These two licensed street artists provide some of the street-music atmosphere for which Kulangsu Island was once famous. Two colorful men hang out near the Marine Garden Hotel, on opposite sides of the dramatic typhoon-struck tree, playing and selling cheap ukeleles.
Music includes a variety of Chinese folk songs, plus frequent renditions of “Gulangyu Zhi Bo,” the pop song that has become an informal anthem for Kulangsu. One of the two ukelele men stands to the right of the Marine Garden Hotel, and the other stands on the street corner across from Moon Shrimp Pie.
Address: Near 27 Tianwei Road, x Gulangyu Island, Siming District, Xiamen City, China
When you’re on the most romantic island in China, some spots can be overwhelmed with romance. This small, pretty beach at the end of Tianwei Road is a classic perch on the Kulangsu coast, in part because of the incredible number of couples posing for wedding pictures on the beach every day. On an average afternoon, you’re likely to see 5-10 photo shoots.
This takes away from your chances of sunbathing in peace, but on the other hand, who can complain about so much romance? For a more secluded experience, take the footpath past the old Guan Hai Yuan harbor (to the left of the beach if you’re facing the ocean) for a tour of some of Kulangsu’s grand faded villas and some even more romantic views of the isolated rocky shoreline.
Address: Guanhai Road, Gulangyu Island, Siming District, Xiamen City, China
The Kulangsu organ museum’s beautiful red dome is visible from across the bay in Xiamen. The museum, housed in the old Bagua Mansion, is one of Kulangsu’s most important tourist attractions–both for its impressive collection of organs and for its stately and imposing architectural style.
The Bagua Mansion, also known as Eight Diagrams Mansion, is a good representation of early Xiamen architecture. It was constructed by Taiwan businessman Lin Heshou and designed by Dutch American John Abraham Otte, director of Hope Hospital, in 1907. Lin Heshou aspired to build a villa blending classical eastern and western architectural styles, but the project was so costly that Lin Heshou had to mortgage his properties to get a loan from the Japanese-owned “Bank of Taiwan”.
Lin Heshou eventually went bankrupt and, leaving the project unfinished, hightailed it back to Taiwan, never to return. Afterwards the Japanese repaired the house and set up the “Xuying Study”. During the war with Japan, Bagua Mansion was a refugee asylum. After the war, it was taken over by the Kuomintang government.
Address: 43 Guxin Road, Gulangyu Island, Siming District, Xiamen City, China
Kulangsu’s most famous pianist, Yin Chengzong, still owns and periodically visits this hilltop house. It is one of the island’s most beautiful private homes, now inhabited by the pianist’s brother, Yin Chengdian, who is a first-rate musician in his own right and the former dean of the Xiamen Music School.
In 1924, Yin’s father bought the land. His eldest son, Yin Chengzu, helped to design the house blending with the Minnan style and the American Revival style. In 1942, Yin Chengzong was born. The pianist went on to win some of the world’s most prestigious piano awards, and to play in Carnegie Hall and for Chairman Mao Zedong, was born in this house. The famous pianist still owns it and visits periodically.
Address: 16 Jishan Road, Gulangyu Island, Siming District, Xiamen City, China
One of the top tourist attractions of Kulangsu Island is the world’s largest and most impressive collection of pianos, all of which reside in a sprawling series of red-roofed houses that pay heritage to the island’s European-Chinese fusion classical music tradition. When you think about the difficulty of transporting so many grand pianos from all over the world to Xiamen, and compound it with the difficulty of then getting them all onto Kulangsu Island by ferry, it all seems virtually implausible. But it’s true.
There are two separate buildings full of magnificent pianos, some in shapes and sizes you’ve probably never seen before, from miniature children’s models to ultra-long grand pianos with intricate, colorful inlaid-wood artwork and built-in candelabras. On most days, a pianist in one of the rooms periodically plays “Gulangyu Zhi Bo” (鼓浪屿之波), the island’s unofficial theme song, on one historic piano, adding to the atmosphere.
The Piano Museum sits above the beautiful Shu Zhuang Garden (Shu Zhuang Hua Yuan 菽庄花园); one museum ticket admits you to both sites. Don’t miss the extra pianos on display through the series of large plate-glass windows by the steps as you descend from the museum to the garden. Once you’ve descended, you’ll traverse Shu Zhuang Garden’s lily ponds and boulder sculptures and traverse a series of walkways with photogenic views over waves crashing on rocks, a palm-lined beach below, and rolling hills above. Whatever else you do on the island, and however much time you have, don’t miss any of this canonical Kulangsu experience.
Address: 7 Gangzaihou Road, Gulangyu Island, Siming District, Xiamen City, China