Xiamen Highlights

Gulangyu Island

Gulangyu Island is located just southwest of Xiamen City. Visitors can reach it by steamship from Xiamen City in about 5 minutes. Gulangyu Island is renowned for its delicate natural beauty, its ancient relics, and its varied architecture. The island is on China's list of National Scenic Spots and also ranks at the top of the list of the ten most-scenic areas in Fujian Province.

During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the island was called 'Yuanshazhou Island'. It got its present name from the huge reef surrounding it. When the tide comes in, the waves pound the reef and it sounds like the beating of a drum. The island came to be named 'Gulang'. Gu in Chinese means 'drum', and Lang, 'waves'.

During the later Ming Dynasty, the troops of national hero Zheng Chenggong were stationed here. After the Opium War in 1842, 13 countries including Great Britain, France and Japan established consulates, churches, and hospitals, turning the island into a common concession. In 1942, Japan occupied the island until the end of the War of Resistance against Japan.

Gulangyu Island has about 20,000 permanent residents, all of whom enjoy a comfortable, relaxing life. Only electric-powered vehicles are permitted on the island, so the environment is free from the noise and pollution of combustion engines. Breathing the clean air, appreciating the ever-present green trees and lovely flowers, anyone here can feel like they are in heaven. With classical and romantic European-style architecture, the island truly deserves to be called the'Architecture Museum'. It is also known as the 'Cradle of Musicians' and 'Island of Music' because of its reputation for music appreciation.

The Island Ring Road, which circles the island, allows you to fully enjoy all the sights of this small, charming island.

Among the many scenic spots on the island, the most attractive are Sunlight Rock and the Shuzhuang Garden.

Sunlight Rock

A corner of an exquisite gardenLocated in the south-central part of the island, Sunlight Rock is the island's highest point with an altitude of 92.7 meters (304 feet). Though it may not rank with high mountain peaks, it appears superb and grand when seen from afar. The name comes from a sun-shaped formation in the granite. When the sun rises, the morning light illuminates the granite in Sunlight Temple and the rocks are bathed with sunlight.

At the foot of Sunlight Rock stands the Memorial Hall of Zheng Chenggong, built in honor of the hero's feats which include expelling the Dutch colonists and re-occupying Taiwan. Wandering up the steep rock path, visitors will see many profound inscriptions left by poets, the oldest of which dates back to over 400 years. This is the main cultural sight on the hill. Continuing on, you will see the preserved training grounds of Zheng Chenggong's troops. Near the field is a huge rock bridging two cliffs, forming a natural entrance to a cave. This is called 'Old Summer Cave' (Gu Bishu Dong) where you can feel a pleasantly cool breeze. It's the perfect viewing spot to appreciate the scenery of Gulangyu Island. A fantastic panorama of Xiamen City, including Nanputuo Temple, Xiamen University, and Hulishan Battery is within view.

Shuzhuang Garden

First built in 1931 on the southside 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 in 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 - the combining 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.

As a complex of Chinese traditional gardens, Shuzhuang Gardens entices visitors so much that one cannot help but want to see inside.

Gulangyu Island has other sights worth seeing including the Bright Moon Garden, the Seasight Watch Garden, Yu Park, and Xiamen Museum. The Bright Moon Garden is located in the southeast of the island with an area of over 20,000 square meters (23921 square yards). It is a statuary garden of national hero Zheng Chenggong with enchanting views. The appealing Seasight Watch Garden boasts villas of various styles of both China and the West. It has become a noted resort for visitors.

South Putou Temple

Situated at the foot of Wulaofeng (Mountain of Five Old Men) and facing the sea, Nanputuo Temple is deemed to be one of the must-go tourist places in Xiamen, Fujian Province. Even if you are not interested in Buddhism, you will find the place a scenic area providing you with a refreshing experience.

This Buddhist temple was once called Puzhao Temple (Universal Grace Temple). It was first built during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and was later destroyed in the warfare during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). During the reign of Qing Emperor Kangxi (1662-1722), a naval general ordered it to be rebuilt into a Buddhist Temple and named it Nanputuo Temple.

The temple covers 30,000 square meters with four main buildings on the north-south axis. The buildings include Devajara Hall (the Hall of Heavenly Kings), Mahavira Hall (Daxiongbaodian), Dabei Hall (the Hall of Great Compassion) and a Pavilion built in 1936 in which Buddhist scriptures, Buddha images from Burma, ivory sculptures and other works of art are stored. The many rooms flanking the main buildings include dormitories, libraries and study rooms for monks.

Devajara Hall: Also called the Hall of Heavenly Kings (Tian Wang Dian), Devajara Hall is the location of the statues of four ferocious Heavenly Kings. In the center of the hall stands a fat Buddha, Maitreya or Milefo. With a broad smile, bare chest and exposed paunch, Maitreya represents the Buddha of the future, also known as the Laughing Buddha.

