Gulangyu Island

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"Gulangyu" redirects here. For the administrative division, see Gulangyu Subdistrict.
Guland island in foreground looking Xiamen, Fujian, China.jpg
View from the peak on Gulangyu
Simplified Chinese 屿
Traditional Chinese
Hokkien POJ Kó͘-lōng-sū
Postal Kulangsu
Literal meaning Drum Wave Islet
Colonial architecture on Gulangyu

Gulangyu is the third largest island off the coast of Xiamen, a city in Fujian Province in southern China. It is about 2 km2 (0.77 sq mi) in area. It is home to about 20,000 people and is a domestic tourist destination. The only vehicles permitted are small electric buggies and electric government service vehicles.

Visitors can reach it by ferry from the ferry terminal in Xiamen. Local residents are allowed to use a shorter 5 minute ferry to/from Heping Ferry Terminal. Tourists and non-locals must now take a longer 20 minute ferry ride from Dongdu International Terminal, as of October 20, 2014 with a fare increase from 8 yuan to 35 yuan. This has been in order to reduce tourist numbers accessing the island in an effort to conserve it. In addition to the ferry tickets, you can book a scenic entrance fees package for 100 yuan to 5 places of attraction, named as A, B, C, D and E (these are attraction locations and not optional routes). Note that at the Dongdu International Terminal you can only book to travel on the day and your passport is required for foreigners.

Gulangyu Island is renowned for its beaches and winding lanes 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 the province.

Administratively, the island presently forms Gulangyu Subdistrict of Xiamen's Siming District.


View of the International Settlement c. 1908

The International Settlement[edit]

The Sikh police force

For a time, Gulangyu had the peculiarity of having constituted the only international settlement on Chinese soil apart from the more celebrated International Settlement at Shanghai.

Soon after Xiamen became a treaty port resulting from China's loss in the First Opium War and the Treaty of Nanking in 1842, foreign residents on the island established an informal organization that became formally organized several decades later when its Land Regulations were approved by the government of China in May 1902.[1] Eventually 13 countries, including Great Britain, France, The Netherlands and Japan, were to enjoy extraterritorial privileges there and take part in the Kulangsu Municipal Council that administered the settlement. As with the Shanghai International Settlement, the British played a predominant role in the administration and Sikh policemen from British India were charged with the policing of the Settlement. The consulates, churches, hospitals, schools, police stations, etc. built by those foreign communities explain the predominantly Victorian-era style architecture that can still be seen throughout Gulangyu. Japanese occupation of the island began in 1942, and lasted until the end of World War II. The Hokkien dialect is spoken on the island, as it is in Xiamen.


- In 2005, Gulangyu Island was rewarded as the most beautiful district of China by Chinese National Geography magazine.[2]

- On May 2007, Xiamen Gulangyu Island was officially proved as the National 5A Tourist Attractions by the National Tourism Administration of China.[3]


Gulangyu Island Statue of Koxinga facing Xiamen
Gulangyu Island Walking Map

As a place of residence for Westerners during Xiamen's colonial past, Gulangyu is famous for its architecture and for hosting China's only piano museum, giving it the nickname of "Piano Island" or "The Town of Pianos" (鋼琴之鄉) or "The Island of Music" (音樂之島).[4] There are over 200 pianos on this island.

The Chinese name also has musical roots, as 鼓浪 Kó͘-lōng which means drum waves so-called because of the sound generated by the ocean waves hitting the reefs. 嶼 sū means "islet".

In addition, there is a museum dedicated to Koxinga, Hai-toe Se-kai (海底世界) Marine World, a subtropical garden containing plants introduced by overseas Chinese, as well as Xiamen Museum, formerly the Eight Diagrams Tower (八卦樓).

The island of Gulangyu is a pedestrian-only destination, where the only vehicles on the islands are several fire trucks and electric tourist buggies. The narrow streets on the island, together with the architecture of various styles around the world, give the island a unique appearance. The site is classified as a AAAAA scenic area by the China National Tourism Administration.[3]

Mount Lit-kong-giam (日光岩 Sunlight Rock) is the highest place on Gulangyu
View of urban area, Xiamen from Mount Lit-kong-giam


Gulangyu is unique in China as a "traffic-free island". It is connected to the main island of Xiamen only by ferry.

Neither cars nor bicycles are allowed, thus providing an alternative to the frenetic Xiamen Island across the river, although the recent introduction of electric tourist buggies may be damaging the island's charm. Freight is pulled on wheeled wooden carts up the often steep lanes by strong teams of men.


