'Garden on the Sea': Take a closer look at Gulangyu Island in Xiamen

Updated: 2014-06-05
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Gulangyu Island, one of the most famous scenic spots in Xiamen
Xiamen, also known as Amoy, is a coastal sub-provincial city in China's southeastern Fujian province. It looks out to the Taiwan Strait and borders Quanzhou to the north and Zhangzhou to the south.

Gulangyu Island is one of the most famous scenic spots in Xiamen. It is located just off the coast southwest of Xiamen. Gulangyu Island is renowned for its delicate natural beauty, ancient relics, and varied architecture.

As Xiamen’s largest satellite island, the beautiful natural scenery and diverse culture of the island, a legacy of its long and varied history, are the defining characteristics of this extraordinary place. Gulangyu Island covers an area of 1.87 square kilometers, and Sunlight Rock, the highest peak on the islet, is the symbol of Xiamen.

Because the holes in the southwestern reefs, when hit by waves, make sounds like the beating of a drum, the island got the name Gulangyu, meaning “drum waves” in Chinese.
On the islet, tourists can find winding coastal lines, natural and gentle seaside bathing grounds with fine sand, and oddly shaped reefs showing superlative craftsmanship. The undulating hills, blue waves, white clouds, green trees and red tiles all complement each other and add beauty and radiance while also offering a clean, tidy and tranquil environment.

Many buildings on the islet showing both Chinese and foreign architectural styles have been well preserved. Hence Gulangyu Island is known as the “Gallery of International Architecture.”

The residents on the islet are known for their love of music. With a small population of over 10,000, Xiamen has over 600 pianos, ranking first in China in density of pianos per capita. Hence it is called the “Island of Pianos” and the “Land of Music.” Walking on the street, visitors can hear the melody of pianos nearly everywhere. Winding and zigzagging pedestrian paths are another major characteristic of Gulangyu Island. All the paths on the islet are linked with each other but still offer the delightful serenity of seclusion.

To protect tourism resources on the islet, motor-driven vehicles are forbidden on the streets, except for a small number of sightseeing battery-powered carts for carrying tourists. Therefore, the islet is quiet without the noise of traffic, making it more enjoyable for tourists to happily and peacefully stroll the streets.

At nightfall, when all the neon lamps are lit, the whole islet is elegantly decorated, presenting beautiful scenes different from those in the daytime. When viewing Xiamen at night across Egret River between Gulangyu Island and Xiamen Island, tourists can see colorful lamplights and the surface of the water complementing each other beautifully along the long coastal line.
Sunlight Rock
The Sunlight Rock Scenic Area includes many tourist attractions, such as Sunlight Rock, Zheng Chenggong Memorial Hall and Piano Garden. Also known as Huang Rock, Sunlight Rock is the one of the most famous scenic spots in Xiamen. As the saying goes: ”It would be a trip to Xiamen in vain without climbing Sunlight Rock. ”

Situated at the top of Dragon Head Hill near the center of Gulangyu Island, Sunlight Rock consists of two huge rocks, one horizontal; and the other vertical. The two rocks leaning on each other, with an elevation of 92.68 meters, form the highest spot on Gulangyu Island with the huge vertical rock piercing into the sky. The lofty and rugged rocks in the mountains form many caverns and gullies, while pavilions, kiosks and terraces are tucked away in the lushly growing woods.

Standing at Sunlight Rock, tourists can have a panoramic view of Xiamen, Gulangyu Island, Dadan Islet, Erdan Islet and other places of scenic and historic interest.
Zheng Chenggong Memorial Hall
Lying at the northern foot of Sunlight Rock, the Zheng Chenggong Memorial Hall was built on February 1,1962 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the recovery of Taiwan by Zheng Chenggong. The memorial hall covers an area of 13,000 square meters, and the main exhibition hall has an area of 2,200 square meters. The site of the memorial hall was the place where Zheng Chenggong stationed his troops and commanded the drilling of the waterborne forces. Now tourists can still find many historical sites, such as the soldier-drilling terrace on the water and the village gate, as well as a great number of inscriptions by famous personages.

Zheng Chenggong (1624-1662) was a national hero between the end of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and the early Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Besides the Preface hall, the memorial hall consists of seven exhibition halls, highlighting different aspects of his life and his legacy, namely: ”Zheng Chenggong in His Youth,” “Dedicating Himself to Saving the People and Rising in Rebellion to Resist Against the Qing Troops,” ”Taiwan, a Treasure Island of China,” “Crossing the Sea for an Eastern Expedition, and Driving out the Dutch to Recover Taiwan,” “Overcoming Difficulties and Hardships to Develop Taiwan,” “His Great Contributions Shining Through the Ages,” and “Inspiring the Later Generations with His National Spirit.” Over 800 varieties of exhibits are on display, such as historical relics, documents, written materials, photos, charts, paintings, sculptures and models, which introduce the fascinating life of Zheng Chenggong in a systematic way.
Gallery of International Architecture
Gulangyu Island gathers together over 1,000 architectural structures, showing different styles, often with a combination of Chinese and Western elements. They include traditional Chinese temples with upturned eaves and corners, one-story houses in the style of South Fujian Province, the Eight-Trigram Building (which is now Xiamen Museum) showing both Chinese and foreign architectural characteristics, small and exquisite Japanese houses, and former consulates of Western countries with the colonial style of the 19th century.

