Although Internationally less renowned, the Xidan Commercial Street is one of the four traditional shopping streets of Beijing, a commercial location renowned in the centuries before the dark era of total communism. The direct counterpart of Beijing's most famous shopping street Wanfujing, Xidan was reestablished only slighter later and today ranks among the three great shopping experiences to be had within the old Inner City, these being: Wanfujing Street, Dashilan Street (Dazhalar) and Xidan. Although there certainly other splendid shopping experiences to be found around the city of Beijing today, these are the classics which have an interesting history going back over the centuries.
The others, with or without ancient history, have simply not made the official status, but in many aspects are equally if not more interesting. That said, Xidan is a convenient alternative for Wanfujing Street and
Xidan Shopping Zone
This page was last updated: July 9, 2017
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Xidan Commercial Street and Shopping Zone - How to get There :
Xidan is possibly one of the easiest locations to reach within all of the central city of Beijing. That is, make use of the adjacent map of the extended subway system of Beijing in order to travel from any destination to the Xidan Shopping Zone.
Xidan Station is the first station west of Tiananmen West Subway/Metro Station and initially only a station of No.1 red linear line. However, since the year 2005 Xidan is also a part of the aquatic blue line No.4, the latter a much newer line which by now connects all across the city from north suburbs to south suburbs.
As one may also note from available geographic maps of Beijing, Xidan the Malls is situated 2 blocks due west of the north end of the Square of Heavenly Peace which makes it very easy to navigate to. In fact, although most take the subway, one might make the hike down to Xidan, passing from the north side of the Great Hall of the Peoples at Tiananmen Square along the National Theatre dome, the guarded
History of Xidan and Xidan Shopping Zone:
Having introduced what is without a shadow of a doubt truly the most important history of Xidan Area and Street, there is still some other historic information to be related about the place.
A view along the main Xidan Commercial Street as seen from the south and the grand access square to the street that sits on that side. Underneath a large square which is popular among skaters sits the Xidan Subway/Metro station which allows for masses of people to sweep in and out out at regular and unregular hours. As always in Beijing, security is always present for those in need.
offers an entirely different experience. Situated just one subway stop due west of the Square of Heavenly Peace the Xidan Commercial Zone is a quick and easy getaway from the Great Square and the ever crowded Forbidden City.
After an exhausting exploration of the historic monuments, skip over to Xidan for a deserved meal, coffee, or something else and enjoy the lively and vibrant atmosphere of one of the modern-most parts of the old inner city.
As one of the main shopping zones in modern day Beijing, Xidan Shopping Zone or Commercial Street is one of growing number of locations in the city where shopaholics can just loose it all and spend a whole day and more. For others, such as tourists and travelers, whenever you are weary of the great monuments and many historic attractions of the city, Xidan is one of those refreshing places which -pretty much- offers only modern experiences, including some interesting modern architecture. It is however not about the buildings but all about the Malls and secondly about the brands.
As men will find out, it is not that much an attraction for male shopaholics, that is - at this time there is far fewer to find in men's fashion or accessories, than there is for the female clientele who swarm in huge numbers to this destination. Especially when the sales season comes on of course. For men, there are no obvious corners stuffed with electronics and gadgets except for the street front Apple Computers flag ship store.
The Xidan Shopping Zone is situated in the Xicheng District. The area is abundant with various large malls. It is also known as Xidan Commercial Street or as the Xidan Shopping Malls. Traditionally, the Xidan Malls are set up to be the showcase of special brands from around the world which is why you will find The Galleries Lafayette, the most famous mall and store in Paris, taking a place of prominence among others such as L'Oreal, Ici
Paris, Maison D' Mode and renowned others. It is not only a place reserved for French brands though, another main feature of the Xidan Shopping Zone is the Apple (MacIntosh) Flagship Computer Store. Burberry, Zara, H&M (Hennis & Maurits), etc - they all have their spot at Xidan. The main theme really is clothing, bags, make up and all associated items on may think of. It is about fashion and not much else. Except.
