During the opium-trading days in the South China Seas, some 200 years ago, the Chinese gave the foreign traders Shamien Island in the Pearl River, off Canton.
During the opium-trading days in the South China Seas, some 200 years ago, the Chinese gave the foreign traders Shamien Island in the Pearl River, off Canton. The tai-pans, rulers of the trading houses which dealt in tea and opium, used some of their accumulated wealth to build European-style mansions on the island. The mud flats were strengthened by ballast brought up the river from Hongkong, and the foreign community lived a life of European splendour. Now the only memory of those days is the buildings left behind by the traders. The mansions have survived the changes of the past 200 years in China, and although shutters are broken and paint is peeling, the grandeur remains.
SYNOPSIS: Two hundred years ago ships of foreign traders sailed the Pearl River from Hong Kong to Canton. Under the direction of the tai-pan, ruler of the trading house, the ships traded in tea and opium. After the opium wars, China gave the foreigners two mud flats in the centre of the river called Shamien. The tai-pans strengthened the shoreline with ballast and built European-style mansions. Now the mansions have different occupants.
Despite an invasion by the Japanese during the Second World War, and the Cultural Revolution in the 1960's, the mansions remain. The shutters are falling off their hinges, and the paint is peeling, but the grandeur remains. Children play under the shade of European imported trees where once amahs walked the children of European traders.
Remnants of the uncertain times during the trading days remain. During the opium war Canton was sacked by the Chinese and the traders fled to the island and Hongkong. Shamien was untouched. Although the outside appearance of the buildings may have stayed the same in 200 years, the activities inside have definitely altered. Where, once, grand balls were held, children walk and play and attend school. Many of the buildings have been turned into factories. Where the portrait if the tai-pan once hung, pictures of Mao Tse-tung have taken its place. The new residents of Shamien get on with the business of building up their country. If they stop to think about the architecture of the old buildings they probably find the fading facades out of place.