Mahavira Hall: Mahavira Hall is built in 1921 and features the statues of the Trinity of the Three Ages (Sakyamuni, the Buddha of the Present; Kasyapa, the Buddha of the Past; and Maitreya, the Buddha of the Future), Avalokitesvara (Guanyin Bodhisattva, the Goddess of Mercy) and Avalokitesvara's disciples. most of the attractive murals on the wall depict Buddhist stories and figures from India.

Dabei Hall: The Dabei Hall is an octagonal tower which was rebuilt in 1928. Inside, four Statues of Avalokitesvara are enshrined on a lotus-flower base. The Bodhisattva with his arms crossed in front of his chest has 48 hands stretching out. Each hand features a miniature scared eye. Two banyans are planted on each side of the hall.

Sutra-Keeping Pavilion: The Sutra-Keeping Pavilion was built in 1936 and houses thousands of Buddhist scriptures, Buddha images from Burma, ivory Sculptures, wood sculptures, bronze bells, incense burner and other works of art. One particular porcelain Avalokitesvara in the Pavilion is said to be very precious.

The many rooms flanking the main buildings include dormitories, libraries and study rooms for monks. Vegetarian food is also served in the temple. The dishes' unique colors, fresh tastes and poetic names make them popular with visitors.

Island Ring Road

The Island Ring Road was recognized in the year 2000 as one of the 20 most famous scenic spots in China, and is included in the 9 kilometers stretch of coastline that runs between Xiamen University and Qian Pu, called the Golden Coastline, which serves to integrate tourism, sightseeing, and recreation. It is about 31 kilometers in length, 44-60 meters in width, and is equipped with 6 dual turn lanes. The Island Ring Road is one of the main strategic and scenic roads in Xiamen. The construction of the Island Ring Road adhered to the principle of “facing the sea and leaving the most beautiful beach for the people”. It fully complements and brings to life the area’s sub-tropical landscape.

At the end of 1999, the 10 kilometer section of highway between the Huli Hill Fortress and Xiamen International Exhibition Center was completed. This area can be divided into four sections: Zeng Cuo An, Tai Yang Wan, (Sun Bay) Huang Cuo, and Qian Pu. The Zeng Cuo An Comprehensive Tourist Service Center, Huang Cuo Tourist Service Center, and Qian Pu Exhibition Centre can also be found along the road.

The shoreline facing Taiwan-controlled Jinmen boasts a beautiful landscape, and with good binoculars you can see soldiers on patrol, a mere 3 miles offshore. Lawns and gardens, and paths for hikers, bicyclists and roller bladders can all be found on this road. Catch the action on the eve of the Lantern Festival and Mid-autumn Festival, when both Jinmen and Xiamen set off spectacular fireworks.

Take a bus or taxi to one of the picnic areas and have lunch on the broad grassy lawns that are near the miles of beaches. Enjoy the sand and surf with the backdrop of islands and freighters, or you may skip the picnic and have tea or a meal by the beach, where you can rent beach umbrellas, floats, mats, and boats.

Minnan Shadow Play

Shadow play has survived in China for over 2000 years. Using a transparent white cloth screen, artists manipulate the illuminated puppet figures to show the audiences a magic world of light and shadows. It is an artistic combination of opera, music, fine art and special craftsmanship.

Chinese shadow play can be divided into north and south faction. As an important part of the south faction, Minnan(south Fujian) shadow play has a long history of more than 500 years. It was earlier introduced into Quanzhou and soon became popular in Xiamen.

Puppets have a very elaborate production process. Sheep or donkey skins should go through four separate chemical treatments until they become thin enough to be translucent. After being coated with tung oil and dried, they are carved into dramatic figures and then painted various colors to show off their various qualities - kind or wicked, beautiful or ugly.

The heads and limbs of the puppets are separately carved and joined with thread, so that the puppets can simulate human movement. A puppet needs 3-5 guiding sticks. Experienced shadow play artists always dazzle the audiences with their great skills. They can act out dialogues and play the instruments while moving the puppets.

The screen is a one metre long translucent gauze treated with fish oil. During performances, "actors" are held close to the screen with their coloured shadows cast on it by a strong light from behind. Moved by guiding sticks, the puppets play roles with musical accompaniment.

It is said that shadow play is derived from evocation. Emperor Wudi (156-87 B.C.) of the Western Han Dynasty was very depressed with the death of his favorite concubine, Lady Li. To help him get over his sadness, Minister Li Shaoweng made a puppet out of cotton and silk in the likeness of the lady and projected its shadow on a curtain for the emperor to see. The show brought the emperor some consolation. He somehow believed the shadow was his lover's spirit.

After 500 years of vicissitudes, the shadow play has been lost in Quanzhou and only 3 people in Xiamen have inherited this art. It was listed in the protection catalogue of intangible cultural heritage in 2008.

Xiamen plans to establish a Minnan Shadow Play Education Centre to carry on this traditional art. The centre will be located in the Xiamen Art & Culture Centre and opens to public at the beginning of next year.