There’s an outdoor museum of architecture in Yantai not unlike the one in Gulangyu. Due historical reasons, the area around Yantai Hill was the location of many foreign embassies and trading houses that had setup their operations here in the late 19th century until the second world war.
Yantai Hill 烟台山 is just a 42m hill on one end of the Yantai peninsula that overlooks the bay. Because of its strategic location, it was the position of the smoke beacon tower 烽火台 to notify the garrison at the back of incoming invasion from the sea. This was also how the city got its name.
Yantai was once called Chefoo/Zhifu 芝罘 in older times. It was renamed as Yantai only in the 1940s. The whole place has be designated a state-protected historical area in 2006. I will describe the buildings I visited in chronological order even though the sequence of visit was US Consulate – British Consulate – German style Bungalow – Lighthouse.
Ming Dynasty – The Land is Ours
To fight against the Japanese pirates, the Ming Dynasty set up the smoke beacon tower 烽火台 in the 31st year of Ming Hongwu 洪武 31 年(1398) as a warning mechanism.
The platform base is made of blue bricks 青砖, which is denser and less porous than normal red bricks. This special bricks were the building blocks for many ancient buildings and could stand the test of time.
On the beacon tower called 狼烟墩台, wolf dung was used to light the beacon, and the smoke column went straight up and did not disperse in the wind. In case of enemy sighting, smoke will be raised during the day and fire will be raised at night.
The British dismantled the original beacon and built a lighthouse on the platform. It was disused and left dilapidated, and the Yantai government erected the current lighthouse in its place in 1986.
In the Temple of the Dragon King 龙王庙 built in the late Ming Dynasty during the reign of Emperor Tianqi 明天启年间 (1621-1627), there is a huge stone, 2 meters high, 3 meters long and 2 meters wide. Legend has it that before the beacon tower was built in Yantai Hill, a group of swallows must gather on the stone every spring. The local fishermen call this stone “Yantai Stone” 燕台石.
Although it was rather small, it was the oldest building on Yantai Hill. The Temple was built for fengshui purposes, to pray for rain. It was said that on the day of completion of the temple, the drought that bothered this region ended with a thunderous downpour.
On June 8, 1860, 3,000 French soldiers forcibly occupied Yantai Hill and used the Dragon King Temple as the headquarters of the Second Opium War. By July 22 1860, the French army had stationed more than 14,000 troops in Yantai. Together with the British troops stationed in Dalian, they attacked Tianjin and Beijing, set fire to Yuanmingyuan 圆明园, and forced the Qing government to sign the “Beijing Treaty”. The foreign powers divided Yantai and built consulates of various countries around the Longwang Temple. Destroyed by the war, plundered by foreign powers, the once magnificent and splendid Dragon King Temple has only this remains.
Late Qing Dynasty Post 1861 – The Rise of Yantai Port
Yantai is one of the earliest trading ports of China. It has a long history of strong maritime connectivity to the nearby ports and internationally. No wonder a tax and custom office was already set up by the Qing Dynasty government to manage the maritime activities.
Donghai Customs House 东海关
The harbour opened in May 1861, with its status as an international port affirmed on 22 August. The official decree was accompanied by the construction of the Donghai Customs House 东海关. Although it was established by the Qing government, it was actually controlled by the British. These were the quarters of the British officials stationed here.
Former Donghai Customs House Commissioner Quarters 东海关税务司检察长官邸旧址 was special. It houses the museum 冰心纪念馆 commemorating the Chinese writer Bing Xin 冰心. She came to Yantai when she was 3 years old in 1903 and spent over 10 years her. Her father Xie Baozhang 谢葆璋 was one of the pioneers of the modern Chinese Navy and was the principal of Yantai Naval Academy.
Former Donghai Tax Officer Residence 东海关税务司官邸旧址 was the official residence of the Tax Officer stationed here.
And in the compound was a large European style garden that linked the Customs House to the British Consulate next door.
Former British Consulate 英国领事馆旧址
The British was the first to setup an embassy in Chefoo in 1864.
Former British Consulate was built in the colonial settlement style that would be common during that period. You can see many examples in Singapore with the verandas and columns around the main building.
When I was there, the compound was under redevelopment. Only the toilet was accessible. So I could say, literally, I took a piss at the British Consulate.
Yantai Union Church 联合教堂
The surrounding churches had all be destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. Only this one remained.
