I am sitting on a bench in the lovely, well manicured garden of Guilai Tang. In the background I hear the beat of the dragon boat drum. In my mind's eye I can see the oars in sync with the music, propelling the long thin boat ever faster through the lagoon. I look up and find myself surrounded by a tapestry of buildings dedicated to higher learning.
Once an impoverished fishing village, Jimei has evolved around it's schools. At the age of 17, it's most famous citizen, Chen Jianjeng , also known as Tan Kah Kee, was sent to Singapore to work in his father's companies. The voyage led to many years in Malaysia building his own empire from rubber.
Known as the Henry Ford of Asia, Tan Kah Kee eventually returned to Jimei and invested his money and time. He believed education was the way to modernize and end poverty. His drive to educate eventually established the Jimei School Village in 1918. The concept created, a complete educational system which consists of kindergarten, primary school, middle school, high school and on to vocational training. Today it is considered one of the most prestigious in China. Many of the vocational institutions were brought together to form Jimei University. His legacy was influential in building over 100 schools, including Xiamen and Huaqiao Universities.
At the time of the 2nd world war the Japanese invaded China. 20 million people were killed, an atrocity considered by many to be worse than that of the Jewish genocide in Europe. While his first priority was the children, Tan Kah Kee was forced to leave Jimei or be killed. While in exile he continued his involvement in funding and guiding the schools. After the war he returned to Jimei and dedicated the remainder of his life and fortune to rebuilding and insuring the prosperity of his dreams.
Today this once backwater fishing village is home to half a million people and is considered the educational center of Xiamen. Mango trees line the streets. Progress and modernization are everywhere. Buildings are being refaced. The aging tile sidewalks are being dug up for something more stylish and safe. The largest mall in Xiamen will soon open it's doors across fromt the university's main campus. In 5 years I suspect it will be to Xiamen what Georgetown has become to Washington, DC.
The villa where I sit was created in the shadow of Jiajeng's own modest residence. It's purpose was to encourage his descendants to come back and appreciate their motherland. It is one of many sites dedicated to him. Statues, gardens, parks, a museum and memorial bear his name. Teams of tourists traverse the city to pay homage to his legacy. On the fifth day of the fifth lunar month the beat of the dragon boat drum intensifies, the boats in the lagoon multiply, and the streets of Jimei are filled to celebrate the spirit of Tan Kah Kee and the home he was so proud of.
On the banks of the Tiawan strait, Jimei is a district of the City of Xiamen. Warm and sultry it is situated between Shanghai and Hong Kong.