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Shamian Island (also Romanised as Shameen Island or Shamin Island (both from its Cantonese Chinese pronunciation)), is a sandbank island in the Liwan District of Guangzhou city, Guangdong province, China. The island's name literally means "sandy surface" in Chinese.
The territory was divided into two concessions given to France and the United Kingdom by the Qing government in the 19th century. The island is a gazetted historical area that serves as a tranquil reminder of the colonial European period, with quiet pedestrian avenues flanked by trees and lined by historical buildings in various states of upkeep. The island is the location of several hotels, a youth hostel, restaurants and tourist shops selling curios and souvenirs.
Shamian Island was an important port for Guangzhou's foreign trade from the Song to the Qing Dynasty. From the 18th to the mid 19th century, the foreigners lived and did business in a row of houses known as the Thirteen Factories, near the present Shamian, which was then an anchorage for thousands of boat people. Shamian became a strategic point for city defense during the period of the First and Second Opium Wars. In 1859, the territory was divided in two concessions given to France and the United Kingdom (of which 3/5 belonged to the British and 2/5 to the French). It was connected to the mainland by two bridges, which were closed at 10pm as a security measure. The English bridge to the north was guarded by Sikhs, and the French bridge to the east was guarded by Vietnamese French troops.
Trading companies from Britain, the United States, France, Holland, Italy, Germany, Portugal, and Japan built stone mansions along the waterfront. The construction on the island was characterized by climate-adapted but Western-plan detached houses with hipped roofs and large verandahs.
The British Protestant church, Christ Church Shameen (沙面堂, pinyin: Shāmiàn Táng) was built in 1865.
Various bronze statues are scattered around the island which depict life as it was during earlier periods on the island, as well as from more recent times. For example, one statue entitled "A gentleman, a lady and a darn woman" shows a Western couple watching a Chinese woman darning cloth. Another depicts the changing appearances and stature of Chinese women, with a woman from colonial times in traditional clothing, a slightly taller woman from the early or mid 20th century wearing a cheongsam, and a relatively tall and slender young Chinese woman wearing shorts and talking on a mobile phone.
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Since the early 2000s, Shamian Island has become well known for the many Western couples who reside there while seeking to adopt Chinese babies and young children, most of whom are orphaned and female. The White Swan Hotel is one of the best-known hotels in Guangzhou, having been in operation for many years, and was the hotel of choice for these couples. One reason for this popularity is that the hotel was adjacent to the United States consulate, making it convenient to file paperwork and handle bureaucratic matters. But the consular section moved to the other side of the city in 2005 (the whole consulate moved out in 2013). Also, beginning in 2007, the Chinese government slowed the rate of adoptions, and as a result the percentage of tourists to Shamian Island who are Westerners has decreased as well.
The island is a popular spot for wedding and Cosplay photo shoots. In Chinese marriage, photos are taken and collected in a wedding album before the wedding.
The three east-west streets of the island, formerly named "Canal Street", "Central Avenue" (a tree-lined boulevard), and "Front Avenue" (originally lined on the riverside by parks) were renamed "Shamian North Road" (Shamian Beijie), "Shamian Main Street" (Shamian Dajie), and "Shamian South Road" (Shamian Nanjie). The five north-south streets are named Shamian 1 Street to Shamian 5 Street.
Huangsha Station of Guangzhou Metro is located within a short walk from the island, via an overpass crossing the busy Liu'ersan Road. There is also a ferry running from Huangsha Pier to Fangcun Pier, which runs every 10 minutes carrying foot-passengers and bicycles. Fares are from 0.5 RMB for a foot passenger and 1 RMB for a passenger with a bike. There are no public buses on the island itself, although there are several nearby bus stops.
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