Old Villa-Style Houses in Dongshan

Dongshan villa house

Generally ‘Dongshan (东山)’ is defined more as a geographic concept than an administrative region. Locals usually think of the area east to Dadao Lu (达道路), west to Dongshankou Metro Station, south to Xinhepu Lu (新河浦路) and north to Nonglin Dong Lu (农林东路).

Lying just west of Guangzhou’s new downtown is Dongshan, one of a handful of little neighborhoods in the city to retain its traditional look and even some of its old character. Though it is not the first area sought after by visitors or by locals, on many accounts it deserves to be, as it has some of the nicest walks you’ll discover in Guangzhou. Here you’ll find streets lined with a blend of European and Chinese architecture, houses with gorgeous facades, a long canal lined with trees and flowers, small quiet housing communities, and of course the main walking street of Dongshan Da Jie, which is where most of the restaurants and colorful Chinese shops can be found. Even a short stay in Guangzhou would miss out on a unique piece of its history, and a very relaxing stroll, if it did not include this little-developed, historical downtown neighborhood.

Dongshan, which means Eastern Hills, actually has quite a bit of history as a part of Guangzhou. It was a small, poor eastern suburb during the Ming dynasty, until an influential court official built Dongshan Temple here. With the temple came more people, and with more people came more homes and shops. Dongshan started to become more than a shanty town. Dongshan Temple, though it no longer exists, is still known to the public through the names of many of the neighborhood streets. Names such as Miao Xian Zhi Jie, which literally means “temple front straight street” once indicated to visitors that it was the street immediately in front of the temple.

Dongshan received further attention after the turn of the 20th century through the settlement of Westerners here. Preachers built churches, schools and orphanages, and wealthy Westerners made their homes here, providing the neighborhood with everything from balconies to stained glass and Greco-roman pillars. This heavily European style of building became commonly called Dongshang Yang Fang, a self-explanatory name which simply means Dongshan Foreign Style. The name has a very broad meaning; some of the buildings may seem closer to the Western style of Shamian, and others to the very blended style of Xiguan, while yet still others seem unique, probably built to suit the tastes of the owners.

Eventually, as Dongshan expanded and its finances grew, the neighborhood became well-known as a home to wealthy Chinese. The popular term Dongshan Dashao was used for the local wealthy young men. This brief period of history starting in the 1920s is recorded in part by many legendary romances between the stylish young men from Dongshan and the rich young women from Xiguan. It was believed that pairs from the two neighborhoods were the perfect match.

Four typical villa architectures :These four gardens (‘Yuan’ in Chinese) – Chun Yuan (春园), Kui Yuan (逵园), Jian Yuan (简园) and Ming Yuan (明园), – are regarded as the most typical constructions of the existing 400 houses in the region, and are now protected by government laws.

These four are constructed of reinforced concrete and red bricks, and have balanced gardens both in front of and behind the buildings, with much greenery on the walls surrounding them.
Currently only the Chun Yuan is open to the public, as a history museum of the Chinese Communist Party leaders’ residence. Relics, ornaments and historical documents, seen in the glass cabinets, remind visitors what the scene was like when it was a conference venue back in 1923.

The times may have changed on Dongshan over the years, but it still retains many of its old structures, and its tucked-away communities. The Christian church remains. So do the old houses, ranging between small chateaus and true mansions. Off of the main avenues, in fact, it is generally quiet and uncrowded. For a short and simple walk through the neighborhood, there are two routes I’d recommend. The first is down the main walking street of Dongshan Da Jie, where classical architecture meets Chinese décor and large bright signage. There are more than a few places to eat here and plenty of shops to explore. The walking street ends shortly at the canal on Xin He Pu Lu, which is a nice walk itself, with aged trees leaning like old pillars over the water, and abundant flowers at the right time of the year. For a little side jaunt off of Dongshan Da Jie, turn right along one of the narrow streets in the middle as you head down toward the canal. Here is a hidden community of tiny streets and older buildings, some of them in the Yang Fang style.

A more pleasant walk for those who prefer solitude would start by turning left on Yandun Lu before you enter the walking street. You’ll pass by a number of shops, including a few silk and handicraft stores where you can window shop, admire, or simply pass by. Afterward, you can take a brief left up Si Bei Tong Jin Lu with the outer wall of No. 7 Middle School to your right and find Dongshan Christian Church just before the next bend. A beautiful stone church from 1909 with simple and evocative architecture, like many in Guangzhou, it is frequently locked yet still holds services. If you turn back around now, you can retrace your steps, wind around to the left and find the entrance of No. 7 Middle School, which despite the red brick, is one of the most Chinese structures in the neighborhood, even having a few eved roofs which could pass for ancient. Now head down Xu Gu Yuan (which is just by the school entrance) and you’ve got a beautiful short walk down to the canal. Xu Gu Yuan is graced by some of Dongshan’s most impressive and well-known structures and is shaded all the way down to the canal. Jian Yuan (Jian Garden), Mu Yuan and Ming Yuan are all along this street along with other smaller houses which some owners keep up with beautiful gardens on their balconies.

If you wish to explore a little more, just turn left on one of the side streets and you’ll very shortly run into Peizheng Lu, a similar road and home to Peizheng Middle School. This will also take you to the canal should you follow it. Lastly, if you have time on your hands, take a walk down the canal all the way to Dongshan Park, a green area at the end of the neighborhood along a man-made lake. Still, should you wish to go further, the canal runs into the Pearl River just by white, multi-cabled Haiyin Bridge. If you choose to enjoy the neighborhood in the afternoon, you could stroll down here in the evening, and enjoy the lit up river by night.

Dongshan Christian Church 东山基督教堂
Add: 9 Sibeitongjin Lu, Guangzhou
No. 7 Middle School 广州市第七中学
Add: 28 Yandun Lu, Guangzhou
This middle school is about a century old, and was formerly a Christian school.
No. 2 Middle School 广州市培正中学
Add: 2 Peizheng Lu, Guangzhou

This school is also about one hundred years old.
Chun Yuan (Spring Garden) 春园
Add: 24 Xinhepu Lu, Guangzhou
This building served as the third meeting-place of the Communist Party Central Government.
Jian Yuan (Jian garden) 简园
Add: 24 Xu Gu Yuan Lu, Guangzhou
This three-story building combines Chinese and Greek architecture, and has gardens in the front and back. In the 1920s it was the home of Guomin Dang Chairman Tan Yankai.
Mu Yuan (Mu Garden)逵园
Add: 9 Xu Gu Yuan Lu, Guangzhou
This is a three-story, red-brick building, with many Greek elements.
Ming Yuan (Ming Garden) 明园
Add: 12 Xu Gu Yuan Lu, Guangzhou
This structure includes two buildings of similar design, with red brick and a Roman-style entrance.

How to go to the Dongshan Old Villa-Style Houses :
Take the Metro Line 1 to Dongshankou (two stops west of Ti Yu Xi Lu). Take Exit A and walk down Shu Qian Lu towards Dongshan Da Jie.
Below are several of the historical spots to visit in Dongshan. Should you not find your way, the neighborhood has many pillars which will direct you to its sites.

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