It seems a lot of my favorite sights in Beijing were seen in a jiffy and one of those was Dashilanr. (The local Beijing accent puts an “r” sound at the end of a lot of words, so thats’ where this strange Romanization comes from!) Named for the “big fence” aka 大栅栏 that was erected around it by merchants to protect the Ming dynasty capital, the only evidence left of this big fence is actually an iron gate that was put up in the year 2000.
Dashilanr is best known as a historical street whose merchants clothed the imperial family and, later, the founding members of the Communist Party. A few of these businesses are still there today, selling their wares that have long been associated with status and wealth because they were literally the products that the emperor would wear. Some that my aunt pointed out to me while we were walking (full of KFC):
- 马聚元 Majuyuan – cover your head like a king, hats on hats on hats
- 内联升 Neiliansheng – traditional-style Chinese shoes in traditional and modern styles, Chairman Mao and the emperors had their shoes made here
- 瑞蚨祥 Ruifuxiang – silk shop for when you want to get custom pieces and qipaos made
These are known as laozihao 老字號, which are ooooold, well-established Chinese businesses that came about when China moved the capital to Beijing during the Ming dynasty. These are household names that have been serving food and wares to China since way before the birth of America, constantly reminding me that the United States is very young compared to the over 400-year-old Peking duck shop and pickle shop. (Seriously! Look up 六必居.)
The thing about China is that it is one of the 4 ancient civilizations but also one of the largest powers in the modern world. So after you walk past Neiliansheng and get yourself fitted for a traditional pair of shoes not unlike those worn a hundred years ago (maybe customized with some Mickey Mouse designs), you can walk across the way to Madame Tussaud’s to say hi to Jackie Chan. I’ve never been particularly interested in wax museums, but I do think it’d be interesting to see what public figures are immortalized in wax at this location!
If you walk a little further down, you can also shop at H&M and Zara. (I learned via Beijing prices that Zara actually is fast fashion, it’s just sold at a markup in the United States? I never quite understood why people compared it to H&M all the time… So basically, you can stock up here.) There’s also side alleys that focus on traditional Beijing foods, and folks in costume will beckon to you with flags and giant fans to entice you to taste their food.
This is definitely a must-visit if you’re interested in seeing the juxtaposition of Beijing’s culture and historical brands with the ones introduced by globalization. I’d love to come back when it’s warmer and during the day.
Fun fact: A little train can transport you from the entrance to the back of the district, as it can be a very long walk, especially if you are traveling with elders or small children. I’m not 100% clear on the schedule, we only saw it go past once during the whole time we were there.
There are a lot of pedestrian-only shopping streets in China, and I love that this one is so rich with Beijing’s history. You can learn a lot about what the upper class has looked like over the past 600 years walking down this street, as you shop where the emperor did and then pop into a Zara and get Coco bubble tea.
What are your favorite places where old intersects with new? I love seeing this in China, although sometimes it happens at such a rapid pace that I get very concerned because this modernization does leave a lot of people behind. I remember my Europe trip had a lot of these visual intersections, with all-glass building fronts besides medieval stone structures, like in Tallinn and in London.