Shamian, previous known as Zhongliusha or Shicuizhou, is an elliptic sandbar in the Liwan District of Guangzhou City, Guangdong Province.
The island's name literally means "sandy surface" in Chinese. Surrounded by water, Shamian is just like a giant ship mooring alongside the wharf.
Shamian Island has great historic significance. From the Song and the Qing Dynasty, Shamian Island served as an important port for Guangzhou's foreign trade. Shamian became a strategic point for city defense during the second Opium Wars (1856-1860).
In 1859, the territory was divided into two concessions, given to France and United Kingdom (of which 4/5 went to the British and 1/5 to the French). It was then embanked and provided with streets, drainage, and imposing buildings and became home to a prosperous foreign enclave. From the late 1800s to the early 1900s, most of the public facilities were finished, including political buildings like consulates, cultural buildings like churches and schools, as well as commercial buildings like banks and firms.
After 1949, the mansions of Shamian became government offices or apartment houses and the churches were turned into factories. But later they were restored, in many cases to their former splendor. Each building has a label telling its former purpose. One may start to imagine what stories these building held while viewing the plaque writing about its previous function. One example is "No.7 North Shamian Avenue" which was built during the Republican period and was formerly the Administration Bureau of Broadcasting of the Nationalist Government. The mansions in Shamian form the best preserved Western Europe style building complex in China. Forty-two out of 150 buildings are counted as the most exotic ones, Gothic, Baroque, and Neoclassical, in Guangzhou.
Since the early 2000s, Shamian Island has become well known for many Western couples who reside there, seeking to adopt Chinese babies and young children, most of whom are orphaned and female. In particular, the White Swan Hotel, adjacent to the Consulate of United States in Guangzhou in Guangzhou and convenient to file paperwork and handle bureaucratic matters, has become a hotel of choice.
Shamian is a good place for a stroll. As it is just 900m long from east to west and 300m from south to north, one will not feel tired even after walking around the island twice. Dues to traffic control on the island, Shamian showcases a different atmosphere and pace of living. Problems such as traffic jams and exhaust gas pollution don't exist here.
Now partly reserved for pedestrians, its broad boulevards are like long gardens topiaries. A line of bars and cafes on the southwest side with views over the Pearl River serves modern expats.
[via travelchinaguide.com website]