people. So in treaty ports, an area was set aside for foreigners to live in segregation. Gulangyu was to become the foreign enclave for the port of Amoy. Fourteen countries set up consulates on the island. These were: U.S.A, Britain, France, Japan, Germany, Spain, Denmark, Portugal, Holland, Austria, Norway, Sweden, and the Philippines, and Belgium. Merchants began building houses and later mansions on the island. Three churches were build, including one cathedral as well as schools and a hospital. Gulangyu was becoming a very prosperous colonial city with all western amenities. In deed, the island rivalled Hong Kong and Macau in wealth and importance for international trade. Well to do Chinese, and those returning from abroad, also started constructing residencies on the island. Sometimes mimicking the foreign architecture, sometimes employing foreign designers and sometimes finding their own unique style. With the advent of the 20th century, the building reached a peak. About 70% of the existing houses date to the 1920's and 30's. In the later years, with the wealth of the city, the building became more exquisitly ornate and grandiose.

The island of Gulangyu fell to the Japanese in 1942. The foreign residents largely left at this time. A way of life, strongly influenced by the foreign presence, was ended. Some buildings were destroyed or damaged to varying degrees during the war.

With the founding of the People's Republic of China, most of the large buildings on the island became the property of Gulangyu District People's government. Some buildings were modified for utilities and government use. Some were or restored or converted into museums. For example Li Heshou's Eight-Diagram building (aka the White House) is now Gulangyu Organ Museum. Many of the middle sized mansion houses have been converted into apartments or into hotels, hostels and guest houses.

Sights and Activities for Tourists

The island is only 1km wide and 2km long. No cars are allowed on the island, making it idea for walking. Much of the island is densely packed with buildings. These buildings are most dense towards the south and east of the island, near to the ferry port. In a similar style, most tourist attractions cluster to the south and east. The north of the island is largely residential. Many parks, museums and other attractions have been developed on this island.

Sunlight Rock (aka. Dragon Head Hill) is the highest point on Gulangyu island. This stone summit, with a diameter of over 40 metres, dominates the entrance to Xiamen harbour. From the peak, the visitor can gain panoramic views of both Gulangyu and Xiamen islands and over to the mainland of China. It was here that Koxinga (Zheng Chenggong), the famous Chinese warrior hero, stationed his troops prior to invading Taiwan. The remains of his fortifications can still be seen. At the foot of the rock stands a Buddhist temple which dates to the Ming Dynasty. A cable car runs from Sunlight Rock over to the Piano Garden and other attractions.

Moon light Park(Haoyue) covers the southern promontory of Gulangyu island. Here stands colossus statue of Koxianga (Zheng Chinggong). At the end of the Ming dynasty, government of China collapsed with a series of rebellions. The Manchu, to the north of China, took advantage of the chaos, captured Beijing and set up their own Qing Dynasty. Koxianga was a Ming loyalist. He resisted the Qing in an effort to reinstate the Ming. Xiamen and Gulangyu became a centre for his early efforts. From here he invaded Taiwan and expelled the Dutch colonials there. He also took control of much of the coast and river routes as far as the Yangtze River. Koxianga died shortly after taking Taiwan, at the early age of just 39. His son and later grandson carried on the resistance against the Qing, forming the Tungning Kingdom. This Kingdom lasted from 1661 to 1683 before being overrun by the Qing armies. Koxianga is a revered hero of China, Taiwan and Japan. Many tributes to him are found on Gulangyu.

Shuzhuang Garden dates to 1913. It was built by Lin Erjia, a wealthy Taiwanese businessman. The garden is in two parts - Ganghai facing the sea and Bushan against the hill. This is a Classical Chinese Garden.

Within Shuzhuang Garden is Gulangyu Piano museum which contains over 100 pianos. The is the largest collection of pianos in the world. The museum is a echo of Gulangyu's musical culture. The island has long been associated with music, in particular the piano. This has lead to the island sometimes gaining the name of Piano Island. The museum was built in the year 2000. It covers an area of 450 square metres over two floors. These were mainly collected by a patriotic Chinese man, Mr Hu Youyi, who had been living abroad.Amoung the display is a highly valuable gold plated piao, the worlds oldest four-corner piano, pedal auto-performing piano and an ancient eight pedal piano.

Other tourist sights include:

  • Ferry Quay
  • Former English Consulate (1844)
  • Underwater World
  • Former Spanish Consulate (1850)
  • Catholic Church (1917)
  • Concert Hall
  • Xiamen Music School
  • Former Dutch Consulate
  • People's Stadium
  • Dragon Head Hill
  • Sunlight Rock
  • Zhengchengong Museum
  • Xiamen Trinity Christian Church
  • Qin Dynasty Statuary Exhibit
  • Cavern of Horror
  • Bishan Park
  • Stadium
  • Xiamen Museum
  • Longshan Cave
  • Former U.S. Consulate (1865)
  • Former Salvation Hospital (1898)
  • Yanwei Hill
  • Xiamen KLI Cactus Amusement Park
  • Jide Palace
  • Langdong Hill
  • Gulang Rock
  • MeiHua Beach
  • Xiamen Overseas Chinese Subtropical Garden
  • Bird Garden
  • Piano Garden
  • Cable Cars to Sunlight Rock
  • Gulangyu Naval Sanitorium
  • Gulangyu Army Sanitorium
  • Gangzaihou Beach
  • Gospel Hall
  • Yanping Park
  • Shuzhuang Garden
  • Cadre's Sanitorium
  • Seaview Garden Holiday Resort
  • Former Denmark Telegraph Office
  • Seaview Villa Ferry
  • Seaview Villa Beach
  • Yu Garden
  • Former Yude Girl's School (1880)
  • Dadeji Beach
  • Lodge Cabin
  • Zhengchenggong Stone Statue
  • Bright Moon Park
  • Fuding Beach
  • Flag Raising Hill
Map showing location of Xiamen Gulangyu Scenic Tourist Attractions

Above: Location of Xiamen Gulangyu Scenic Tourist Attractions in Xiamen, Fujian, China