Naturally, no Chinese mass shopping experience can do without food, therefor, apart from its many flagship stores, the Xidan Zone is also a good place to find various restaurants from top end to the lower denominator. Quite certainly you should be able to find a bite of your taste.
Xinhua (New China) Gate of Zhongnanhai - which is traditionally the main communist party leadership compound and finally the ministry of Post and Telecom to end up at the south end and access to square to Xidan Street and its Malls. Altogether an a long but certainly interesting wall which allows for a peek of some of the surrounding historic structures found within this ancient Capital today.
Once having left the underground station proper make your way across the large access square, perhaps have a breather and get ready to explore. One may head directly to the shops if so desired making use of stairs and fly-overs to make it across Xidan Street and directly into various malls with numerous stores inside. Another option is to enjoy some of the activities usually ongoing at the square. Depending on moods and time of the day, one may find avid skaters circling about, or youths on mountain bikes or whatever is the new rage of the season and year.
As Xidan Street itself is an extremely busy multilane street, pedestrian overpasses are the required means to get across the street. No pedestrian crossing points exist on Xidan Street except on the south and north ends. In addition, taxi's are not allowed to make stops there and a white metal fence with some dangerous characteristics running the length of the middle of the street prevents anyone from even trying. Altogether, this regulated situation has improved traffic circulation while doing away with some dangerous situations, however for first time visitors it may take a little time and some trying before one figures out the most efficient ways of getting about. Just try and you will see. The maze outside is nothing compared to the mazes lined with shops
Pedestrian overpasses distribute the traffic to both sides of the road without interfering with passing cars, buses and taxis.
found within the still growing number of malls.
When entirely unsure, try make use of one of the mobile app's offering an overview of who is situated where in which building. Mind you, for ease each building generally lists its available stores at ground level, so you can always recheck there.
Although in this case, most certainly your exact destination should depend on your desire, taste and / or particular fancy of the moment, some general directions may be given. That is: the Apple Computers Flagship store is found on the west side of the street and about halfway up. You will recognize it while walking up the street. Although by now the real Apple craze has passed within China, the store is famous for drawing the crowds and for several years at each new edition of the computer and later the IPhone a huge line would form at the front of the store.
The earlier mentioned French Quarter as we hereby dub it may be found on the extreme north end of Xidan Street, on east side. Clearly advertised, the Galleries Lafayette include a miniature Eiffel Tower as eye catcher and therefor simply cannot be overlooked.
One may note that one of the Malls is known as Joy City. This is where foreign brands such as Pizza Hut, A Belgian Ice Cream shop, Starbucks and competitor Costa and of course a Burger King franchise may be found. No one needs to eat Chinese food if they do not want to. Although that too is available in abundance. In fact, in the streets dues east of Xidan Street proper one may find a line of stalls
The large and multi-story Mall block of Galleries Lafayette found on the north side of Xidan Street offers all the great French Brands which previously Chinese people had to travel the world for. At the time of opening this was without a shadow of a doubt the trademark Mall of the entire zone, and clearly, the french experience was transmitted in quite the stylish manner. Inside one enters a world not found at the other malls in the same street.
all offering tasty street food varieties that actually amount to an interesting gastronomical experience to begin your Beijing experience with.
At Night Giant LED Screens transform the darkening Xidan Shopping Zone into a flickering neon lit experience, although in all fairness Beijing will never grow as wild as Shanghai, Nanjing or Hong Kong. Lighting is not crazy as one might expect which does help retain some much needed eloquence within the zone.
