Reflections on Chaos in Gulangyu Island Tourism

Gulangyu Island, Xiamen, Fujian
Gulangyu Island, Xiamen, Fujian
By Paul WuJune 13th, 2024

Whenever holidays arrive, Gulangyu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, invariably trends on social media. However, during this year's Dragon Boat Festival, the "Sea Garden" has once again become a focal point, but this time it feels bittersweet.

Covering ten Christian cultural heritages, Gulangyu Island, Xiamen, China's southeastern-coastal Fujian Province, is among the World Heritage List. It boasts the Trinity Church, which was considered at one time China's most beautiful Protestant Church, a Catholic church, a Christian cemetery, and other Christian properties. 

According to reports from mainstream media such as China's state TV broadcaster CCTV, undercover journalists have revealed numerous issues on Gulangyu, including rampant tourist scams, high expenses, and poor experiences. The problem of overcharging tourists has even formed a "grey industry chain."

The issues with Gulangyu tourism are not new. For over a decade, friends and visitors have frequently shared with me the varied problems they encountered. For example, a seasoned traveler from Beijing compared the elegant and serene Gulangyu of early 2007 with the current situation, where illegal businesses are rampant. He lamented, "If proper governance is not implemented to restore Gulangyu's elegance, tranquility, and leisure, tourists will eventually be driven away!"

When people speak of Gulangyu, they are inevitably drawn to its enchanting scenery, exquisite architecture, and beautiful music. For Christians, this small island holds even more significance as a landing site for the gospel in modern times. The island is home to many Christian churches and historical sites, telling the stories of the spiritual predecessors' footsteps.

The current chaotic state of Gulangyu is not only due to fragmented policies and chaotic management but also to the deliberate destruction by some profit-driven businesses, which is also an important factor leading to its current situation, disregarding the island's cultural environment.

The painful present state of Gulangyu is a result of human sinfulness. However, there are still many law-abiding merchants who conduct fair business, leaving a positive impression on visitors. For instance, some of the island's original residents (including many fellow believers) run guesthouses and shops. They engage in civilized business practices and have never exploited tourists. Some of them are well-versed in Gulangyu's culture and share the island's history and gospel testimonies with visitors, making their trip worthwhile.

- Translated by Abigail Wu

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