Shamian Island is a sandbank island in the Liwan District of Guangzhou city, Guangdong province, China. The island's name literally means "sandy surface" in Chinese. The island covers an area of 0.3 kmÂ², 900 m from east to west, and 300 m from north to south. It is bordered in the south by the Pearl River, and it is separated from the mainland by a canal.
The territory was divided into two concessions given to France and the United Kingdom by the Qing government in the 19th century. The island is a gazetted historical area that serves as a tranquil reminder of the colonial European period, with quiet pedestrian avenues flanked by trees and lined by historical buildings in various states of upkeep. The island is the location of several hotels, a youth hostel, restaurants and tourist shops selling curios and souvenirs.
Shamian Island was an important port for Guangzhou's foreign trade from the Song to the Qing Dynasty. From the 18th to the mid 19th century, the foreigners lived and did business in a row of houses known as the Thirteen Factories, on the banks of the Pearl River to the east the present Shamian, which was then an anchorage for thousands of boat people. Shamian became a strategic point for city defense during the period of the First and Second Opium Wars. In 1859, the territory was divided in two concessions given to France and the United Kingdom (of which 3/5 belonged to the British and 2/5 to the French). It was connected to the mainland by two bridges, which were closed at 10pm as a security measure. The English bridge to the north was guarded by Sikhs, and the French bridge to the east was guarded by Vietnamese French troops. Trading companies from Britain, the United States, France, Holland, Italy, Germany, Portugal, and Japan built stone mansions along the waterfront. The construction on the island was characterized by climate-adapted but Western-plan detached houses with hipped roofs and large verandahs. After 1949, the mansions of Shamian became government offices or apartment houses and the churches were turned into factories. It is a fantastic place for visitors to walk around and to step into White Swan Hotel, one of the earliest luxury hotels built in mainland China for a break.