Shamian is ‘sand surface’, which is not a true island, and it is now connected to the rest of the city by a series of bridges. From the 18th to the mid 19th century, it is the only place where foreign traders were permitted to set up their warehouses and factories. The land has been increased to 27,000 sq metres, 900m from east to west, and 300m from north to south.
Shamian Island is the reminder of Guangzhou’s colonial history. It became a British and French concession after they won in the Opium Wars, and is covered with decaying colonial buildings which housed trading offices and residences.
The French Catholic church has been restored and stands on the main boulevard. The boulevard itself is a gentle stretch of gardens, trees and birdsong. Today, most of the buildings are used as offices or apartments blocks.
While most of Guangzhou is battling along at breakneck pace Shamian is merely ambling. Along the river, the park area is a great place for people watching and tea drinking. Or walk along the wide sidewalks and dine in the open-air under the old trees.