Dazhalan Market

During the Ming and Qing, a curfew was frequently imposed at night. Barriers (zhalan) erected at both ends of streets and alleys were closed as soon as the curfew came into effect, making passage impossible. According to the Imperially commissioned Record of the Major Events of the Great Qing Dynasty, there were more than 1,090 barriers erected in the Inner City area as well as 196 inside the Imperial (Manchu) City. Dazhalan was one of these 1,200-old structures, and although the barrier itself is gone, its name has remained.

Dazhalan, literally the " Great Fence," was from early times the site of a busy market. In the years of Emperor Yongle (reigned 1403-1424), it was crowed with shops, and as trading in the city became concentrated around the Zhengyangmen area, Dazhalan developed into a popular market. In 1900, when the Eight-Power Allied Forces attacked Beijing, Dazhalan was reduced to a heap of rubble, although it was quickly rebuilt as it stands today.

Dazhalan Street, only 270 meters long and nine meters wide, has 37 shops and service establishments. Many of the specialty shops still exist, for example, the Tongrentang Traditional Medicine Shop, which has manufactured pills, powders and ointment since 1669; the old Juyuan Hat Shop, now called the Dongsheng Hat Shop, opened in 1811 and specialized in producing official's hats and satin boots for the nobility; and the famous Ruifuxiang Satin, Silk and Fur Shop, which opened in 1893. There are also the Neiliansheng Shoemaker's and the Nanyufeng Tobacco Shop, both more than 100 years old. The Xinrong General Store has a history of 80 years.

These old shops enjoy a high reputation among local residents. Their continued prosperity can be traced not only to their worked to develop specialties sold at fair prices. Tongrentang, for example, having supplied medicinal herbs to the imperial court, was later appointed to make up prescriptions for the emperor. During the reign of Emperor Guangxu (1875-1908). Empress Dowager Cixi ordered the shop to produce all the medicines used by the imperial court. During the Qing Dynasty, the Neiliansheng Shoemaker' s kept careful records of boot sizes and preferred styles of all the military and civil officials who shopped there. If an official wished to have a pair of boots made, he merely sent a note to the shop and a pair of perfectly fitting footwear would be made to order. After the fall of the Qing, this market disappeared, but the shop quickly adapted by making cotton shoes out of the layered cloth soles previously used for the court boots.

Another reason for Dazhalan' s popularity was the great number of public amusements concentrated here. There were five large theaters, the Qingleyuan (Celebrating Happiness Playhouse), Sanqingyuan (Three Celebrations Playhouse), Guangdelou (Extensive Virtue Playhouse), Guangheyuan (Extensive Harmony Playhouse) and the Tongleyuan (Common Happiness Playhouse). When Qing rules made a law prohibiting "uproarious noises in the Inner City areas close to the palace," gentry and rich merchants passed through Qianmen (Front Gate or Zhengyangmen) Gate in the evenings to see plays and operas.

After 1949, state-run enterprises were established here, Two department stores, a women' s clothing shop and children's shop enabled Dazhalan to supply an even wider range of consumer goods. Nowadays Dazhalan bustles with crowds from morning to night.

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