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Xinhua News Agency: Kulangsu, the “Garden on the Sea”, Preserves History and Culture through Bid for World Heritage Status[2016-09-02]
    Kulangsu, Xiamen is a known as the "Garden on the Sea" and the "World Museum of Architecture". In February this year, China officially submitted Kulangsu as the nation’s nominee in 2017 for inscription onto the UNESCO List of World Cultural Heritage.
    Photograph by Xinhua News Agency Staff Reporter Kang Miao
    Xinhua News Agency – Xiamen, September 1 (Staff Reporters Shang Hao and Fu Min)
    Kulangsu, nicknamed the "Garden on the Sea" and the "World Museum of Architecture", is a haven of tranquility nestling in the turquoise waters west of Xiamen Island.
    With its unique blend of Eastern and Western cultures, classical and romantic European-style?architecture, and bright sandy beaches, Kulangsu has long been an immensely popular destination for tourists. Nevertheless, recently, the 1.91-square-kilometer small island has been more associated with the words of "history", "culture" and "heritage".
    In February this year, China officially submitted Kulangsu as the nation’s nominee in 2017 for inscription onto the UNESCO List of World Heritage. Since then, enhancing the core elements of the heritage property has been Kulangsu’s top priority.
    The red-brick Huang Clan Ancestral Hall near the intersection of Haitan and Shichang Roads on Kulangsu, typical of ancestor-worshipping places in southern Fujian, stands out from the cluster of buildings.
Huang Clan Ancestral Hall before renovation, photograph by Xinhua News Agency Shang Hao
    Mr. Zheng Zhongwei, 55, was born and raised on Kulangsu. His home was merely 10 meters from the Huang Clan Ancestral Hall. This old building contains many of his fond memories of his childhood and adolescence – playing with other children, drying sugar canes in the sun, fetching water, woodworking ……
    "As far as I can remember, it was a big courtyard-style house shared by multiple households" said Mr. Zheng.
    Recently, the house, now an ancestral hall, has been restored to its original appearance in the Qing Dynasty following an over three-month renovation as part of the preservation and restoration program for the historic buildings and cultural relics on Kulangsu.
    Stepping into the antiquated and neat courtyard, visitors are greeted by a tablet hanging above the door to the hall with a gilded script reading "Inspiration and Integrity", penned in a vigorous calligraphic style.
    The ongoing program of preserving and restoring the historic buildings and cultural relics has been accompanied by a program to explore and showcase the local cultural heritage. For Mr. Zheng, what has changed is not just the layout and surroundings of the ancestral hall, but also his perception of the house, and more importantly, the revelation of a little-known episode of history.
    Huang Clan Ancestral Hall before renovation, courtesy of Kulangsu Administrative Committee
    In 1842, in the wake of the Sino-British Opium War, American priest David Abeel arrived on Kulangsu, Xiamen, which had been opened up as a treaty port. He took up his quarters in the Huang Clan Ancestral Hall, which also doubled as a makeshift clinic for him.
    "I didn’t know that this ancestral hall had hosted an American missionary until recently," said Mr. Zheng.
    The previously uneven ground in the square before the Zhongde Taoist Temple, where the popular gods of southern Fujian were worshipped, has been smoothened, and the historical steles, dating back more than 400 years, have been restored as well. The former Amoy Girls’ School, which has long been idled and forgotten, has been converted into a museum showcasing the history of education on Kulangsu, recounting the stories of Kulangsu’s famous educators such as Lin Qiaozhi and Zhou Shu’an.
    Huang Clan Ancestral Hall at the end of the Qing Dynasty, courtesy of Kulangsu Administrative Committee
    At present, 53 core elements of Kulangsu as a heritage property are under renovation, and a heritage monitoring and management center and a heritage archives center have also been set up for more efficient long-term preservation of the heritage. Like Mr. Zheng, it’s the first time for many local residents to learn about the stories of the historic sites.
    "For many years, people have learnt about Kulangsu through its landscape," said Wu Yongqi, an expert on Xiamen culture and history and a researcher of Kulangsu history. "Kulangsu is a specimen of ancient Chinese maritime culture and of the interaction of China and the West in pre-modern times. The island was also a microcosm of China’s pre-modern evolution, a place where local culture, the international settlement culture, and overseas Chinese culture mixed with one another, and the birthplace of many prominent personalities. It would be a great pity if these historical and cultural factors were neglected."
    The Cliff Inscription about the Sanhe Taoist Temple is China’s largest stone inscription about Heavenly Princess Mazu. For many years, this place was overgrown with weeds and buried in rubbles.
    Photograph courtesy of Kulangsu Administrative Committee
    Aside from the renovation of historic buildings, enhancement of building fa?ades, renovation of municipal facilities, repairs of roadways, and landscaping are also underway. All Kulangsu residents share the wish of exploring and exhibiting the stories and cultural connotations of all buildings, structures and trees on the island as the bid for World Heritage status progresses.
    UNESCO is expected to review the nomination of Kulangsu for inscription onto the List of World Heritage in the summer of 2017. As such, the island’s bid for World Heritage status has entered a critical period. For this, both Mr. Zheng and Mr. Wu are full of expectations.
    "We hope Kulangsu’s bid for World Heritage status will be successful so that we can have a better understanding of the island and place it under better protection. The development of tourism and the preservation of heritage on the island can go hand in hand", said Mr. Wu.
    "Attainment of World Heritage status is not the ultimate purpose; rather, it’s preservation. We’re working to preserve Kulangsu’s precious historical heritage and cultural scenery, carry forward the cream of the island’s history and culture, and maintain its cultural diversity as an international settlement," said Cai Songrong, deputy director of the Kulangsu World Cultural Heritage Monitoring and Management Center.
    Tourists take a rest in front of the newly renovated Cliff Inscription about Sanhe Taoist Temple
    Photograph by Xinhua News Agency Staff Reporter Shang Hao