The tiny islet of Gulang Yu across Xiamen Island was one of the first five treaty ports opened to foreign trade and residents after the Opium War in 1843. As one of the “concessions” in 1852, the island was set aside for foreign residence and then parcelled out to the British. This vehicle-free 1.7 sq-km island is full of European-style mansions overgrown with brilliant bougainvillea that were owned by consulates, foreigners and wealthy Chinese returning from overseas. Many are still owned by the families of overseas Chinese.
The Catholic Church at Gulang Yu was built in 1917 and is still a functioning church. Some sources claim that 30% of the island’s 20,000 residents are practicing Christians. It is also traditionally claimed that there are more pianos here than anywhere in China.