Yes­ter­day and To­day: Gar­den on the Sea

Yes­ter­day and To­day:

China Pictorial (English) - - Contents - Text by Zhang Xue

Gu­langyu, also known as Ku­langsu, is a tiny is­land of less than two square kilo­me­ters that faces the mouth of the 600-me­ter-wide Lu­jiang River run­ning through the port city of Xi­a­men on China’s south­east­ern coast. On July 8, 2017, the Gu­langyu historic in­ter­na­tional set­tle­ment was added to the World Her­itage List as a cul­tural her­itage site dur­ing the 41st ses­sion of the World Her­itage Com­mit­tee, mak­ing it China’s 52nd listed prop­erty.

As the World Her­itage Com­mit­tee com­mented, Gu­langyu Is­land wit­nessed the ups and downs of China’s march into mod­ern­iza­tion and was sur­rounded by the early tides of glob­al­iza­tion in the late Qing Dy­nasty (1644-1911). The is­land, a clas­sic model of cul­tural ex­change and mu­tual learn­ing, was home to lo­cals of Fu­jian Prov­ince, for­eign ex­pa­tri­ates and for­eign-born Chi­nese com­mu­ni­ties. Over the years, it evolved into an in­ter­na­tional set­tle­ment known for cul­tural di­ver­sity and mod­ern liv­ing.

Year round, tourists swarm to the is­land for its one-of-a-kind “petty bour­geoisie” flair. Af­ter march­ing the com­mer­cial streets, a stroll down an ad­ja­cent al­ley will re­veal a dif­fer­ent, peace­ful side of Gu­langyu. Away from the bustling crowds, you will see tow­er­ing banyan trees, bougainvil­lea stretch­ing from old yards, and trum­pet vines on walls. Pi­ano music re­ver­ber­ates through the air.

As far back as the 13th Cen­tury dur­ing the Song Dy­nasty (960-1279), fish­er­men from nearby ar­eas be­gan in­hab­it­ing the is­land. Af­ter the First Opium War in 1840, Western mis­sion­ar­ies ar­rived at the is­land, and as Xi­a­men be­came a pop­u­lar trad­ing port, more and more churches were built. A mod­ern in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity grad­u­ally took shape as Chi­nese and Western res­i­dents lived to­gether there and con­ducted pro­found cul­tural ex­change on a daily ba­sis.

More than 900 historic build­ings of var­i­ous ar­chi­tec­tural styles in­clud­ing tra­di­tional south­ern Fu­jian style, Western Re­nais­sance style and Veranda colo­nial style still stand on the is­land. The build­ings are tes­ta­ment to the evo­lu­tion of lo­cal ar­chi­tec­ture cou­pled with a steady in­fu­sion of for­eign cul­tures.

Res­i­dents of south­ern Fu­jian call their houses “cuo.” The Dafu Man­sion and Four­row Dacuo (tra­di­tional Chi­nese pala­tial res­i­dence with up­turned eaves), built in the early 19th Cen­tury, are the old­est res­i­den­tial houses of south­ern Fu­jian style still stand­ing. The Dafu Man­sion was built by Huang Xuzhai, a Xi­a­men lo­cal, in the late Qing Dy­nasty. His son, Huang Kun­shi, who was a se­nior of­fi­cial, built the Four­row Dacuo to the right of the Dafu Man­sion to house his seven chil­dren.

“Sea Par­adise,” a group of five vil­las lo­cated at 38 Fu­jian Road, is a renowned com­bi­na­tion of Chi­nese and Western ar­chi­tec­ture. The historic site, orig­i­nally the only for­eign­ers’ club in the con­ces­sion area, is a pala­tial ar­chi­tec­tural com­plex that was fit­ted with an es­pe­cially elab­o­rate roof af­ter Huang Xi­u­lang, a Chi­nese ex­pa­tri­ate based in the Philip­pines, pur­chased it in 1912.

