The first recorded mention of Xiamen dates back to the Song Dynasty (960-1279). At the time tXiamen was known as “Jiahe Island,” or in English, "Isle of Abundant Crops". The island was fortified in the 14th century during the Ming dynasty to defend against pirates and Japanese forces.
Thanks to Xiamen’s deep harbor, the city became a prosperous trading port, especially with Quanzhou’s port, just to the north of Xiamen, silting up. As European countries increased their presence in Asia, Xiamen, or "Amoy" as it was known in the west, became an increasingly important port. Along with Portugal, who began trading with Xiamen in 1516, many European countries took advantage of the increasing market opportunities. The Dutch also became very powerful in the region, and even gained control of Taiwan in 1624.
In the mid 17th century after the toppling of the Ming dynasty, the Qing dynasty was established by the Manchus of northeastern China. A Ming loyalist named Zheng Chenggong established his anti-Qing forces in Xiamen, and changed the island’s name to "Siming". His forces drove the Dutch from Taiwan in 1662, and Xiamen in turn became the region’s most important port for Chinese, British, Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch merchants. There is a gigantic monument to Zheng Chenggong on Gulanyu Island.
Xiamen remained peaceful and prosperous until the first opium war with Britain began in 1839. Even though British forces were repelled from Xiamen, China still lost the war. Under the Treaty of Nanjing, Xiamen would become one of five treaty ports where Britain could establish residency as a concession for the war. Britain, France, Japan, Germany, Spain, Denmark, Portugal, Holland, Austria, Norway, Sweden, the Philippines, the U.S. and Belgium would all later establish consulates in Xiamen on the Island of Gulanyu.
Up until 1939, when Japan invaded, Britain governed Xiamen. The Japanese ruled Xiamen from 1941 until 1945 during which time many of Gulanyu Island’s colonial buildings were all but destroyed. Nevertheless, Gulanyu Island remains a showcase of colonial architecture. After the defeat of Japan in 1945, all foreign powers relinquished their local rights by 1946.
When Mao’s Communists finally defeated the Kuomintang in 1949, Chiang Kai-Shek moved his forces to Taiwan. Due to the close proximity of Xiamen to Taiwan controlled territory, the city and surrounding area was quickly heavily fortified. There are still the remains of pillboxes evident in the area. Unfortunately, Xiamen and all of Fujian Province suffered economically due to its position as the front line of defense against Taiwan. However, in 1980, shortly after the cultural revolution ended, the government designated Xiamen as one of the first four “Special Economic Zones”.
The opening of Xiamen to foreign investment has transformed both the city and the surrounding area. Xiamen, the “Gateway to China,” has become a modern city excelling in pharmaceutical, electronic, textile and tourist industries. It also strives, under leaders with foresight, to be the cleanest city in China.