My Husband’s Hometown Named a World Heritage Site.

 

Eugene in Kulangsu, 1983

Kulangsu is known for its beaches, its mild climate, and its longstanding prohibition on the use of wheeled vehicles. They don’t allow cars or even bikes on the lanes of Kulangsu (also known as Gulangyu).

But UNESCO had something else in mind when they named Kulangsu a World Cultural Heritage Site. They were thinking of its history as an International Settlement.

Amoy Harbor, 19th century

For centuries, Kulangsu and nearby Xiamen (a.k.a. Amoy) were centers of shipping, sometimes piracy. During the Nineteenth Century, Amoy was China’s main port for exporting tea.

At about the same time, British merchants began trafficking in opium. When the Chinese emperor tried to stop them, the British insisted that their reputation, honor, and commitment to free trade were at stake.

The Battle of Amoy, 26 August, 1841

The resulting Opium War lasted three years and ended with the British victors taking control of Hong Kong and gaining access to several treaty ports including Amoy (Xiamen).

The merchants, missionaries, and diplomats who came to Amoy, chose to build their homes on the scenic little island of Kulangsu, a short boat ride from Amoy. In 1903, when Kulangsu was officially recognized as an International Settlement, there were thirteen consulates on the island.

All this history sets the stage for what interested UNESCO: Kulangsu’s role as China’s major gateway in early-stage globalization. They call the island “an important window for Sino-foreign exchanges (and) an exceptional example of the cultural fusion that emerged from these exchanges.”

UNESCO specifically cites the architectural styles that can be seen on Kulangsu, including “Traditional Southern Fujian Style, Western Classical Revival Style, Veranda Colonial Style … and Amoy Deco Style, which is a synthesis of the Modernist style of the early 20th century and Art Deco.” Today, 931 historical buildings and gardens in various styles remain.

European-inspired Gulangyu mansion, 1983

When we visited in 1983, I didn’t take many pictures, but you can see dozens of fantastic photos of Kulangsu here. The island was in disrepair when we visited in 1983. I understand it has changed a lot since then.

I’ve written quite a few posts about Kulangsu (Gulangyu). Among them are:

Gulangyu, an Island with a Storied Past

A Chinese Island Retains Its Old World Charm

Pearl Harbor Wasn’t the Only Target on Dec. 7, 1941

All the Tea in China

Remembering … Being Remembered

You Can’t Go Home Again

The Fall of the Bamboo Curtain

No Cars Allowed

A Mother’s Ashes and a Chinese Soldier

Kulangsu is the setting for my novel, Tiger Tail Soup. The action in the novel takes place during the Japanese invasion and occupation of World War II. Tiger Tail Soup is available on Amazon, barnesandnoble.com, and Apple iBooks.

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About Nicki Chen

About Nicki Chen
Nicki Chen is a writer living in Edmonds, WA. Her first novel, Tiger Tail Soup, is set in China during the Japanese invasion and occupation, 1937-1945. She’s working on a second novel set in Vanuatu, a South Pacific nation where she and her late husband lived in the early ’90s.

China, Kulangsu, Visiting Gulangyu, Xiamen , , , ,

24 comments


  1. Jeri Hansen

    Once again, a very enjoyable history lesson. Your writing style makes every blog so interesting that you don’t want them to end.




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  2. Great information and congrats to UNESCO for keeping Kulangsu’s heritage and history for generations to come.




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    • When we visited Kulangsu in 1983, it seemed like a rather quiet backwater. Since then, it’s become a favorite tourist stop. Now, being a UNESCO site, it will be even more popular. I think I read that they limit the number of tourists that can be on the island at one time.




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  3. What a lovely recognition. I enjoyed seeing your photos. Do you think you’ll go back for a visit someday?




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    • I don’t think I’ll go back again, but I’m glad our daughters were with us on that earlier trip. We’re planning a family trip for Christmas, looking into places much closer to home.




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  4. Forgot to mention that I love the new look for your blog!




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  5. Your book paints a great pictures of the area. I googled the Fujian style and saw that it’s what I think of as oriental architecture. Love the picture of your husband.




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  6. I always enjoy your historical posts and the pictures that go with them. You got some great pictures of the houses!




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  7. Lovely history lesson, great photos. BTW, I love your new banners, it’s looks wonderful!




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    • I’m glad you like my new banner. I was lucky to have found the photo. It was taken when we lived in Vanuatu.

      The “history lesson” was extremely brief, but I try to keep my posts short.




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  8. Hi. Nicki!

    Love the new look of your blog!! The pic on top is beautiful.

    It is nice to hear that the place has been recognized for its history. I googled the name and it is just beautiful!

    I hope you are doing well and having a great summer.




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    • Gulangyu (Kulangsu) certainly is a beautiful place. It’s very close to Taiwan, by the way. I think you can get there by ferry. One of the nice things about it the absence of wheeled vehicles and the fun of walking everywhere.

      I’m glad you noticed and liked my new blog banner.




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  9. I read the news of Gulangyu’s appointing. Yay, one more Unesco site I can mark as visited, haha!

    If you go to Gulangyu now you would not even recognize it. It is super popular with Chinese tourists! I went during Chinese New Year and it was completely packed…




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    • You’re right, I may not recognize Gulangyu if I visited now (although I’ve seen pictures). In 1983, it looked like it hadn’t changed much in forty years or more, which was great for me. It helped me imagine what it was like during the time of my novel. One of the changes, though, was that the big old houses used have just one family living in them. When we visited in 1983, they housed multiple families.




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  10. Love your “head shot” in the header ~> a perfect “backwards” glance.




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  11. I have never visited Gulangyu but it’s on my list of must-see places, especially after receiving this distinction from UNESCO. It really makes for a unique setting in your novel, Nicki.




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    • It took me years to realize how unique Gulangyu and Xiamen were historically as a Chinese window on the world. In the days of sailing ships Amoy was an important stop in world commerce. In the Philippines and in much of SE Asia, many of the Chinese are descended from people from Xiamen and Gulangyu. So I’m glad UNESCO recognized Gulangyu for that history.




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