Shuzhuang Garden has the features of the classical gardens of South China. With a great number of buildings of different periods and in various styles, Gulangyu Island is like an encyclopedia of architecture. After going through the ups and downs of the past century, these buildings still stand on the paths, or are tucked away past colorful flowers and green trees, creating the thick and profound cultural connotations of Gulangyu Island. These buildings are of high artistic and historical value.
Shuzhuang Garden
First built in 1931 on the south side of the island, Shuzhuang Garden was once a private villa. It became a garden park open to the public in 1955. It is divided into two parts-the Garden of Hiding the Sea (Canghaiyuan) and the Garden of Making-Up Hills (Bushanyuan). It was exquisitely designed to embody three important characteristics of gardening---hiding elements, borrowing from one's surroundings, and combining movements.

The principle of hiding elements is embodied in the way the ocean remains hidden from view even if you walk right up to the garden gate. However, once you emerge from the bamboo forest, the seascape leaps into view. Climb the Tower of Tide-Viewing to really get a terrific look at the sea.
Borrowing from one's surroundings refers to cleverly using naturally available scenery. Using the original slopes facing the sea, the reefs in the bay, and the shape of the shoreline, the former garden owner built bridges and pavilions at various levels. The panorama changes from a small bay to a vast ocean as you ascend. Here, visitors can taste the spray of the surging waves and get a bird's-eye view of other charming islands. Both Sunlight Rock and Hero Hill (Yingxiongshan) are also visible.

The garden also possesses another characteristic-a combination of movements. Its unique arrangement joins a rockwork that includes a maze of connected caves with fine pavilions on the side of the slope. Lovely children chasing and gamboling among the caves represent movement and activity, while people resting in the pavilions give a feeling of tranquility and harmonious contemplation.
Piano Museum
Located in the Hall of Roaring Tides in Shuzhuang Garden, the Piano Museum covers an area of nearly 1,000 square meters. It is the only museum in China displaying various kinds of antique pianos from different countries around the world. All the pianos in the museum were donated by Hu Youji, a collector of pianos who is a native of Gulangyu Island and now resides in Australia, including nearly 100 precious pianos and over 60 ancient piano lamps collected by Mr. Hu throughout his life.

In the Piano Museum, tourists can find the “Steinway” piano of the United States and the “Bosendorfer” piano of Austria, both produced in the first half of the 19th century, as well as the precious gilded piano, the oldest square piano, the largest upright piano, and the oldest hand-operated piano in the world. In particular, in the center of the big hall there are two pianos which have patterns of flowers and birds with a Chinese classical flavor meticulously and beautifully pieced together in the wood. Musicians play piano in the museum once every half an hour. While enjoying the melodious piano music in the kingdom of pianos, tourists are immersed in the musical atmosphere of the Music Islet.
Bright Moon Park
Bright Moon Park is a theme park to commemorate Zheng Chenggong, a national hero. Located on the southeastern seashore of Gulangyu Island, the Bright Moon Park covers an area of 30,000 square meters. First constructed in 1985, the park was named after a poem that was written to cherish the memory of the hero and Taiwan.

The most attractive item in the park is the huge granite statue of Zheng Chenggong situated atop a large rock. The statue is 15.7 meters high, weighs 1,617 tons, and is formed by 625 pieces of “Quanzhou white” granite with 23 layers of granite in total. Fuding Rock, 29.5 meters above sea level, stretches 30 meters into the sea and stands on three legs like a tripod with Sword Rock and Yindou Rock standing in the sea. The statue of Zheng Chenggong standing on the three rocks in martial attire looks over the sea as if he was commanding an army, full of power and grandeur.

In the park’s square stands a large relief screen of a group of people named “Driving out Invaders with Shields,” which represents the historic scene of Zheng Chenggong leading his troops across the sea to drive away the Dutch and recover Taiwan. It is the largest relief of historical figures in China today.
Xiamen Underwater World
Located in the original Gulang Park west of the Gulangyu Ferry Wharf, Xiamen Underwater World is one of the largest aquariums in China, setting two world records and 10 national records. Xiamen Underwater World looks like a Crystal Palace in blue color. It covers an area of 175,000 square meters, and its floorage area totals 7,500 square meters.
The Crystal Palace is home to over 10,000 rare aquatic animals from all over the world, which fall into over 350 species, such as the sea otters and rays of Australia, river sturgeons from the Mississippi of the United States, penguins from Peru, Julongfish from the Amazon, Chinese sturgeons from the Yangtze River, rock fish and sea horses from the South China Sea, octopuses from the East China Sea, and various kinds of coral reef fish.
The Ocean World also includes Sea Hall, the Specimen Hall of Sperm Whales, Penguin Hall, Fresh Water Fish Hall, and the Dolphin and Sea Lion Performance Hall. Tourists can tour the wonderful and mysterious seabed world while walking along a 80-meter long, 1.5-meter wide submarine tunnel.
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