Xiamen 厦门市 is an excellent match for Sarasota in terms of geography, semi-tropical climate, and environmental cleanliness. Both cities also feature creative, energetic, and financial support for education, the visual and performing arts, botanical and marine research, tourism, investment and commercial exchange, and many other areas of shared interests. Siming District 思明区 (730,000 population) comprises the residential, cultural, and educational heart of Xiamen, along with being a center for tourism and commercial enterprises. The ultramodern Xiamen International airport is the fourth largest air traffic hub in China. It is easily accessible by direct flight from any point in China.
ABOUT SIMING DISTRICT/XIAMEN
Located on Xiamen Island 厦门岛 on the mountainous coast of Fujian Province 福建省, situated across the Taiwan Strait from Taiwan 台湾 and connected to the mainland by a 3-mile causeway, Siming District, including Gulangyu Island 鼓浪屿, comprises an area of approximately 8 square miles. Its administration 厦门市思明区人民政府 and Office of Foreign Affairs 厦门市思明区外事侨务办公室 are separate from that of the larger Xiamen Municipal Government 厦门市人民政府, which has a Sister Cities relationship with Baltimore, Maryland. Greater Xiamen has an area of 585 square miles and a population of 1.3 million, which is 60% urban and 99% Han ethnicity. Fujian Province is the ancestral home of more overseas Chinese than any other province in China. (See the Xiamen web-site at http://english.xm.gov.cn/.)
A HISTORY OF TRADE AND INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
Xiamen (known historically as Amoy) was one of 5 original “treaty ports” opened in 1842 to international settlement by 14 European countries after China’s defeat in the first Opium War. In 1980, Xiamen was designated one of 4 Special Economic Zones (SEZ) 经济特区 where special rules and administrative autonomy encouraged foreign investment and experimentation with innovative strategies for economic development. Xiamen focuses on international relations in 7 key industries: advanced technology, transport, commerce and trade, banking and insurance, tourism, real estate, and information and communications, including joint-venture, cooperative, and foreign-owned enterprises. Xiamen’s huge International Conference & Exhibition Hall Center 厦门国际会议展览 中心 is located in Siming; the city annually hosts the China International Fair for Investment and Trade in early September to attract foreign direct investment. Since 1980, Xiamen has enjoyed a 20% annual GNP growth rate, and in 2008 tied with Shenzhen for 2nd highest per capita GDP in China.
A CLEAN AND “GREEN” CITY
Xiamen has won numerous national and international awards for its clean air, environmental sustainability, marine pollution management, investment in environmental protection, public landscaping, and prohibition of pollution-creating projects. It is currently China’s third most environmentally clean city. The city bird is the egret, and its flower is bougainvillea.
Nature and science
Sites dedicated to public enjoyment of nature and scientific research include more than 30 parks and numerous white-sand swimming beaches and bird-watching sites. Rare white dolphins can be seen in the bay; a cable car to Sunlight Rock 日光岩 on Gulangyu gives a 360° view of the harbor. Wanshi Botanical Garden 万石植物馆 features endless landscaped trails, more than 20 nurseries, and over 4000 botanical species; the Overseas Chinese Garden 厦门华侨亚热带引种园 has an experimental nursery of subtropical plants. Xiamen University’s College of Oceanography and Environmental Science 厦门大学海洋与环境学院 enjoys an international reputation and a multitude of international exchange relationships.
ARTS AND MUSEUMS
The Art College of Xiamen University 厦门大学艺术学院 is home to a European Art Center involved in ongoing cultural exchanges. Fuzhou University Xiamen College of Art and Design 福州大学厦门工艺美术学院 has a beautiful gallery of work by faculty and students. More than 100 traditional and modern public sculptures are distributed throughout the island. In 2005, Siming subsidized more than 20 international sculptors to produce sculptures for the city. Along the coastal ring road, dozens of life-size bronze sculptures memorialize the Xiamen International Marathon annually hosted by the city.
