Gulangyu Local Day

Reveal, Rebalance, Restore and Celebrate

Date : August 2016
Location : Gulangyu, Xiamen, China
Collaborators :
Emma Chen / City and rural comprehensive construction
Jing Lin / Graphic design
Julie Howell / Set design, Spatial design
Shawn Wang / Design Studies
Yiman Huang / Spatial design


Gulangyu is a small island (about 2kilometers square), off the coast of Xiamen, a city in Fujian Province in southern China. The name Gulangyu means ‘island of drums and waves’. At present the island is also known as ‘the piano island’ and also ‘the Cradle of Musicians’ because of its reputation for music appreciation.

In recent years the domestic tourist industry has been overwhelming, and the island became a popular tourist destination. The feeling is that the identity of the island is being eradicated by excessive tourism. In an effort to conserve the island local government has tried to limit the numbers of tourists by, for example, putting up the ferry costs.

MA Narrative Environments students from Central Satint Martins work with China Academy of Art students in mixed teams exploring the stories and clues in the community and the physical environment that gave rise to strategic design interventions. They aimed to find opportunities for new productive relationships between locals and visitors through innovative cultural programmes and engaging content.


Our ‘Everyday Life’ group looked at some of the current social and economic imbalances, divisions and their consequences as experienced in the daily lives of the residents of Gulangyu Island. Our research and analysis of the physical aspects of these conflicts between the locals and tourists suggest that there are new opportunities to rebalance this situation. The health, conservation and well-being of the island depends on preparing for its future.

We used the ubiquitous plastic stool as a symbol of residency in any area. On Gulangyu, they are used daily and conspicuously by most local inhabitants. We observed these stools could be found at the sides of road, and in and around local homes. Locals sit to watch, but not interact with the visitors to the island, and most tourists seem oblivious to anyone sitting on one. Therefore, we did action research to find out answers about following 3 questions below :

  1. What happens when the symbol of the local resident, the stool, is moved to the centre of the road?
  2. What happens when the symbol is placed in overrun tourist areas, alongside the economic power of the tourist industry?
  3. What happens when the symbol offers the tourist a different experience of the island?

>>> Click to find the answers and watching the research development and site-specific interventions of ‘Everyday Life’ group


We propose that a regular 1 day public event, Gulangya Local Day’ is created every 3 months on and for the Island Residents. This would be a mobile event and would travel to, and highlight, selected areas of the island from a Resident perspective. The streets would be only for people to occupy, entertain, eat, and talk.

Residents would be the dominant feature of this temporary landscape, and be able to decide the theme and focus of the events for their day. For rebalancing and real change to happen, the existing dominant mass tourist issues would need to be altered. 

Within the chosen Gulangyu Local Day area, some suggestions are;                                

  • No electric buses allowed, no carts, no traffic noise (horns etc.)                                      
  • No Group tourist tours at all
  • Local business expanded, e.g. Open House/Garden access for normally private spaces, to encourage Cultural visitors

Island visitors on foot would be welcome to observe, meet and join in the celebration. Many bright coloured symbols of the event, the stool, would be used physically to block off the streets, and provide places to rest, play and support entertainment. New local business, supported by workshops and a resident education program could be supported.

storyboard_webThis is the overall view storyboard of the Local Day in one of our chosen locations, NaiChouao road. As you can see in the storyboard, there will be various activities, from its opening till lunch time.

Another potential activity would be a stool making workshop, which can be an opportunity to design a special stool to represent and unite all people on the island for a rebalanced future. Our first thoughts are below, and this could be a special project for the islanders and all be used to construct, remember, forgive and celebrate Gulangyu now, and in the future.


‘Gulangyu Local Day’ creates a win/win opportunity for all levels of participants. It would be entertaining, social and empowering for local people, and allow the local people a greater share of the islands tourist economy, the eventual creation of a more conscious, respectful and environmentally healthy visitor population will benefit the whole Island community.

Our proposed regular event could also be used as a platform for exploring and understanding current issues from the Gulangyu community. The collection of data, for use by more official and cultural institutions would serve to support long term change and the preservation of the authentic Gulangyu.