Main Malls at Xidan are;
Galleries Lafayette, Grand Pacific Mall (君太百货 ; jūn tài bǎi huò), and Joy City (大悦城 ; dà yuè chéng) - with an impressive interior architectural design, followed by the internationally much less recognized but equally important Huawei Mansion (华威大厦 (huá wēi dà shà), Hanguang Department Store (汉光百货 (hàn guāng bǎi huò) and Maison Mode (-- ; --). All of these present a middle class to upscale shopping affair. However, an equally large flock of potential customers draws to a lower end bargain. For this try and locate the 101 Mall which is widely known throughout the city for its extremely wide range of products sold at discount and what for Beijing City are really low prices. Where the big malls bring the glamour and status, the 101 market ads considerable amounts of fun to the mix. Shop, and even haggle, something which is really not done
One of the major malls just north of Xidan access square. For now foreign brands continue to set the stage at Xidan but there is an equal amount of Chinese home brands that have made it to Xidan.
at the other malls. It is always busy at 101 but apart from clothing you will be in a treasure land of Chinese products you likely had not even thought of yet. Again, girls tastes and interest rule, but here the guys can join in too.
What most first time visitors and foreigners are not aware off is that Xidan is also a renowned albeit relatively new address for a Pearl Market.
Last but not least, the Xidan Shopping Zone is completed by the Beijing Book Store building (also identified simply as Book Building) which although it stands one block to the west of Xidan Street proper is considered a part of the experience of Xidan. The Beijing Book Store Building is a traditional favorite in a city filled with students young and eager to learn but not always equipped with the means to do so. The building existed as such before the current Xidan Street took off as a modern shopping experience. As a matter of fact, as a center of student gathering activity this very block of the Xidan Area was the location of the historic (Beijing) Democracy Wall, which appeared as a prelude leading up to the great Tiananmen Square pro-Democracy Demonstrations in the hot summer of the year 1989, when again it became a location of quite some political importance. There never has been a memorial of the Democracy Wall- which was quietly torn down after only some months of activity- and there likely never will be one as long as the Chinese Communist Party remains in power in Beijing. In order to erase any thoughts of it, the bus station of which the democracy was an outer wall has been removed, by now swallowed up by the immense structures which have been developed to fill the place and the peoples memory since.
A more brilliant new facade has replaced almost everything that came before. Of late, since 2013, a brand new yet traditionally styled complex has been under construction at the north end of the Xidan Entrance Square, introducing another alternative historic narrative in which visitors are referred directly back to the Ming Dynasty Era (1368 AD-1644 AD) which happens to have been a period of Chinese National rebuilding and self infatuation, in short a period when Chinese folks ruled Chinese folks and no one else interfered (making it factually a highly unusual situation in Chinese history).
Thus, today all of these crucial parts of modern Chinese History relating to a cry for democracy among the populace appear forgotten when one visits Xidan and the area today. By far the majority of foreigner visitors either do not know or have selected to dwell upon other life activities. Surely though, even though the population of the inner city has seen drastic changes, the local folk will remember the days. For the time being, Xidan remains quiet on any such sensitive historic facts. The mere mentioning of the Tiananmen Protests, or worse democracy, remains a taboo today.
Inside the Joy City Mall, a surprisingly large luxury shopping experience with interior designs, shops and brands to match. To your surprise you will also found a Burger King and Pizza Hut inside both of which are or have been considered up end foreign brands associated with an internationally minded middle class such as found in A Level cities as Beijing and Shanghai.
As one might expect, catering to the crowds appearing hungrily from their studies, a line of professional street food shops has grown adjacent and north of the Book Building. For anyone eager on moving about it is the cheapest and easiest place to grab a bite and not regret it. Perhaps this is the best tip about the whole Xidan area.
Last but not least it may be noted that the Xidan Experience is livened up by various entertainment activities which supposedly are organized regularly at and around the central access square and also the tunnels leading to the Subway/Metro system underneath. The central part of the commercial street has become an entertainment square for the entire zone. There are a great variety of activity places in the underground of the square, and what tourist outsiders may fail to notice is that these include a cinema, a bowling alley, a swimming pool and even an indoor rock climbing wall.
