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Kulangsu

Date of Submission: 29/01/2013
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
National Commission of the People's Republic of China for UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Xiamen City, Fujian Province
Coordinates: N 24°26’51”-N 25°53’08”, E 118°03’43”
Ref.: 5807
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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party

Description

Located close to Xiamen City (known as Amoy in the Western world), Kulangsu has been a natural barrier of the important gateway city of China, in the overseas exchanges ever since ancient times. Due to its special geographic location, Kulangsu became a frontier stronghold for many countries to further enter the mainland of China after the First Opium War (1840-1842). Therefore, the small sea island—only covering an area of 1.88km2 was rapidly clustered with Western religious groups, international commercial and financial institutions, consulates and diplomatic agencies. Under the influence of the globalization and diverse culture, Kulangsu began the transition from a traditional settlement rich in southern Fujian’s culture to a modernized residential community. With the approval of the Qing government, Kulangsu was officially carved up as an international concession in 1903, so as to balance the powers of the Western countries and to collectively protect the port trade in Xiamen. Hence there emerged an autonomous system commonly run by several countries on the island. When the wars and conflicts were in full swing both internationally and domestically, Kulangsu, featuring relatively more safety and freedom, better services in education and medical care, and advanced and complete community facilities, became an arcadia to many overseas Chinese in the Asia-Pacific region, including the leaders of Taiwan compatriots and other elites. They gradually grew into the mainstream force on Kulangsu contributing to another upsurge in construction and development on the island. Thanks to the influx, clash and integration of multiple cultures in the nearly 100 years, the sea-island landscape of Kulangsu, its free-style urban fabric, various matched community functions, diverse architectural styles and technology with strong stamps of the age, and graceful and delicate design of home gardens as a whole, created a unique community environment of Kulangsu, which exhibited its global multicultural background and its subsequent developments and re-creations. All of these made Kulangsu a unique example of a modernized international community in the beginning of the 20th Century.

The tangible heritages of Kulangsu, on the one hand, include many buildings such as home gardens, facilities of community administration and public services, and trading and financial institutions left from the construction climax in the beginning of the 20th Century. These buildings boasting different styles and manifest a complete social function system and the cultural fusion of various countries on the island. The large numbers of Western-style houses which were built by the Chinese with Amoy-Deco as the mainstream decorating style, highlight the creativity inspired by the cultural fusion. On the other hand, the island’s tangible heritages also consist of abundant residential, religious, educational buildings and hospitals built in the later half of the 19th Century in the Asia-Pacific colonial style, which reflect the original appearances and developments of Western cultures when they entered the island. Meanwhile, some Buddhist temples, Taoist abbeys, native settlements, and other historic relics are also preserved as a manifestation of the early-time accumulation of the local culture. Furthermore, the outstanding multicultural atmosphere and modernized community also helped to cultivate a new generation of elites who contributed to the cultural opening-up and modernization in Modern China. Their works, thoughts and practices successfully introduced the Western culture, science and stylistics education to China, and in the meantime showcased the traditional Chinese culture to the Western societies, profoundly influencing the cultural exchanges between the West and the East. All these heritages mentioned above testify the radical changes of Kulangsu in politics, economics, society, culture and technology over the past century. They are not only manifestations of the most extensive and intensive influence the early-stage globalization brought about, but also representations of the strong inclusiveness and creativity that the traditional local culture could have on the basis of deep national sentiments and solid cultural backgrounds. It is the outstanding cultural inclusiveness and creativity that give prominence to Kulangsu amongst the other cities of the same type and the same period.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Kulangsu, as a small island, used to be a bone of contention of many big powers and the once most powerful feudal empire in the world between the end of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th Century. The multi-national condominium and social administration that once existed on the island were special outcomes of the early-stage globalization, a unique historical period of the human civilization, which also made Kulangsu one of the few geographic locations in the world then with the highest density of diverse cultures from various countries.

During the 100 years since the middle of the 19th  Century, Kulangsu experienced radical political, economic, social, cultural and technological changes, which exhibited the most extensive and intensive influence of the multicultural fusion on the native society and its culture in the early stage of globalization. The outstanding contribution the Chinese elites made in this transitional process demonstrated the strong inclusiveness and creativity of the local traditional culture on the basis of deep national sentiments and solid cultural backgrounds, which endowed unique cultural meanings to Kulangsu amongst other cities of the same type and period.

