French Consulate of Amoy

Xiamen/厦门, historically called “Amoy” after the local dialect pronunciation, had a long history of international trade before becoming one of the five “Treaty ports” in 1842 following the treaty of Tianjin. Foreign consuls moved from Amoy city to the island of Gulangyu (鼓浪屿), located opposite the city in 1902. The whole island became an international settlement, with land regulations and municipal council like in Shanghai and consulates from many nations. Gulangy (鼓浪屿) is one of my favorite places in China, and I have been to the island 5 times since 2005 (See posts “Night on Gulangyu“, “Rain on Gulangyu” and “The revival of Gulangyu” for more details). This new trip was an opportunity to search for the former Amoy French Consulate on the island.

Gulangyu’s main beach

The backwater island I first saw in 2005 has now transformed into a tourism Mecca since getting on of the UNESCO protected heritage list in 2017. Although tourists have come in number, it is still possible to avoid massive crowds by visiting the island in the low season, like in the winter apart from Chinese New Year. With a little sun, temperature gets easily to 15-20 degrees, perfect for walking around. Most crowded roads are the one going along the coast overviewing Xiamen city, as well as the one going through the island to the main beach. They are best avoided in the afternoon, when most people come over.

South of Gulangyu

As per the old maps, the former French Consulate of Amoy (or “Consulat Français de Amoy” in French), was located on a secluded beach on the South West side of the island. The whole area around “11” on the map is now the Gulangyu Piano museum. The former Chan Bay West road (today Tian Wei Road) is blocked, as part of a large estate that was probably military zone a few years ago. Fortunately, today’s Tianwei Road splits into two branches, one of each is open leading to the former Danish Telegraph Office and former Oeitjoe Garden.

Former Oeitjoe Garden and the jetty

As indicated on the map, the former French Consulate is the building on the other side of the jetty, on the Chan Bay Beach. Although the building itself cannot be accessed, I managed to catch a picture (see below). A large plot of land around the former consulate was surrounded by large tents, and 2 rickshaws (!) were parked in the front. My guess is that it is currently used as a film set.

Former French Consulate, Amoy

Although it has quite a vast plot of land, Amoy French Consulate was never really seen as important by the French administration. Very little information is available on the internet about it. After consulate closure in the late 1940s, the Consulate’s archives were kept at the French Embassy in Beijing until 1981, when they were brought back to France. As French historian Roger Pérennès explains, France had a presence in Amoy since 1901, with a vice-Consulate from 1906 to 1916. Below picture from the Australian University archives stating “Amoy, at the French Consulate” is dated from 1907.

A proper consulate was only open on 1st December 1925, with Fernand Roy (1885-1967) being the Consulate for most of the time until end 1939. With little activity during WW2, the consulate finally closed down in February 1946.

Since the consulate was actually open very much later than others, it could explain that the location is away from the main port, on a more secluded part of the island as better located ground were already taken. As a comparison, the American, British and Japanese Consulates were located on the other side of the island, overlooking Xiamen and the main port. I did not find any information about the construction of the French consulate building, but the building looks like it was “ruinovated” at some point later. Below is another picture I shot in 2009 in a previous visit that is mentioned in post “The revival of Gulangyu” when garden and the building was much better maintained.

Former French consulate in Amoy (2009)

The site of the French consulate is located near the former Northern telegraph office, which was built in 1918 in a somewhat similar style (see below).

Northern telegraph building

The next building on the road, shown on the map but with no mention, is also of similar style. It was probably built around the same time.

Hopefully more information will come up about the former French Consulate in Amoy as French archives and others are researched. I will definitely come back to my favorite Island Gulangyu. For more posts about this topic, see posts “Night on Gulangyu“, “Rain on Gulangyu” and “The revival of Gulangyu“.

For more information about French Consulates in Old China, see post “Former Shanghai French Consulate“.

Art Deco in France

Having long been in love with Art Deco, I have also been asked and wondered why Art Deco is not so recognized in France, my own country and the birthplace of the style. Numerous Art Deco supporting societies first started in the USA and have now extended all over the World, but barely exist in France.  Out of the dozens of association members, only 2 are in France:
The Association Society of Saint-Quentin. Both Saint-Quentin and closeby Reims were devastated during WWI. They were both rebuilt in the 1920’s and 1930’s, when Art Deco architecture was in fashion and both formed the French Art Deco city association. As far as I know, they are the only member. Few pictures from my trip to Reims in 2012 are available at the following location
The Perpignan Art Deco Association, that was founded in… April 2014.
I thoroughly search in both the French and English internet, but they seem to be the only ones so far.

ICADS (International Coalition of Art Deco Societies – organises an Art Deco World Congress every 2 years. The next one will be in Shanghai in 2015 (see post World Art Deco congress ) for more details.

This lack of enthusiasm for Art Deco in France, and probably in Europe (the only other member of ICADS in Europe is in London) may seem difficult to understand for lovers of the period. My long time in France this summer allowed me to explore this issue. Art Deco is definitely undervalued in France, here are some of the reasons why:

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Batiment Art Deco à Amboise

– There are many other old buildings in France and Europe
Art Deco spread around the world along with industrialisation. For many countries, in particular the USA or Australia, it was the time of cities creation and expansion. Long neglected (like Miami’s Art Deco hotels that only where looked after in the 90’s), Art Deco buildings are often now the oldest buildings in town, making them valuable.
In Europe, they are most often not the oldest buildings by far. The best example is this neglected Art Deco Cafe in Amboise, a renaissance town where surely little time is spent of modern buildings as opposed to 16th century relics next to it.

Art Deco is not that old. The first major Art Deco exhibition in Paris just took place.
The first major art deco exhibition took place in Paris in the beginning of 2014 (see post about the exhibition). There are other museums in France about it, but they are also not that old.

Major building were built out of city centers.
Being a late architecture style, Art Deco was often the style of developments in the suburbs of the cities that where expending at the time. In Paris it is mostly found in outside districts or in close suburbs. Another example is Villeurbanne’s gratte-ciel district that was in the middle of nowhere when it was built.

Gratte-Ciel, public housing in Villeurbanne
Gratte-Ciel, public housing in Villeurbanne

– Architecture of the utilities. Many hospitals, barracks and other administration buildings
Coming at a time of major construction of public buildings, art deco was often used public use and public housing buildings in France, as opposed to earlier styles used for palaces and stylish buildings. This is different from other parts of the World.

It’s “so common”.
The 1920’s and 30’s were a period of intense construction in France, so many example can be found from this period. Not all are really art deco though and not all have great architectural value.

With time passing and interest abroad, Art Deco seems to attract more and more interest in France. The first Paris-based exhibition about this truly first global style will certainly help to create attention to it. Hopefully more fellow French will get interested in it and create Art Deco societies and maybe Art Deco festival equaling the famous one in Napier, new Zealand.

August 2015: There is now a Paris Art Deco Society, that started right at the time of original writing of this article.
Their website is:

Representative of the Paris Art Deco Society will join the Shanghai Art Deco Congress. Maybe one day there will be a Art Deco congress in Paris… where it all started

August 2017: World Congress on Art Deco in Paris for 2025 is now firmly in the plan. A large Facebook group has been created that is collecting photos of art deco building and exchanging information (Please follow to find it). A massive exhibition on Bauhaus took place in France connected both styles and the opening of the restored Villa Cavrois in Lille area have boosted the image of Art Deco in France. Art Deco in France and in Europe is clearly on the move.