The Unity Church was a free denomination church that was set up by the Baptists and Presbyterians in Chefoo in 1875. The original wooden structure was burnt down by the Boxer Uprising (need verification though), this was a brick and mortar replica that was rebuilt on the original site by the believers in the 1900s. The crucifix on the steeple was taken down during the Cultural Revolution.
Currently, the “church” is not used for religious purpose anymore. Like CHIJmes in Singapore, it has been repurposed to a wedding reception venue. On the day I was there, I was lucky to sneak in to take a look at this beautiful place of worship. The wedding event planners were doing a mini-roadshow on all the different wedding packages they offer.
US Consulate 美国领事馆
As like the rest of the buildings in the cluster, the former US Consulate has been repurposed to become the Yantai Port Opening Exhibition 烟台开埠历史陈列馆. I will revisit this exhibition in another blogpost.
The former site of the U.S. Consulate in Yantai was the official residence of the embassy staff. The official residence is a two-storey building with a brick-wood structure and a square platform. It has a southeast double-sided outer corridor, and is built in the European classical style.
While the original US Consulate was gone, this building still served as a good reminder of the powers that were once present in this city.
Other European Settlements
Besides consulates, there were several distinctly unique buildings on the hill built by the German, Italians, British and Danes.
Many of these buildings used to house the families and employees of the consulates. One can almost imagine the little children playing around the European garden, going to the Chefoo school setup by the missionaries, and attending church services in their respective churches on Sundays.
And like the consulates and embassy buildings, the German bungalow has been repurposed to be the Jiaodong Revolution Exhibition.
About 17 foreign countries setup their consulates there from 1862 to 1930. Meanwhile, banks, churches, schools, and even the first post office in China were set up to serve the increasing foreign institutions and many of these buildings are still standing along the nearby Haian (“Coastal”) Street 海岸路 (formerly called Beach Road) perpendicular to Chaoyang Street.
Nationalist Era – Republic of China
On 12 November 1911, the eastern division of Tongmeng Hui 同盟会 declared itself a part of the revolutionary movement. The next day, it established the Shandong Military Government (山東軍政府) and, the day after that, renamed itself the Yantai Division of the Shandong Military Government (山東煙台軍政分府). This heralded in the new era of the Republic of China, with the one of first shots fired in Yantai.
Build in 1936 through donations from the public, Shrine of the Loyal and Brave 忠烈祠 was a shrine dedicated to two ancient heroes, Guan Yu (160-220) and Yue Fei (1103-1142).
Guan was a general from the Later Han period (25-220 AD) while Yue Fei was a general from the Southern Song dynasty (960-1279). Both were known for their bravery in battles, and undying loyalty to their masters. Guan died in battle and was decapitated. Yue was betrayed by a traitor.
Chefoo Club 芝罘俱乐部旧址 used to cater to these foreigners as a social club and hotel. In Jan 1937 American writer G.H. Thomas wrote, “It is wonderful to be at the Chefoo Club with real heat, lights, plumbing, good food, and a proper bed.” Many expatriates had wonderful memories of this place – the pool table, the first bowling alley in China, and the beach access. Today it houses the Jiaodong Revolution Museum.
Communist Era – People’s Republic of China
After 1949, the name of Chefoo was changed to Yantai, and Chefoo district was drawn up as one of the district under Yantai City that included Yantai Hill and old Chefoo.
Besides the buildings from the previous dynasty, there are a couple of new additions that were built after the founding of PRC. This includes the Japanese Occupation Martyrs Monument 抗日烈士纪念碑 that commemorates the sacrifice of those who died defending Yantai from occupying Japanese forces. The names of the 89 revolutionary martyrs who died for the country during the liberation of Yantai in August 1945 were carved on the sides of this monument.
In addition, a pavilion in the shape of the red star was added next to the monument. You can see the beautifully constructed pavilion from the bird’s eye view.
In 1947, the Nationalist army occupied Yantai and took down the red star at the top of the monument, but they left the monument intact as a mark of respect for those martyrs. This was restored after the founding of PRC.
Chaoyang Street Scenic Area is undoubtedly an outdoor museum for people who like modern European architecture and want to study these architectural styles. But behind these beautiful foreign buildings was this dark and disgraceful past of invasions and conquests.
The same is happening in Ukraine. One has to remember what history has taught us. If you do not want to be bullied, you have to get strong.
Visited in Dec 2021