The epitome of old-time luxury: historical buildings on Gulangyu

Updated: 2015-06-18
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Xiamen’s history as a treaty port ensured that many different countries left their architectural marks on the area. Known as a “World Museum of Architecture," Gulangyu contains more than 1,000 historical buildings in styles from around the world (including the unique Amoy Deco style).


During Gulangyu's heyday of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, elite foreigners and overseas Chinese built hundreds of elegant buildings on the islet, with noteworthy examples including the northern-European style Lin House, the Filipino Huang Rongyuan Mansion, and the Eight Diagrams House, which combines Chinese and Western architecture.


1). Eight Diagrams House (Ba Gua Lou八卦楼)




The building's bright-red dome makes the Eight Diagrams House (aka Bagualou) the most recognizable landmark on the islet. 


Integrating Pakistani, Chinese, Greek and Italian architectural styles, the structure was built in 1907 (the 33rd year of Emperor Kuang Hsu's reign in the Qing Dynasty), and designed by Dr. John Abraham Otte (郁约翰), the American-Dutch president of the well-known Hope Hospital.


The 10-meter-high red dome resembled the roof of world’s oldest Islamic building, the Al-Aqsa mosque, while the 82 columns were inspired by the Temple of Hera at Olympia, Greece. The Chinese-style vase-shaped balustrade gave a hint of the owner’s Chinese roots.


The house was converted into the Gulangyu Organ Museum in 2006. It is currently the only organ museum in the world. Its collection includes pipe organs, reed organs, accordions, harmonicas, and others instruments from the United Kingdom, Germany, the United States, Australia, and other countries.


2). Golden Melon Villa (Jin Gua Lou 金瓜楼)




The villa, built in 1922, was named after its two golden, melon-like attics. Some say the "Golden Melons" convey a Romanesque style; others say they are Chinese in design and concept.


The structure was bought by the Filipino-Chinese businessman Mr. Huang Cimin (黄赐敏) in 1924. The westerm-style villa includes many Chinese design elements, with embossments of flowers, birds and trees decorating its beams and columns. The interior also features a combination of western and Chinese styles, including a European-style fireplace and Chinese-style wing-room and living room.


Address: No.99, Quanzhou Road (泉州路)

3). Huang Family Home (Huang Jia Hua Yuan 黄家花园)





The house was the private residence of the “Sugar King” Huang Yizhu (黄奕住), a successful Chinese businessman who operated in Indonesia. The building complex includes 3 houses, of which the middle one is the most elegant, built at a cost of 100,000 silver dollars.


The house's most curious feature is that each room contains a mirror, razor and shaving brush. Mr. Huang had a poor childhood, and as a young adult went to Southeast Asia and worked as a barber. Later, he developed a sugar cane business and became the "Indonesia's Sugar King." After returning to China, he settled down on Gulangyu Island and spent 370,000 silver dollars to build the Huang Family Complex.


In the 1950s, the house once served as the state guest house of the Xiamen Government, at one time hosting the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, former U.S. President Richard Nixon, and former Singapore President Lee Kuan Yew.


Address: No.25, Huangyan Road (晃岩路)


4). Lin House (Lin Wu 林屋)



The “grinning” wall of the Lin House


Built in 1927, the three-story building was designed by Mr. Lin Quancheng (林全诚), the son of the house's owner. The house employed a northern European architectural style with intricately sloping red and orange roofs.


The designer, who graduated from the Department of Civil Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, also designed the roof of the Gulangyu Island Water Supply Company to resemble an unfolding red tulip bud.

Address: No. 82, Quanzhou Road

5). Scenic View Villa (Guan Cai Lou 观彩楼)



The highest building on Gulangyu is a European style villa that sits atop Bijia Hill. The building is called the Scenic View Villa, as it looks like a bridal sedan chair. From the villa's top floor, visitors can watch the sunset with a full view of Gulangyu.


Built in 1931 and designed by a Dutch engineer, the villa features curving roofs, arched windows and twisted-rope shaped pillar design.

Address: No. 6, Bishan Road (笔山路)

6). Hi Heaven (Hai Tian Tang Gou 海天堂构)




The structure was built in the 1920s by a Filipino-Chinese named Huang Xiuhuoliang (黄秀火良) along with his Jinjiang countryman Mr. Huang Nianyi (黄念亿). The symmetrical villa complex features a design that is meant to impress, with its middle villa decorated with palatial architecture.


Hi Heaven is split into three major sections. The first is the original living area for the family, now also used for Nanyin Music concerts. The building's dome ceiling, under which musicians now regularly perform, is quite unusual and not normally found in buildings of this size, indicating that a high-ranking official originally lived in the house.


