Shamian Island is a sandbank island located in the Liwan District of the Chinese city of Guangzhou; it is surrounded by water and measures a mere 900 metres from east to west. Comprising several avenues—Shamian Avenue, Shamian North Avenue and the South Avenue—the island looks carefully planned and well-preserved from afar.
There is little to no hint of the troubled history surrounding Shamian Island. Between the 19th and 20th centuries, the island bore witness to many historical events from the Opium War in 1841 to being a concession zone between Great Britain and France, which owned the western side and the eastern side, respectively. But there was a positive bonus with a change in “ownership” back to the Chinese, meaning that thanks to the European influence, the island boasts European architecture of villas, banks and churches, all of which are scattered around the city.
After the 1949 communist revolution in China, Shamian Island saw a change: the island’s manors were set up as housing for the masses, while its churches were transformed into factories that later served to fund the making of the New China.
In today’s world, Shamian Island is a popular tourist hotspot because of its exotic scenic areas in which visitors can enjoy a contemplative stroll in avenues lined with beautiful trees and colourful flowers. Visitors can also see the stunning architecture, much of which has been preserved and renovated. While strolling around, visitors may also see many Tai Chi groups around the city; a normal activity made possible due to the pollution-free air caused by restrictions on the numbers of vehicles on the island.
Considered as a local heritage site, Shamian Island features 150 buildings with plenty of historical pizzazz, such as the renovated Our Lady of Lourdes Church,built in 1892 and which boasts an unforgettable Gallic charm. There are also the former bank of Taiwan and a tourist favourite: a row of bronze statues in the middle of the garden that commemorates the island’s European legacy. Last but not least, the White Swan Hotel is another historical attraction worth a visit. The hotel was one of the first five-star hotels opened for foreigners during the era of communism.
For gourmets, Shamian Island has an array of cafés and restaurants, and even boasts al fresco riverside bars that serve coffee and sumptuous local dishes. Meanwhile, there are also the night markets famous for selling authentic embroidered items which can be found on Jiaoyue Road and Xinhu Lu.
With Guangzhou becoming a fast-pace metropolitan city, it is no surprise that Shamian Island is becoming a classic tourist attraction: an island that offers rest and respite with a captivating glimpse into the past.
How to get to there
Take the Guangzhou subway line 1 and get off at Huangsha Station, which is located within a short walk from the island.
Image Courtesy: Regionalgeography.org, guangzhoutravelguide.com, www.straitstimes.com & www.facebook.com/WhiteSwanHotel