Photo of the current day situation at the best estimated location of the historic Democracy, which appeared in a brief moment of unusual official encouragement of openness, change and a hearing of the publics voice. This period which heralded in the true coming to power of Deng Xiaoping within the political structures of China and appeared soon after his temporary political goals had been achieved. Today the Democracy Wall is another ignored historic fact the mentioning of which is largely taboo.
As mentioned, the history of Xidan goes back as far the Ming Dynasty, which is logical as in the early period of the Dynasty the entire city was being rebuilt into the National Capital. As such emerging complete with its Imperial Palace, today known as the Forbidden City, the Xidan Area became one of the designated high end commercial area's which especially catered to those living inside and around the Forbidden City. As one may find described in more detail in our pages on the history of Beijing, each part of the city was designated to have its own function, with most sections of the city including inhabitants fenced off and locked in at night.
It prevented thievery but also fixed the populace to their location and functions. Meanwhile, the great Bell- and Drum- Towers, today among the popular scenic historic landmarks kept everyone in time and rhythm of production.
As planned and derived from its strategic location and direction, the long boulevard leading northward from Xuanwu Gate was intended as a thoroughfare for important traffic and important people generally arriving from the south (as was decreed for outside visitors and traders) and heading in the northern direction. No one was allowed inside the city walls without permit and due purpose of being there.
Only the well to do of the city lived within, and the higher ranking ones among them shopped or had shopping done in such places as Xidan. Naturally, as a result of the piling up of riches within the city and among its ranking citizenry the shop owners soon found themselves among the richest of the city.
Especially, the people living in the northern parts of the city were the Nations uppermost upper class and
A cross view picture taken somewhere within the mall maze.
this is where the commercial legacy of Xidan begins.
As one may note on the adjacent available map, the Xidan Street lies an equal distance to the west of the Forbidden City as Wanfujing does to the east, hence as early as the first decades of the National Capital of the Yongle Emperor of the Ming Dynasty (Reign 17 July 1402 – 12 August 1424) the Xidan Area was integrated within the city. Importantly, in the magical Feng Shui (geomancy) design of the city, the Xidan Area balanced the honored Wanfujing Street, providing two lifelines of Qi energy lying parallel to the main Axis of the city (running through the center of the Palace and the Imperial Throne itself).
With the Imperial City considered a living entity upon the earth, in magical ways feeding finance, power and energy to the Palace and its Emperor, the two commercial streets were but minor parts of what could be seen as a giant geomantic machine, a huge Feng Shui Altar with multiple larger and smaller parts.
Interestingly, in the year 1605 AD, nearing the final demise of the Ming Dynasty, the first foundations were laid for what today is the South Cathedral (Nan Tang) officially known since that year as the Roman Catholic (Jesuit Order) Church of the Immaculate Conception. Today duly noted as an important historical fact, this Church was founded by none other than the renowned Jesuit Father Matteo Ricci who is still commemorated at various points throughout the city for his contributions to Chinese science and world history in general. After having been allowed its erection, it stood just inside the Xuanwu Gate and thus was situated on the long road leading up the Pailou Ceremonial Gate marking the south end of Xidan Street proper.
The construction of the Church was not a coincidence or regular affair, but to be considered a highly honorable Imperial reward which was only allowed after careful panning and consideration by cities managers of the time. The construction of the first ever Christian Church in Beijing was allowed in recognition of the immense effort of reconciliation with and understanding of the Chinese Culture as achieved by Father Ricci, who with this life's work established a first official albeit tentative foothold of Christianity in the city.