The second area was originally the complex's guest quarters or a hotel. It is now used to host puppet shows. The young puppeteers are highly skilled, spinning plates and throwing batons to one another in well-rehearsed synchronized slapstick routines.


The final area is the one that originally provided concubines with their accommodations, but is now used as a café, the Hi Heaven Café.
Address: No. 42, Fujian Road

7). Foreign Lady Villa (Fan Po Lou 番婆楼)





The villa was built by Filipino-Chinese Mr. Xu Jingquan (许经权) in 1927. Mr. Xu built the villa to reward his mother, who wore gold and silver jewelry and looked like a rich Southeast Asian millionaire. That's why the villa is called Fan Po Lou, or the Foreign Lady Villa. 

Address: No. 36, Anhai Road (安海路)

8). Octagonal Villa (Ba Jiao Lou 八角楼)




The Lin Mansion is one of the most beautiful and famous buildings on Gulangyu Island. The mansion comprises five buildings constructed by two wealthy Taiwanese businessmen, Mr. Lin Weiyuan and his son Mr. Lin Er'jia, who came to settle down in Gulangyu in 1895.


The five-floor "Octagonal Villa," built in 1915, is the soul of the Lin Mansion. Integrating southern European and Baroque architectural styles, the building is an architectural landmark on the island. The Wistaria pavilion, the Meiyue Pool and the ancient well are all well preserved, and the two-century-old camphor and kapok plants are still flourishing in the garden.

Address: No. 15, Lujiao Road (鹿礁路)

9). Huang Rongyuan Villa (Huang Rong Yuan Tang黄荣远堂)




The ancient Rome-style villa was built in 1920. It has many carved pillars, small and large, which are made of granite. The structure embodies the essence of Gulangyu Island's architecture, perfectly synthesizing western and Chinese architecture. Within the building one can find three or four styles and shapes of windows on a single wall.

Address: No. 32, Fujian Road (福建路)

10). HSBC Mansion (汇丰公馆)




The structure was built on a seaside cliff on Bijia Hill (笔架山) in 1876. The villa features a Corinthian architectural style, and covers an area of 400 square metres.


In 1873, HSBC set up its offices in Xiamen. Some sources have reported that the Governor of HSBC lived here for years.

Address: No. 57, Guxin Road (鼓新路)

11). Yin House (Yin Zhai 殷宅)




The house was built in 1925 by Mr. Yin Zuze (殷祖泽), the first son of the house's owner. The renaissance-style house features five arched structures, three living rooms and four bedrooms.

Address: No. 126, Quanzhou Road


12). Li Qing Quan Villa (Li Qing Quang Bieshu 李清泉别墅)




Mr. Li Qingquan, a Filipino-Chinese, built the villa. The structure's cobbled courtyard features a European-style fountain, rockery, pavilion and valuable araucaria trees.

Address: No. 7, Qishan Road (旗山路)

13). Yang Family Houses (Yang Jia Yuan 杨家园)




The Yang Family has four villas on Gulangyu. The Zhongquan House (忠权楼) at Guxin Road is the most magnificent, while the house at Anhai Road is the most aesthetically pleasing.


The Zhongquan House is a British-style villa with grooved pillars and arched windows. Each of the windows is carved with different designs.


All the houses were equipped with advanced water supply systems. There are pools on the top floors and ground floors to save rain water. In the courtyard, there is a well. Different sources of water were used for washing clothes, watering plants, fighting fires, toilet plumbing, and the courtyard's well water was used for drinking.

Address 1: No.27-29, Guxin Road (鼓新路) Address 2: No.4-8, Anhai Road (安海路)

14). Ship Villa (Chuan Wu船屋)




Built in 1920 and designed by Dr. John Abraham Otte, the house is known for its unique triangular design. The house's triangular foundation was meant to look like a cruise ship. Viewed from the third floor, the structure looks like an ocean vessel setting out on a voyage. The villa is simple but elegant, with a well-lit and well-ventilated interior.


Address: No. 48, Guxin Road

15). Yizu Mansion (Yi Zu Shan Zhuang 亦足山庄)




The building flaunts the largest and most beautful gate house and stone steps on Gulangyu


Built in the 1920s, the villa was originally owned by Vietnamese-Chinese Mr. Xu Jian (许涧) who obtained French citizenship after becoming wealthy. Xu had numerous children, and he gave Yizu Mansion to his beloved 16th daughter as dowry.

The building has the largest gate house and stone steps on the island, featuring a lot of baroque sculptures on its exterior walls.

Address: No. 9, Bishan Road



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