Kulangsu, a Historic International Settlement

N24 26 51 E118 3 43
Date of Inscription: 2017
Criteria: (ii)(iv)
Property : 316.2 ha
Buffer zone: 886 ha
Ref: 1541
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Kulangsu is a tiny island located on the estuary of the Chiu-lung River, facing the city of Xiamen. With the opening of a commercial port at Xiamen in 1843, and the establishment of the island as an international settlement in 1903, this island off the southern coast of the Chinese empire suddenly became an important window for Sino-foreign exchanges. Kulangsu is an exceptional example of the cultural fusion that emerged from these exchanges, which remain legible in its urban fabric. There is a mixture of different architectural styles including Traditional Southern Fujian Style, Western Classical Revival Style and Veranda Colonial Style. The most exceptional testimony of the fusion of various stylistic influences is a new architectural movement, the Amoy Deco Style, which is a synthesis of the Modernist style of the early 20th century and Art Deco.

Kulangsu Island is located on the estuary of Chiu-lung River facing the city of Xiamen across the 600-meter-wide Lujiang Strait. With the opening of Xiamen as a commercial port in 1843, and Kulangsu as an international settlement in 1903, the island of the southern coastal areas of the Chinese empire suddenly became an important window for Sino-foreign exchanges. Its heritage reflects the composite nature of a modern settlement composed of 931 historical buildings of a variety of local and international architectural styles, natural sceneries, a historic network of roads and historic gardens.

Through the concerted endeavour of local Chinese, returned overseas Chinese, and foreign residents from many countries, Kulangsu developed into an international settlement with outstanding cultural diversity and modern living quality. It also became an ideal dwelling place for the overseas Chinese and elites who were active in East Asia and South-eastern Asia as well as an embodiment of modern habitat concepts of the period between mid-19th and mid-20th century.

Kulangsu is an exceptional example of the cultural fusion, which emerged from these exchanges, which remain legible in an organic urban fabric formed over decades constantly integrating more diverse cultural references. Most exceptional testimony of the fusion of various stylistic influences is a genuinely new architectural movement the Amoy Deco Style, which emerged from the island.

Criterion (ii): Kulangsu Island exhibits in its architectural features and styles the interchange of Chinese, South East Asian and European architectural and cultural values and traditions produced in this variety by foreign residents or returned overseas Chinese who settled on the island. The settlement created did not only mirror the various influences settlers brought with them from their places of origin or previous residence but it synthesized a new hybrid style – the so-called Amoy Deco Style, which developed in Kulangsu and exerted influences over a far wider region in South-east Asian coastal areas and beyond. In this, the settlement illustrates the encounters, interactions and fusion of diverse values during an early Asian globalization stage.

Criterion (iv): Kulangsu is the origin and best representation of the Amoy Deco Style. Named after Xiamen’s local Hokkien dialect name Amoy, Amoy Deco Style refers to an architectural style and typology, which first occurred in Kulangsu and illustrates the fusion of inspirations drawn from local building traditions, early western and in particular modernist influences as well as the southern Fujian Migrant culture. Based on these the Amoy Deco Style shows a transformation of traditional building typology towards new forms, which were later referenced throughout South-East Asia and became popular in the wider region.

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Xiamen (Xiàmén in Mandarin, traditional English name: Amoy) is a coastal city in Fujian Province in China. It has been an important port for centuries and became one of China’s earliest Special Economic Zones in 1980. The name Xiamen means “door to the house”, referring to the city’s centuries-old role as a gateway to China. Xiamen is a very vibrant, affluent and modern place, though by Chinese standards it is a small city — only 3.8 million in the city and 4.3 million counting suburbs (2018). It has many non-Chinese residents and a range of restaurants, bars and stores that cater to them. It also has several universities and some areas popular for tourism. The most important tourist area is Gulangyu, a small island close to downtown which contains some beautiful colonial buildings and is car free. It is now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Like many other Asian cities, Xiamen is a fascinating mixture of old and new [read more].

Quanzhou (Choân-chiu in Minnan, Quánzhōu in Mandarin) is a coastal city in Fujian Province north of Xiamen and south of Fuzhou. Older romanisations, no longer in use, include Ch’üan-chou, Chuanchow and Chinchew. Marco Polo sailed home from here around 1292; he called the city by its Arabic and Persian name, Zaiton, and described it as the world’s busiest port and stunningly rich. Since then it has come down in the world somewhat, but is still a major port and still quite prosperous. For travellers, much of the history is still quite visible; the town is positively overrun with interesting old buildings. Most readers fron Western countries will never have heard of the city, but they have been somewhat affected by it nonetheless. The English word “satin” comes from “Zaiton”, the port from which that fabric first reached the Middle East and thence Europe. The tea that American colonists threw overboard to protest British taxes at the Boston Tea Party was shipped from Quanzhou and grown in nearby Anxi [read more].

Shantou, (Suan1tao5 in Teochew, Shàntóu in Mandarin), known as Swatow in the local language, is a coastal city and Special Economic Zone in Guangdong Province in China. It is located in the east of the province near the border with Fujian. It has a population of around 5,500,000 as of 2015, making it the largest city in the Chaoshan region, and a booming economy. The city came to prominence during the 19th century when it was established as one of the treaty ports for trading with the West. In the 1980s it was designated as one of China’s Special Economic Zones with tax breaks and other government measures to encourage development. See List of Chinese provinces and regions for more detailed explanations of “treaty port” and “special economic zone” if required. Overseas visitors are not common in the rural areas around Shantou, and those of non-Chinese ethnicity will definitely be an attraction to residents [read more].

1 reply »

  1. During the Qing Dynasty, Amoy (now known as Xiamen) was one of the first great trading harbors of China. Along with Shanghai, it was one of the first points of contact between East and West. Because of its natural beauty and positioning right in Amoy’s protected main harbor, Kulangsu became the ideal destination in Amoy to live and set up trading business and became the location for customs.

    Kulangsu, as the home of many diplomats and former officials, became a place where Westerners lived and worked and thus they brought many elements of their culture from Europe. As a result, Kulangsu became the first places in all of China where Western classical music could be played and heard.

    I love the secluded beach by Zhao He Shan Park in Nei Cuo Ao Village, on the northern edge of Kulangsu. Guanhai beach is another pretty spot on the southwest corner of the island next to a beautiful former ferry port, Guanhai Harbor.

    Kulangsu is one of the most popular places in China for couples to take wedding pictures, and every day you’ll see the island — especially Guanhai beach — full of brides and grooms in full romantic regalia for their photo shoots.

    Climbing to its summit, past Sunlight Rock temple, is great in the evening because the crowds are thinner, and you can watch the sunset and skyline of Xiamen begin to twinkle.

    Sunsets are also beautiful from beaches all over the island, but my favorite spot of all for sunsets is a quiet spot perched atop the northeast corner of Kulangsu, the site of the old Yanwei Hill Time Cannon — now a newly landscaped public park that’s well off the beaten tourist track.


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