Because of his contribution to Chinese science, among things through the creation of a first world map, Matteo Ricci was allowed not only to build a Church, but build one in a somewhat prominent location along a major boulevard leading up from one of the lesser southern gates. Notably, in comparison, although Muslims also contributed to scientific affairs in Ming Era China, their achievements were less. Thus, as one may tell even today, all but one of the historic Muslim Mosques in Beijing are all located outside the city walls of the Ming City proper (the one Mosque in the city is Dongsi Mosque which was a symbolic mosque established for Muslim diplomatic visitors only and also served as their guesthouse). Furthermore, none of these Mosques is situated in such an important location as is the first Church in Beijing established by Matteo Ricci.
Wird and usual vehicles may be seen at or around Xidan Street but it is not one of the spots where the local rich gather to show off their expensive cars. In fact, Xidan Street is very accessible for bicycles and small motorcycles. Xidan street has designated lanes in both directions for these vehicles. Anyone can bicyle up and park in side streets to go shopping.
Returning to the story of Xidan Street, naturally, throughout the centuries very much has changed inside the city and around Xidan Street. The main lay-out of the original Ming Era city is however retained among things within the existence of Xidan, Wanfujing and other main thoroughfares. Only few historic maps are available to provide an idea of the original Xidan Street and alterations to this part of the city since.
New maps were produced when a foreign influx and subsequent new technologies announced an entirely era which would slowly but steadily start to change the ancient city. Notably, in 1912 and in decades after, the south end of Xidan Street was still by a wooden ceremonial gate, a so called Pailou, which is the traditional Chinese marker for important streets such as upscale commercial zones. As did Xidan, Wanfujing and Qianmen Boulevard (less so adjacent Dashilan Street) also had their own giant and colorful Pailou in order to announce the streets glory to anyone passing.
Although it is not shown on this map it is known that on the opposite north side stood another such Pailou to mark the north end of the commercial street.
On the year 1916 map of Beijing one can see the location both Pailou marked on the map. One may also see that various Palaces of Manchurian Princes were situated north of and around the Xidan Street Area. As after 1911/1912 the city was ruled not by a Dynasty but by the (1st) Republic of China, these mansions were turned into Government Offices, which helped bring a fresh crowd of well to do cutomers to the area. The dawn of the Republic was thus hailed as a great area of renewal across the city. However, little did one known that the road the a more modern and better future would be long and in case of most Chinese People extremely hard. As the new Rpublic failed an an era of political fragmentation and warlordism announced itself, Beijing was no longer a real National Capital and fallen from grace it accepted its alternative name of Beiping, meaning (old) Northern Capital.
Again, on the schematic 1936 year street map of Beijing (intended for use by Foreign visitors) the Xidan Ceremonial Pailou is still marked as the beginning of what then still was a lively commercial street. This was also the year that saw the final turning of the tide for Xidan Street as the city had fallen further and further under Japanese influence and in the subsequent year a fully fledged invasion would finally open World War 2 in Asia although it had been a long time in the making and the world in general did not take enough notice to realise the dramtic facts yet. Only much later the Japanese Invasion of China would become seen for what it was, a plot for global domination with roles on the Eurasian Continent divided by Germany in the West and Japan in the East.
Thus, with war and invasion the priority for everyone, life in the city of Beijing, or Beping as it was no longer a National Capital since 1927, flagged and the years of commercial glory finally came to an end.
Not much is known of the period thereafter but naturally Xidan Street itself still existed when liberation came in 1945, or as it would be for China, in 1949.
The liberation by Communists however did not bode well for the commercial sectors across the new Peoples Republic. Thus, soon after the establishment of Beijing as the new Capital stores and markets across the city were being shut down. In historic terms, these were the years when history ended. Not only for Xidan Street but likewise for famous Wanfujing, Dashilan and the then still relevant Liu Lichang Antiques Street.
