Situated off the coast of Xiamen, is the pedestrian-only island of Gulangyu (or Kulangsu, as it is also known). With beautiful scenery, historical relics, and exceptional architecture, Gulangyu is one of China’s most popular tourist attractions, receiving over 10 million visitors a year. The island is on China’s list of National Scenic Spots. Likewise, UNESCO designated Gulangyu a World Heritage Site in July 2017. With so much to offer, Gulangyu is a must-see attraction when visiting the region.
- Gulangyu is an island situated on the estuary of the Chiu-lung River, off the coast of Xiamen, Fujian Province.
- Its total area is about 2 sq km (0.77 sq mi), with a permanent population of 20,000 people.
- Both cars and bicycles are banned on the island. The only vehicles permitted, are electric government service vehicles, and small electric buggies.
- Gulangyu is world-renowned for its variety of architectural styles represented on the island. These include Traditional Southern Fujan Style, Veranda Colonial Style, Western Classical Revival, and Amoy Deco Style (a fusion of the Modernist and Art Deco styles).
History Of Gulangyu
Early inhabitants of Fujian province living in small, traditional settlements populated Gulangyu. The entire region had developed a unique sub-culture known as southern Fujian culture. This regional group inherited farming techniques from the Han People in the Central Plains.
During the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644), Gulangyu was known as “Yuanshazhou Island”. After the First Opium War of 1842, many Westerners began inhabiting Gulangyu during its colonial period. Xiamen was opened as a commercial port, which lead to an obvious influx of foreigners. Diplomats, foreign missionaries, and businessmen began settling on the island. They introduced things like western architecture, modern amenities such as hospitals and schools, and infrastructures like cemeteries and roads.
In 1903, the Chinese government approved the Land Regulations for the Settlement of Kulangsu. Thereafter, 13 countries including the United Kingdom, Japan, and France established consulates, and an international settlement emerged. Japan invaded and occupied Gulangyu in 1942, until the end of World War II in 1945.
The influx of foreign influence furthered the spread of western music on Gulangyu. Churches and music halls were constructed, and locals enjoyed going to classical music performances. The unique combination of Western influence fostered many local inhabitants to pursue careers in classical music. Some of China’s most famous musicians hail from Gulangyu, including world-renowned violist Jing Yang (who lives on the island), and pianist Yin Chengzong.
Culture Of Gulangyu
With its eclectic mixture of Eastern and Western influences, coupled with its stunning natural beauty, Gulangyu is an oasis from the bustling Xiamen. Not surprisingly, the island has been recognized as one of the most scenic and beautiful areas of Fujian Province. Because music has been intertwined within the culture of Gulangyu for generations, it has been deemed “The Island of Music”, and “The Capital of Music”.
Shuzhuang Garden: Located on the southern portion of Gulangyu the ocean, the garden was constructed in 1931. This tranquil oasis is divided into two sections – Canghaiyuan and Bushanyuan. The lush grounds incorporate elements such as native trees and flowers, and natural rock and cliff formations. Bridges and pavilions are located throughout Shuzhuang Garden, providing a panoramic view of the landscape. In 1955, Shuzhuang Garden became a public park, and is a must-see attraction when visiting the island.
Gulangyu Piano Museum: Situated within Shuzhuang Garden, this museum contains the largest and most comprehensive collection of pianos in the world. It is one of Gulangyu’s top tourist attractions. Comprised of two buildings, the museum houses every conceivable size and shape of the instrument. Everything from children’s miniature pianos, to intricately carved, extra-long grand pianos are on display.
The Organ Museum: Not to be confused with Gulangyu’s piano museum, the island also has the world’s largest organ museum. The massive collection displays a variety of organs from the United States, Germany, Australia, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom. In the centre of the museum, looms a massive 1909 Norman & Beard pipe organ, measuring 6m tall, 3m wide, and containing 1350 pipes.
Crag of Sunlight Scenic Area: This region of the island includes Sunlight Rock and Qin Garden (the Piano Garden). At an elevation of 304 ft. (92.7 m), Sunlight Rock is the highest point on Gulangyu. At sunrise, the granite formations are bathed and illuminated in sunlight, hence its name. Visitors are treated to lush forest, caves and cliffs, and fields of wild flowers abound. Climbing to the summit of the hill, you get a panoramic view of Gulangyu’s scenic beauty, not to mention Xiamen across the water. Connected by cable car to Sunlight Rock, is Qin Garden. This is a newer tourist attraction, and emphasizes environmental protection.
- There are currently 21 public restrooms located on However, more being constructed to accommodate the influx of visitors. Be aware that large crowds will translate into very dirty restrooms. Local hotels and restaurants provide cleaner facilities.
- Passports are required when purchasing ferry tickets and embarking on the ship.
- Visitors must leave Gulangyu within 20 days of purchasing a return ticket.
- Children under 3.9ft receive a free ferry ticket, by showing their passport, and kids under 4.5ft pay half-price.