Asia’s largest Piano Museum 琴园 displays a stunning collection of eighteenth- and nineteenth- century pianos brought by Europeans to Gulangyu Island (aka “Piano Island” 琴岛), which even today boasts the highest-per-capita number of pianos of any city in China. Xiamen also offers a state-of-the-art children’s Museum of Science and Technology, a magnificent new Cultural Center, an Underwater World Aquarium, and numerous small museums devoted to special subjects: bridge engineering, anthropology, military science, coins, local and overseas history, and more.
Music and dance
The Xiamen Philharmonic Orchestra 厦门爱乐乐团 was founded in 1997 by Zheng Xiaoying, 郑小瑛, China’s first female conductor. Other groups in Xiamen include the Little Egrets Modern Folk Dance Company 小白鹭民间歌舞团 (现代艺术), folk music and regional opera groups (歌仔戏，高甲展览，南曲), the Xiamen Choir 厦门合唱团, and various youth orchestras.
Architecture and engineering
Siming is a showcase of well-preserved nineteenth-century colonial architecture maintained within an Architectural Protection Plan 建筑保护计划. Huli Hill Fort 胡里山炮台 boasts the world’s largest cannon and weapons dating back to the twelfth century. The Haicang suspension bridge 海苍吊桥, a feat of modern engineering built in the l950s, connects the city to the mainland.
Xiamen University 厦门大学 features more than 31,000 full-time students and approximately 1200 international students. The spacious and beautifully landscaped main campus overlooks the coastline and combines traditional and contemporary architecture. The university has cooperative relationships with over 90 institutions of higher education outside of China.
Fuzhou University Xiamen College of Art and Design on scenic Gulangyu Island has a lovely, modern campus, and a faculty of sophisticated artists and craftspeople creating contemporary work in ceramics, lacquer, and various traditional media, as well as commercial and industrial design.
In addition, the Xiamen academic community comprises several smaller universities and colleges, a dozen polytechnic institutes, and a variety of adult education programs.
In addition to a plethora of pre- and primary schools, the area has 55 middle schools (grades 7-12), of which 12 are model 实验 schools; 12 vocational schools, a K-12 foreign-language school 厦门外国语学校, an International School, and an extensive Children’s Library.
COMMERCE, INDUSTRY, AND TECHNOLOGY
Joint ventures have been a part of Xiamen history for more than a century. At present, foreign investment is encouraged in agriculture, forestry, animal husbandry, fisheries, manufacturing, energy production, water control and management, air transportation, telecommunications, real estate, social work, hygiene, sports, social welfare, education, culture, art, media (broadcasting, movie, TV), scientific research, and technical services.
Siming hosts the Annual Xiamen International Marathon 厦门国际马拉松赛. It features a sports stadium, one of Asia’s largest golf courses (designed by Greg Norman), two golf clubs, and China’s largest Go-Kart racetrack. Windsurfing, parasailing, scuba diving, water skiing, and motor-boating are all available, along with backpacking and hiking trails in nearby Zhangzhou 漳州 and in the Wuyi Mountains 武夷山 (a UNESCO World Heritage site) in northwestern Fujian. The Southern Shaolin Temple of martial arts fame is in Putian 普天, a 2-hour drive.
Namputou Buddhist Temple 南普陀寺 has thrived on the same site for 1500 years, with morning and evening chants by the monks. The Temple’s restaurant offers outstanding vegetarian food. A Buddhist nunnery is located in the Botanical Park. Siming is also home to China’s oldest Protestant Church, dating back to 1848.
Over 1300 medical establishments include an advanced eye-care facility featuring laser surgery. Zhongshan Hospital 中山医院 combines Chinese and Western medicine. Impeccably clean, professional massage centers employ blind body and foot masseuses.
Fujian Province, including Xiamen’s highly productive agricultural areas, is a leader in organic farming and aquaculture. Xiamen Fisheries College of Jimei University 集美大学水产学院 offers a master’s degree in aquaculture.
Fujian province is the tea capital of China, especially famous for Tie Guanyin 铁观音 (Iron Guanyin) oolong tea. Many tea varieties are organically grown and processed in the scenic Wuyi Mountains in northwest Fujian province.
Fujian cuisine features a huge variety of local seafood (choose it live!), as well as many rice noodle and taro dishes. Outstanding vegetarian cooking is available at Namputou Temple and various other restaurants.