Beijing’s Oldest Commercial Street Gets a Revamp

Beijing’s Oldest Commercial Street Gets a Revamp

Dashilan’er (also known as Dazhalan West Street), one of Beijing’s oldest commercial streets has re-opened following intensive renovations that lasted for over one year and cost 93 million RMB. Dashilan’er is located in the Qianmen area, south of  Tiananmen Square in the heart of Beijing. The “new” historic street has retained the traditional appearance of ancient Chinese buildings. The main Market Street is concentrated with small vendors and ancient shop fronts, transporting visitors back to a time when this area served as the main hub of commerce over 600 years ago.

Beijing Dashilan’er, Dazhalan

Originally known as “Guanyinsi Street (观音寺街)” due to its proximity to the Guanyin Temple (观音寺) on the east side, Dashilan’er attracted many famous political and literary figures during its heyday in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The name itself, Dazhalan (大栅栏) is pronounced “Dashalan’er” in the local dialect. It is said that the name originated from the fact that 600 years ago the emperor ordered fences to be built in order to prevent thieves from entering the area. Apart from a few famous department stores during that era, the area was also bustling with opium dens, brothels, theatres and teahouses. However, its legacy as a thriving centre for commerce and entertainment became a distant, foggy memory in recent decades and in 2005 a report published by the Beijing Academy of Social Sciences even declared the area as “a typical slum”. Moreover, problems such as safety hazards, poor hygiene, lack of electricity and water have all been sited as contributors to the street’s deterioration. Therefore it is little wonder that with the world’s eyes focused on Beijing in the run up to the Olympics in 2008, government authorities decided to completely re-haul the face of this historic, albeit run-down old district.

Beijing Dashilan’er, Dazhalan

Dashilan’er is not only intended to showcase China’s traditional culture and rich history to foreigners, but most of the visitors are actually Chinese people who see this re-development as an opportunity to reconnect with China’s rich historical past. Apart from adding a new attraction to Beijing’s tourist map, Dashilan’er’s new face lift is also closely linked with efforts to develop one of Beijing’s least visited districts, Xuanwu. It is hoped that the new street will bring new business to the area, hence spurring the area’s economy and contributing to its development.

Beijing Dashilan’er, Dazhalan

One of the main attractions of the street is its assortment of local snacks. 20 metre long queues outside the street’s snack shops is not an uncommon sight. Local restaurants include Goubuli where visitors can feast on its famous stuffed buns and have their photo taken beside a sculpture of  Empress Dowager Cixi at the entrance. Traditional Chinese brands are also sold in the street, such as Mujuyuan hats, Ruifuxiang clothes and Neilansheng shoes.

Beijing Dashilan’er, Dazhalan
Ruifuxiang Drapery Store in Dashilan’er, Beijing

Overall, the street is visually appealing and a refreshing sight in city where new, generic department stores and modern apartment complexes spring up every other day. Though, aesthetically the street may retain an old architectural style, its facades and street tiles look almost too new to be true. The soul of Guanyinsi Street may seem lost amidst the clean, refurbished exterior, but such renovations can be seen as a positive sign as they clearly indicate that the Beijing government is realizing the worth and historical significance of preserving China’s ancient history and culture.

When visiting Dashilan’er try to explore the surrounding hutongs that are similarly imbued with fascinating stories of China’s past. The area contains eight famous hutongs known as Bada Hutongs. These are: Baishun, Yanzhi, Hanjiatan, Shanxixiang, Shitou, Wangguangfuxijie, Zhujia and Lishamao. Famous for its ancient whorehouse and tea culture, Bada also includes several guesthouses popular among foreigners.

How to get there:
Bus No. 120, 729, 744, 819 and 826 all stop at Dashilan’er. Cars and taxis are not allowed in Dashilan’er Street so it’s best to get off nearby and walk there by foot.

Alternatively, take subway Line 2 to Qianmen, exit C. Cross the road by walking under the subway pass and continue westwards for about 5 minutes.

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