More than a century ago, the Mandarins of Guangzhou designated a 1-km-long sandbank outside the city walls in the Pearl River as an enclave for foreign merchants. The foreigners had previously lived and done business in a row of houses known as the Thirteen Factories, near the present Shamian, but local resentment after the Opium Wars—sometimes leading to murderous attacks—made it prudent to confine them to a protected area, which was linked to the city by two bridges
that were closed at 10 every night.
The island soon became a bustling township, as trading companies from Britain, the United States, France, Holland, Italy, Germany, Portugal, and Japan built stone mansions along the waterfront. With spacious gardens and private wharves, these served as homes, offices, and warehouses. There were churches for Catholics and Protestants, banks, a yacht club, football grounds, a cricket field, and the Victory hotel.
Shamian became a fighting ground during the anti-imperialist Shakee massacre in 1925, but survived until the 1949 Revolution, when its mansions became government offices or apartment houses and the churches were turned into factories. In recent years, the island has resumed much of its old character. Many colonial buildings have been restored, and churches like Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church have been beautifully renovated and reopened to worshippers.
Especially worth visiting is a park with shady walks and benches that has been created in the center of the island, where local residents come to chat with friends, walk around with their caged birds, or practice tai chi.
Feb 19, 2007
I really must say something positive to correct the impression given by New Mom. She says "We are seasoned travellers", but she only mentions cruises and the outrageously expensive White Swan Hotel. That's not travel, it's insulation from reality. While I agree that a lot of the stuff in the shops and stalls is kitsch, do you go to a place just for shopping? She also says "Sadly, many of the families we met took this place as the "authentic," Chinese
experience". Well, in the restricted confines of Shamian Island, every day you can see local Chinese people enjoying themselves practising Tai Chi, traditional fan dancing and sword dancing, ballroom dancing (!!), choral singing, Cantonese opera practice, impromptu games, Chinese chess and card playing, fishing in the river& If this isn't authentic what the hell is? I would like to know what she considers the "authentic Chinese experience". I've travelled over much of China and keep going back to Shamian to wind down. As for the food, there are some excellent restaurants, and you don't have to pay White Swan prices. Shamian Island is a beautiful place. Strangely enough a friend of my sister's recently adopted a Chinese daughter and thought Shamian was lovely. Most of the American new parents I've spoken to there think it's a great place too, SO GO! There's a youth hostel, one or two reasonably priced hotels. A long happy hour at Lucy's hotel and restaurant if you like draught beer&