Shamian Island (literally translated as “Sandbar” Island), a 44-acre sandbank separated from Guangzhou by a canal, was given as a concession to the French and British governments after the First Opium War in 1841. The island quickly grew into a prosperous expat enclave where trading companies from Europe, the United States and Japan came to do business.
The stone mansions, churches, yacht club and sporting venues drew the envy of Guangzhou residents, who didn’t even have paved roads until the early 1900s. Local Chinese authorities restricted traders to the small area and forbade them from learning Chinese or bringing over their children and wives.
Today, many of the colonial mansions have been restored to their former glory, and the island, now partly pedestrianized, is home to a series of bars, cafes and boutique shops. The neo-gothic Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church has reopened for worshippers in recent years and is worth a visit.
The Chen Clan Academy, also called the Ancestral Temple of the Chen Family, is to Guangzhou what the Forbidden City is to Beijing. The complex consists of 19 traditional southern Chinese buildings that were erected by the Chen Family in the late 1800s as a place for the members of all 72 Chen clans in the province to stay as they studied for their provincial exams.
In 1905, the traditional examination system was dissolved and the area became an industry college for the clan. In 1957, the complex was designated as a Guangzhou City preserve, and in 1959 the local government began using the Academy to house local folk arts.
Serving as the Guangzhou Museum of Folk Art, the Chen Clan Academy is the largest and best-preserved clan complex in Guangdong Province and houses an exquisite collection of Cantonese folk art. The structures themselves are works of art, with carvings on nearly every column, ceiling beam and wall.
Considered one of the best museums anywhere in China, the Museum of the Mausoleum of the Nanyue King (sometimes called the Museum of the Southern Yue Royal Mausoleum) houses the contents of the royal tombs of the Nanyue-ruler Zhao Mo.The tomb was discovered in 1983 when a bulldozing crew digging up a basement for a hotel uncovered the ancient mausoleum.
Zhao Mo ruled the southern Chinese kingdom of Nanyue from 137 BC to 122 BC after being sent south by the emperor to establish a new sovereign state. The skeletons of Zhao Mo, along with 15 of his courtiers who were buried alive to serve him in death and several thousand objects from the empire are on display, and the compact tomb sitting behind the museum is open to visitors as well.
An audio tour available in English will walk you through the history of the Han Dynasty by way of the relics and artifacts once housed in the tomb.
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