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Qianmen Street, Beijing

3 July 2011 No Comment

Qianmen Street

Back in the Imperial days, Qianmen Street (前门大街) was one of Beijing’s main commercial centres. It is also said that with a history spanning over five centuries, Qianmen Street was the first commercial district in the capital. As Beijing evolved into a 21st century city however, Qianmen Street quickly became an anachronism. The area is a symbol of old Beijing and a relic of life in the olden days, for which the new city has little space for. Countless hutong (neighbourhoods of traditional courtyard houses) had already been demolished to make way for new apartments and shopping malls. Without intervention, it seemed that Qianmen Street would soon disappear along with the last of Beijing’s old buildings.

The Qianmen (Front Gate) of Beijing

Qianmen Street runs southward from the Qianmen (literal translation ‘Front Gate’) of Beijing, as pictured above.

Fortunately, that did not happen. Qianmen Street received conservation status and was given an extensive facelift in 2008. Its new look was unveiled just in time for the Beijing Olympics. One could say that tourism might have played a part in saving this historic venue. Today, Qianmen Street is an amazing (if not a tad unusual) juxtaposition of the old and the new. The shops’ facade looked newly done up yet they were of the old design. Modern businesses stand next to centuries old establishments. It is perhaps even stranger to see international brand names such as Starbucks and Zara amongst them.

Starbucks outlet on Qianmen Street

Haagen Dasz outlet on Qianmen Street

In spite of all its oddities, most visitors will find Qianmen Street a truly interesting destination. Avid shoppers, Peking duck lovers, architecture buffs, and all those who want to experience snippets of life in the olden days will find something of interest there.

The area to the west of Qianmen Street is known as Dazhalan (大栅栏), a market area not dissimilar to the former. The difference is that unlike Qianmen street, Dazhalan consists of mostly local brands. This locality is also home to some of Beijing’s oldest establishments, such as the famous traditional Chinese medicine hall Tongrentang, which supplied medicine to the Qing Imperial court; as well as Ruifuxiang silk store, which date back to the year 1893. If you are already in the Qianmen area, be sure to visit both places.

Tongrentang

Tongrentang medicine hall store front

Ruifuxiang silk store

Ruifuxiang silk store

Qianmen Street and the surroundings are best enjoyed at a leisurely pace. Allocate one to two hours to soak in the atmosphere and take plenty of photos.

Travel Info

Getting there: Take the subway Line 2 to Qianmen station.

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