china edition


Dazhalan Market Area

Known as "Dashilanr" in Beijing local dialect, Dazhalan is Beijing's most ancient and famous downtown business area with its own unique style. Beginning at Qianmen Street in the east, and stretching to Meishi Street in the west, the area covers nearly 300 m in length. Many shops and stores line along both sides of the narrow street. When the crowds of people move back and forth in the street, the whole area takes on the scene of bustling bazaar. In the old days, Dazhalan was hailed as 'the most bustling place in the capital'.

Throughout its history of more than 500 years, Dazhalan, situated in the heart of ancient Beijing, has been a prosperous business area. Within an area of 1.26 square kilometer exist lots of old but well-preserved buildings, which are an important cultural heritage of Beijing, the ancient capital.

Dazhalan dates back to 1488 during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), when a curfew was imposed on the whole city of Beijing. In order to keep away thieves, many fence rails were set up at entrances to streets and lanes under the Imperial Court's approval. The number of such rails increased during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), reaching more than 2,000 by the 18th year of Emperor Qianlong 's Reign (1753). The area was originally known as "Langfang Sitiao", but was changed to "Dazhalan" (meaning 'great fence') due to the specially made and well-preserved fence rails.

Home to over 30 century-old firms and stores (such as Tongrentang, Neiliansheng, Ruifuxiang, and Liubiju), Dazhalan has long been the main traditional business center in Beijing. Apart from the many commercial venues, there were also plenty of entertainment venues.

In the early Qing Dynasty, as entertainment places were not allowed in the inner city, most playhouses (theaters) were located around Qianmen, including five famous playhouses (Qingleyuan, Sanqingyuan, Guangdelou, Guangheyuan, and Tongleyuan) and the first cinema in Beijing - Daguanlou Cinema, which opened at the beginning of the Republic of China (1911-1949). The joyous atmosphere was elevated when people from the inner city came out to watch the night plays, which also promoted Dazhalan's development.

The area was burned down during the Boxer Movement in May of 1900, and suffered further destruction by the Eight-Power Allied Forces, hence becoming a deserted place for a time. But it gradually resumed its original prosperous shape in the following years.

After the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the Chinese government gave Dazhalan a grand-scale facelift, not only retaining the century-old stores, but also introducing many state-owned and specialty shops. Besides, the playhouses were also improved, enriching their entertaining functions.

Although the 1980s saw relatively slow development, the traditional buildings, the old-brand stores, and the folk culture remained, making Dazhalan into the only one of its kind due to its uniqueness and intactness.

After more than 500 years of development, the lane has gradually turned into a commercial street with high-rising stores on both sides. Today, 36 stores from 11 trades are scattered here, attracting a daily guest-flow of 150,000-160,000, and even more on holidays and weekends. In China, nearly every one knows Dazhalan, and even many foreigners have heard about it. The reason why Dazhalan still exists today in spite of its ups and downs during its 500-odd-year history lies in its own specialties.

Some doggerel verses, such as "If you want to see some playthings, go to Tianqiao (a traditional venue for variety shows and theatrical performances)"; "If you want to buy something, go to Dazhalan"; and 'Majuyuan on head, Neiliansheng on feet, Badaxiang over body, and Sidaheng around waist' (Majuyuan is a hat shop; Neiliansheng specializes in selling shoes; Badaxiang is a silk shop; and Sidaheng in waist belts), well depict the status and prosperous scene of Dazhalan in Bejing.

Nowadays, everything has changed except for the hustle and bustle. With the removal of feudal dross, Dazhalan has begun to take on a strong commercial atmosphere. Many century-old shops, such as Tongrentang Drug Store, Zhang Yiyuan Teashop, Changchuntang Drug Store, and Yueshengzhai Prepared-meat Shop, have made changes to their shops. Besides, many local snacks have also came to the area, forming a new style of dietary culture.

In Dazhalan, visitors can always find some traditional handicrafts, take a stroll in the century-old stores, and relish the specialties of old Beijing.