Dark days followed and the commercial streets of Beijing were essentailly no more, although Wanfujing Street still catered to high end customers, the new elite which included chairman Mao Zedong - for suits, and Prime Minister Zhou Enlai who sponsored the No.51 Photo Store in that street among things. No such tales are known about Xidan Street however and generally speaking, although wikipedia and other sources make note of hoq Xidan grew as the population of Beijing moved westward, this does not mean that Xidan Street was at all a thriving commercial area. Quite on the contrary, one may say that there was no Xidan Commercial Street to speak of for the entire duration of the period of Communist Rule until well after the death of Mao Zedong in 1976. At some point during this time, not too long after 1949, the colorful Pailou Gate was removed from the street, further underlining its fall from grace. Only drabness remained. Thus, the new and modern history of Xidan Street starts well after. In the 1970 children's after the worst of the Cultural Revolution had subsided and a political opening with the United States of America had been forged, some semblance of international economy returned to the city. It was in this time that Xidan, together with Wanfujing and Qianmen Dajie were earmarked to become the main
View of pedestrian spaces, bicyle lanes and traffic lanes at Xidan Street. The street is not only long but also wide with two car lanes in both directions and very wide spaces for shoppers to pass by walking. Various lines and clusters of streets bring a harmonious element to an otherwise ultramodern steel and glass filled commerce street.
The slick glass and steel design of the exterior of the Apple Flagship Store at Xidan, a renowned spot where in the recent past long rows of crazed Chinese Apple fans would line up to hand over their hard earned cash and get the latest Apple product. Although there are still plenty of fans, the Apple craze is slightly over in China and Chinese consumers have discovered new equally useful Chinese products and software.
Crowds of would be buyers inside the Apple Flagship Store at Xidan. The store is fairly large and has at least two stories, but since one can see the apple products anytime online there really is not that much exciting to find in the store. There are no demonstrations or forms of entertainment as promotions.
commercial hotspots of the economically renewing City, and Nation.
Intriguingly, the first new mentions of Xidan Street there after come in the form of descriptions by journalists at what was going on near the Xidan Book Building and its associated bus depot starting the history and events surrounding the earlier mentioned Democracy Wall.
As old school journalist and in general an elder generation may still remember but most others of younger generations do not, since the death of Zhou Enlai in early 1976 political emotions among the general public had boiled over. Even though Mao Zedong died later that same year, allowing everyone a sigh of relief, in 1977 the political future remained uncertain. The only possible beacon of hope for the public, so it seemed, was Deng Xiaoping.
In this period of transition from an ultra-orthodox style sytem which did not even allow for flying kites, theatres or public festivals to a possibly more open system, the only political figure to allow for public responsibility was the political seemingly moved by Deng Xiaoping (One must understand that in this era nothing could be done in openness, so the ultimate source of some government decree was almost never immediately clear to the general public. It was a very confusing situation at best.). In the process of answering the call for alleviating some of the stress that had driven whole sections of the population to utter dispair and winning the support of the public, one leading section of the Communist Party seemed to allow for an unusal openness of affairs.
It was in this climate, and only after earlier such incidents in 1997, that a new form of protest took to the streets.
In case, at a backwall of a bus depot north of the Book Building at Xidan, public posters appeared, denouncing not only certain polices of the communist party, but soon also openly calling for what amounted to more openness, freedom of the press and forms of democracy. This was the birth of what today is remembered as "The Democracy Wall".
In truth, it had been a deeper process which had been going on for years as even as early as the years 1973 and 1974 calls for Democracy had appeared upon walls in the city of Guangzhou and the death of Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong's apparent disrespect for it had united to people in disgust for what then had been called a dictatorship by a leader who was compared to an Emperor,
London "Daily Telegraph" Nigel Wade,
A Schematic Map of the Old City of Beijing in the Qing Dynasty -stuation as until Summer of 1900 AD.
This Map includes Beijing Ming Dynasty City Walls surrounding Doncheng District and XiCheng District and enclosing the Imperial City.
Further: The Qing Dynasty City Wall additions surroung The Xuanwu District and Chongwen District.
Last: Locations of (Former) City Gates, ancient Names of Gates and the Location of the City Moat and its Connection to the Grand Canal of the Ming Dynasty.