Continuing on my previous blog on Guangzhou, this one is about Shamian (沙面) Island, a former enclave of the European powers in the city. Given the historical context of the Opium Wars, rise of Communism and the Cultural Revolution, it’s a wonder that the colonial buildings here were not demolished in a fit of nationalistic rage.
Shamian literally means Sandy Surface. This was the name given to a sand bank on the shores of the Pearl River. From the time of the Song Dynasty (960AD) until the Qing Dynasty (1911), it served as a port for foreign traders. After the Second Opium War, the area was ceded to the British and French as a concession area. Concrete embankments were built to reinforce the banks and a canal was dug along the north side, effectively making the sand bank an island. Two bridges connected the island to the mainland, with one bridge guarded by the British and the other bridge guarded by the French. The island became a rich foreign enclave with consulates, banks, churches, schools and commercial buildings being built from the 19th century until the early 20th century.
Shamian Island is really small. It’s only 900m by 300m in size and you can probably walk around it in less than an hour. But the point of coming here is to slow down and step back in time.
Many of the colonial buildings have been converted into government offices, a police station, restaurants, shops and hotels. There is still some work being done on several buildings and I saw a new Macdonalds outlet being fitted out. I guess foreign trade still goes on here but in a different form now. The consulates have all moved out except for the Polish Consulate which has 2 guards posts outside, although the guards don’t seem to be doing anything much.
When to Visit
The best times to visit Shamian Island are in the mornings or the evenings. During these times, you can see the local residents enjoying their social activities along the tranquil streets and parks on the island. That said, Shamian Island is an all day attraction and you can come here anytime.
Shamian Island is pretty easy to get to. You can take the Metro Line 1 or Line 6 to Huangsha Station and cross the overhead bridge to the island. Otherwise many public buses also stop at bus stops located just outside the island.
7 thoughts on “The Sandy Island”
My friend and I stayed at a hotel on Shamian Island toward the end of our week-long trip in southern China. I loved the peaceful ambiance on the island despite its location in one of the country’s biggest cities.
Yup, it’s like a world of it’s own and in a different time.
What an interesting looking place!
Yes it is. It’s like a mini Europe in China.
Amazing to see some history amongst the gleaming towers of this modern city – thanks for sharing.
Thanks for reading. Have a great day!