Of the five old vil­las in Sea Par­adise, three are open to public, one of which has been trans­formed into a café of South­east Asian style and an­other is a per­for­mance cen­ter for lo­cal cul­tural shows.

Shuzhuang Gar­den, sit­u­ated right on the seashore, is a cru­cial piece of any trip to Gu­langyu Is­land. Against the back­drop of the vast sea, its tra­di­tional Chi­nese gar­den lay­out is un­par­al­leled.

The cul­tural her­itage of Gu­langyu com­prises 51 historic build­ings, of which some have been aban­doned, some ren­o­vated into villa ho­tels and others re­fit­ted as mu­se­ums, cafés and book stores. Wan­der-

ing tourists can get closer to the soul of Gu­langyu through the leg­endary tales of the build­ing own­ers.

Gu­langyu is also called “pi­ano is­land.” In the mid­dle of the 19th Cen­tury, Western music gripped the is­land along­side the ar­rival of Chris­tian­ity. The is­land was known for its music by the 1920s and 30s and be­gan gen­er­at­ing world-class mu­si­cal tal­ent. The long list of stand­outs from the is­land in­cludes Zhou Shu’an, China’s first fe­male con­duc­tor of vo­cal music, Lin Jun­qing, for­mer pres­i­dent of an in­sti­tute of vo­cal music stud­ies in Shang­hai, pian­ist Yin Cheng­zong and vi­o­lin­ist Xu Feini. The “pi­ano is­land” nick­name is war­ranted: The is­landers’ per capita pi­ano own­er­ship is the high­est in the na­tion.

Big Names

Cul­tur­ally di­verse and in­clu­sive Gu­langyu Is­land is also known for the le­gends of con­tem­po­rary celebrities.

Early in the 20th Cen­tury, ten-year-old Lin Yu­tang boarded a boat in a small town in Zhangzhou, Fu­jian Prov­ince, to head for the is­land. Af­ter three days on the waves, Lin en­rolled at a church school there. He grad­u­ated from Yangyuan Ele­men­tary School and Xun­yuan Mid­dle School. At 24, Lin mar­ried Liao Cuifeng, a young woman from Xi­a­men, with a tra­di­tional Chi­nese cer­e­mony in one of the is­land’s Western churches, and then headed to study at Har­vard Univer­sity. Lin even­tu­ally be­came a cul­tural mas­ter of both Chi­nese and Western spheres.

Lin Qiaozhi, a Chi­nese pi­o­neer in ob­stet­rics and gy­ne­col­ogy, was born in a teacher’s home on De­cem­ber 23, 1901. On the is­land, she en­rolled in a chil­dren’s school and then Xi­a­men Women’s Nor­mal School. Her ed­u­ca­tion con­tin­ued at Beijing Union Med­i­cal Col­lege in 1921, and then she earned a doc­toral de­gree at the State Univer­sity of New York. Though un­mar­ried through­out her life, Lin de­liv­ered more than 50,000 other peo­ple’s ba­bies.

Ma Yue­han, China’s ear­li­est sports ed­u­ca­tor, spent his early days in Gu­langyu at Fu­min Ele­men­tary School. Ma then at­tended Saint John’s Univer­sity in Shang­hai, where he was a stand­out on the univer­sity’s sports team. Af­ter grad­u­a­tion, he be­gan teach­ing at Ts­inghua Col­lege, the pre­de­ces­sor of Ts­inghua Univer­sity. In 1936, he at­tended the 11th Olympic Games in Ber­lin as the chief coach of the Chi­nese del­e­ga­tion.

The mod­ern build­ings across the Lu­jiang River in down­town Xi­a­men are visible through the porch of an old build­ing on Gu­langyu Is­land. VCG

A red-brick build­ing partly shaded by old banyan trees presents the old­est traces of the south­ern Fu­jian cul­ture. VCG

Small shops on the Long­tou Road at­tract crowds of young tourists. IC

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