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Xiamen: magic place, magic people---By Professor Bill Brown

XMUICE    Public:ICE    Datetime:2011/4/26

Though I was only 32 when I moved to Xiamen (the former Amoy) in 1988, I had already lived in over 30 cities, and certainly had no intention to stay in Xiamen longer than a year or two. I´d never have imagined our family would still be here 22 years later. While I still love to travel, and each year visit cities around China and the rest of the world, I´ve come to realise that while many places are nice for a visit, there really is no place like home, especially if that home is Xiamen.
I did not come to that decision easily. It is hard for an inveterate wanderer to settle down, so I explored the rest of China, just to be sure. In 1994, my family and I drove our van over 40,000 kilometres around China, from Xiamen up the coast to Beijing and Mongolia, through the Gobi desert to Tibet, and back to Xiamen via Southern China. We were amazed by the sheer scope and variety of China´s natural beauty, and the friendliness and hospitality throughout the country, but nowhere compared with Xiamen as a place to actually live and work.
Xiamen´s most obvious attraction is of course its natural beauty. For centuries, foreign visitors have been enchanted by its green hills, the rocky granite crags which many compared with Scotland, and the serene gardens and picturesque beaches. My wife and I certainly appreciate the island´s beauty. We walk the boardwalk each morning, taking in the bracing sea air while watching the massive merchant ships, the sampans and junks, and the sailing yachts, and admiring the beauty of Xiamen bay and the majestic Great Southern Warrior peak. I can relate to young Miss Jane Edkins, who on April 20th, 1860, wrote to her brother Simon:
Here we are at Amoy … We anchored outside, on a beautiful moonlight evening. The scenery all round was enchanting. Noble hills of rocky brown overhung the entrance, crowned by pagodas, etc. Rocky islands, the abode of wild fowl, encircled us. The sun poured his last mellow rays o´er the delightful scene as we entered, and my heart bounded with joy at the sight.
Today, Xiamen has retained its enchanting 19th century beauty while evolving into a modern city where life is almost like a vacation-except that vacations get old, whereas life on the garden island of Xiamen only gets better as the city continues to evolve. In fact, my wife and I sometimes take a weekend vacation and stay right here in a Xiamen hotel just so we can appreciate our rapidly changing hometown from a visitor´s perspective.
Xiamen has grown rapidly in part because of its natural beauty, idyllic climate, deep natural harbor (one of the best in the world), and strategic coastal location between Hong Kong and Shanghai, and facing Taiwan. But fortunately for us, the rapid growth has not sacrificed our environment. During one 20-year period, Xiamen was not only number one in economic development for cities its size, but also second in environmental protection. Xiamen´s provincial-level autonomy has helped the city to boldly pioneer numerous green development practices. Xiamen had China´s first daily air quality forecasts, and was a pilot city for national environment protection. We had China´s first ISO-authenticated garden, and Gulangyu Islet was the country´s first ISO-authenticated administrative district. Xiamen greenery has grown from 13% to almost 40%, new communities have at least 30% green space, and our Yuandang Lake, which is now the green heart of the city, was selected as a United Nations Development Project demonstration site.
When Xiamen entered the UN-sponsored Nations in Bloom: International Garden City competition in Germany in 2002, the six judges voted unanimously for Xiamen, noting that Xiamen was not only number one but far ahead of number two. And in 2004, Xiamen received the coveted UN Habitat Scroll of Honour Award . But the secret of Xiamen´s success is found not just in its natural beauty and economic strategies but in the spirit of its people.

Centuries before Hong Kong or Shanghai were on the map, Xiamen people had a reputation for boldness, business savvy (they were dubbed the Yankees of China ), and integrity. Most overseas Chinese emigrated from the Xiamen area, so Xiamen people had contacts with relatives abroad, and they were open to foreign trade, travel, and exchange of ideas. Allom and Wright wrote of Xiamen in 1843,
Besides the natural advantages…our embassies and expeditions have uniformly found a kindlier spirit, a more generous feeling, predominant at Amoy, towards foreigners, and traders, and visitors, than at other parts of China …
Xiamen had consulates for 14 countries, and an international settlement so successful that in 1900, a foreign author wrote that Xiamen´s Gulangyu Islet had the wealthiest square kilometre on the planet. Xiamen prospered because of its great concentration of both wealth and talent, and the uniquely close co-operation between Chinese and foreigners. Xiamen had 20 educational institutes, and Chinese and foreigners working together helped pioneer China´s modern medicine, modern education (especially for women), sports, art and literature, and music. Gulangyu Islet was home to such famous Chinese as Lin Qiaozhi, Mother of modern obstetrics , John Ma, pioneer of China´s modern sports, world famous pianist Teng Hiok Chiu, internationally acclaimed pianist Ying Chengzong, Lu Zhuangzhang, Father of Pinyin , and others. Xiamen is also recognised internationally as the Home of Modern Tropical Medicine , thanks to the discoveries here of Sir Patrick Manson, the Father of Tropical Medicine . The list of famous Xiamen residents, both Chinese and foreign, continues to grow. Only last year I received a letter from the son of the famous American artist Horace Day, who said his father was born to missionary parents in Xiamen in 1909, and his South Fujian upbringing was a great influence upon his award-winning art.
The Xiamen spirit that won foreigners´ respect, trust and co-operation for so many centuries continues even today to enchant foreign visitors seeking not only an excellent business and investment environment but also a high quality of life. A few years ago, a foreigner with 20 years business experience in China who had just visited Xiamen for the first time asked me out to breakfast. I was told, To foreign business people, all Chinese cities are alike. We see the airport, the hotel, the factory, and go home. Though Xiamen is of course very beautiful, I´d have never noticed had a factory worker not asked to give me a brief tour of Xiamen during my first trip here. It was that man´s enthusiasm for his hometown, and the bit of history I read from one of your books, that moved me to do more business in Xiamen. Although Shanghai, Canton and Beijing are of course larger, and I have more contacts there, Xiamen´s modern transportation and communications help compensate for that, and I love the big city convenience and small island atmosphere of Xiamen. Xiamen really is magical.
I could not have said it better myself. Xiamen is indeed the largest little island on the planet.
A picture may well be worth a thousand words, but a visit is worth ten thousand pictures. Visit Xiamen and discover first-hand why over 5,000 long term foreigners, and tens of thousands of Overseas Chinese, are proud to say there is no place like home, especially when that home is Xiamen!

About Prof. Bill Brown

Bill Brown is a professor at the Xiamen University MBA Centre. He graduated from Walden University with a PhD in Administration and Management, and has been teaching business studies to graduate students for over 20 years. He has written textbooks on Organizational Behaviour and Business Strategy, together with over 60 articles for a wide range of journals and newspapers, several television documentaries, and a number of books including Amoy Magic-Guide to Xiamen, Mystic Quanzhou-City of Light, Discover Gulangyu, Magic Fujian, and Xiamen University-Strength of the Nation. In addition, he maintains his own website,, and writes two blogs, and as platforms for introducing Xiamen and China.

In 1990, he was awarded the Fujian Provincial Friendship Award, and two years later
he was the first foreigner in Fujian Province to be granted permanent residence. In
1993, he was presented with the National Friendship Award by Premier Li Peng. In
presented with the National Friendship Award by Premier Li Peng. In 2002, Bill Brown
represented Xiamen at the international Nations in Bloom: International Garden City competition, helping Xiamen to win its category. In 2003, he was voted one of Top Ten Movers in Xiamen . Bill Brown is well-known among local people who refer to him as Lao Pan .

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