Cultural communication[edit]

The spread of Christianity in 1900s brought western musics into this beautiful island. The churches were built, museums were set, and people enjoyed going to music hall and sit there listen to the instruments' sounds. Since then, Gulanyu Island's local cultural environment integrated with the brand new styles of aura of art makes a unique tradition there, and that's why today's Gulangyu art environment is so different from the art in other parts of China. There are many great musicians that born in that time, such as Shu'an Zhou, Junji Lin, Zuohuang Chen, and son on. Nowadays, Gulangyu citizen's piano ownership per capita ranks the first place in nation, and by 2002, Gulangyu Island was given the name of "The Island of Music" by Chinese Musicians' Association. The fabulous piano exhibition halls and museums, the flourishing atmosphere of art, and the warm-hearted citizens of Gulangyu Island, bring many musicians domestically and internationally hold concerts around by the embracement of the fresh air of sea wind.

"Moon-cake Gambling" Tradition[5][edit]

The Mid-Autumn Festival on August 15 of the Chinese lunar calendar. The "Moon-cake Gambling", for centuries, is the most traditional and traditional custom for citizens in Minnan Area, which is mostly centered around Xiamen. Not only does this celebration encourage family to reunions, but also commemorate the hero Chenggong Zheng[6]'s great work of recovering Taiwan Island. 300 years ago in the Qing Dynasty, people were suffering under the invasions and terrible wars, and the morale of armies were overall upset. Under the shadow of beautiful full moon, soldiers missed their families and worried about sacrification in battles. Thus, Chenggong Zheng invented the "Moon-cake Gambling" at that time in order to help his troops to relieve homesickness.

"The gambling game has six ranks of awards, which are named as the winners in ancient imperial examinations, and has 63 different sized mooncakes as prizes."[7]

There are six dices in one pack. And the rule for playing this "Moon-Cake Gambling" is really simple, basically just throw the six dices into one big china bowl one by one in a clockwise order (counterclockwise works fine too, depends on player's preference) and try your best to not let the dices jump out of the bowl (if the dices are out of bowl, the person will be disqualified for that round). It's like the simplest dicing game, but the rules for prizes are quite complicated and difficult to memorize. So in order to make the game easier, it's better to have a printed copy of the rules with you.

The gambling game has six ranks of awards, which are named as the winners in ancient imperial examinations, and has 63 different sized mooncakes as prizes (3 and 9 are lucky numbers in China, so the prizes are set as a multiple of 3 and 9).

"From the lowest to the highest, the titles of six ranks are Xiucai (the one who passed the examination at the county level), Juren (a successful candidate at the provincial level), Jinshi (a successful candidate in the highest imperial examination), Tanhua, Bangyan and Zhuangyuan (respectively the number three to number one winners in the imperial examination at the presence of the emperor).

Game players throw the dice by turns. Different pips they count win the player a relevant "title" and corresponding type of mooncakes.

The lucky player who gets the pips to make it the title of "Zhuangyuan," will be the biggest winner in the game, and gain the largest mooncake."[7] And people believe that the person who win "Zhuangyuan", the NO.1 scholar, will earn the most luckiness in the coming year.

Some people that are not familiar with the intension about why Chenggong Zheng started the tradition, might mistakenly consider this game as a gambling. But because all the prizes for the special "gambling" are mooncakes, it's definitely legal.

The time flies, but the "Moon-cake gambling" is still popular nowadays. It combines the cultural, folk custom, and recreation. People feel like if the prizes are only mooncakes, the attractions are not going to be enough to gather everyone into the game, especially little kids. Thus, with the development of people's living standards, the prizes become more and more diverse, daily necessities, snacks, school supplies, and even money that put into red envelopes (red is the luckiest color in China). The big change in prizes has made the game even more popular among younger generations, and many people in other districts are participating in "Moon-Cake Gambling" as well.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ William C. Johnstone, International Relations: The Status of Foreign Concessions and Settlements in the Treaty Ports of China, The American Political Science Review, No. 5, October 1937, p. 943.
  2. ^ Hessler, Peter. "China's Journey - National Geographic Magazine". Retrieved 2016-02-08. 
  3. ^ a b "AAAAA Scenic Areas". China National Tourism Administration. 16 November 2008. Retrieved 9 April 2011. 
  4. ^ Bolsover, Gillian (1 February 2012). "Gulangyu: China's loveliest island". CNN GO. Retrieved 25 September 2012. 
  5. ^ "moon-cake gambling - What's On Xiamen". Retrieved 2016-02-07. 
  6. ^ "Zheng Chenggong | Chinese pirate". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2016-02-07. 
  7. ^ a b "Mooncake gambling odds-on festival favourite". Retrieved 2016-02-07. 

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External links[edit]

Coordinates: 24°26′51″N 118°03′45″E / 24.447618°N 118.062451°E / 24.447618; 118.062451