Criterion (ii): With the relatively integrated, though small island environment, Kulangsu features organic urban fabrics,  different-style  buildings  including  home  gardens,  modern  facilities,  as  well  as  cultural  features  and community-based functional structures reflected from the various buildings. All of these display the extensive and intensive exchanges between the traditional Chinese culture and the multiple foreign ones in social life, architecture, technology and garden landscape from the middle 19th  Century to the middle 20th  Century, as the epitome of cultural collisions and integrations that happened all over the world during that period.

Criterion (iii): The culture of overseas Chinese in southern Fujian originated from the local marine culture, was influenced by diverse foreign cultures during its formation process, and finally became an important bridge of cultural promotion and integration in the Southeast Asia. Through the 100 years' development, especially the construction achievements the overseas Chinese had made on the island since the beginning of the 20th Century, Kulangsu represented the efforts and perseverance of the traditional feudal society in the Asia-Pacific region trying to reform itself into a modernized country in politics, society, economics, culture and technology, and also witnessed the national features, strong inclusiveness,  and the capacity of self-innovation  existing in the cultural traditional of overseas Chinese.

Criterion (iv): The integrated and well-preserved urban historical landscape on Kulangsu can serve as a unique example of modern residential communities under the multinational condominium by its urban fabric, public facilities, architectural styles, decorating features, building technology, and landscape environment for the Asia-Pacific region and even the whole world.

Criterion  (vi): Kulangsu  is directly  involved  with  the  emergence  of  many  overseas  Chinese  people  who  had contributed to Chinese culture’s opening-up and advancement together with their works and thoughts, such as John Ma, Lu Zhuangzhang, Lin Yutang, etc. They were the early triers of connecting the Western and Chinese cultures. Their works and remarkable accomplishments not only reflected the conjunct influence of the multiple cultures, but also served as the important bridge communicating the Chinese and Western cultures.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Authenticity

The entire environment of the island, design, forms, functions and materials of the historical buildings jointly manifest the authenticity of Kulangsu. A small-scaled renovation strategy guided by a detailed regulatory plan is currently adopted in Kulangsu, in an attempt to effectively preserve and enhance the important historical street structure, the typical urban fabric, the landscape elements, and the vision corridors, to make the historical context not only legible in the entire current environment, but also the foundation of the contemporary urban designing. As for the maintenance, restoration and renovation of historic buildings, Kulangsu has well preserved much historical information concerning the architectural forms, layout, interior and exterior materials, decorating details, and garden landscape, hence ensuring the authenticity of the nominated properties in many ways.

Integrity

Various elements taking shape in the early 20th Century has been completely preserved on Kulangsu such as the urban fabric, community function system and form, residential buildings in various forms and styles, and natural environment factors involving important cultural significance. These heritages of different times and locations as a whole fully reflect the construction achievements accomplished during the various historical stages since the middle of the 19th Century, and the communication and fusion of diverse cultures in the aspects of politics, social life, architecture, gardening art, building technology, etc. Meanwhile, the unique sea-island environment of Kulangsu and its relatively moderate development pattern in the recent 50 years have helped to maintain the original urban fabric and to preserve the skylines, important vision corridors and the master elevation of the whole island as they were in history to the maximum, instead of being unduly impacted by the new urban construction.

Comparison with other similar properties

In consideration of the geographic location, historical stages, heritage theme and type, Kulangsu can be compared with those historical cities and villages sharing the same features of multicultural fusion in the middle of the 19th Century in Asia-Pacific region. Compared with the Historic Centre of Macao (China, 2005), Kaiping Diaolou and Villages (China, 2007), Melaka and George Town, Historic Cities of the Straits of Malacca (Malaysia, 2008), and other Chinese cities that used to be foreign concessions in modern times including Shanghai and Shamian of Guangzhou, Kulangsu is remarkably unique in the following aspects:

1) The International Settlement of Kulangsu as a special political outcome of the certain international situation demonstrated unique appearances in terms of politics, economics, living style and urban fabric, compared with the other concessions then;

2) Its cultural diversity and harmonious co-existence and fusion with diverse cultures were rarely seen in other sites of the same theme;

3) Especially, the capacity of self-innovation, creativity, and influence of the traditional Chinese culture represented by the oversea Chinese people in its absorption of foreign cultures are not reflected from the other heritage sites;

4) Based on the livable island environment and the natural and organic urban fabric forming in the free-style co-existence of multiple cultures Kulangsu further demonstrates its different urban landscape from those of other commercial and trading cities established during the same period.