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.
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 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.
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:
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.