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Beijing reopens historic Qianmen shopping street one day before Olympics
21:28, August 07, 2008

The Olympic host city on Thursday reopened one of its oldest commercial areas as the latest cultural and tourist attraction, one day prior to the start of the Games.

After a massive refurbishment lasting more than one year, the 840-meter-long Qianmen Street in the heart of the city was opened to visitors. A dozen local brands which originated from Qianmen in the past century, such as the Quanjude roasted duck restaurant and the Zhangyiyuan tea house, were reopened to business the same day.

Wang Wenqi, 74, a Beijing local in his wheelchair, came to the street at 7:30 a.m.. The experience helped him revive his memories of the past when he always bought traditional cloth shoes in Neiliansheng store and tea in the Zhangyiyuan teashop.

"I was born in a hutong and often visited the street when I was young. It looks magnificent after renovation," he said.

The government started renovating the street in May last year with the goal of restoring it to its former glory a century ago during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) .

Zhang Zhenyuan, who once followed his father through Beijing's alleyways selling and fixing wooden barrels, gave his rendition of the old town cries in the street on Thursday morning, attracting crowds of visitors and reporters.

The 72 year old, wearing traditional Qing Dynasty dress, customized his look by putting China's national flag and another from the Beijing 2008 Olympics on his head to show his passion.

"The street has been kept almost the same as before with new things added. The street lamps in the shape of a bird cage and bronze drum are all full of Beijing characteristics," he said.

More than 30 people were waiting in front of the "Duyichu" Shaomai Shop at 10 a.m.. The business had sold the steamed dumplings there for 270 years.

Waiters wearing long pigtail hairstyles and flowing robes asked visitors to line-up outside as the "Yitiaolong" Mutton Restaurant was full to capacity.

Li Wenmin, who was relocated from her 300-square-meter "Siheyuan," the city's traditional residential courtyard, in March 2006, also came back to see her old house.

The woman, who lived with her family members in the Dajiang Hutong, an area of narrow lanes between lines of such courtyards, received compensation of 18,000 yuan (2,626 U.S. dollars) per square meter after giving up her house to the government.

"The reimbursement was reasonable at that time. The house price in the downtown was around 6,000 yuan per square meter. My brother and I both bought new apartments with the money."

The renovation was achieved through a series of studies, discussions and revisions. It took reference of numerous historical photos from the 1920s and 1930s in the street's heyday, said Wang Shiren, a renown architect and the chief designer of the remodeled Qianmen Street.

In total, workers brought back 52 old buildings to life. Eventually, about 100 brand-name stores from all over the country will open up shops there. Traces of traditional Chinese architecture and history can be seen in the stores' gray facades, elaborate wooden archways, rattle-drum street ornaments and bird cages.

However, some visitors doubted whether the renovation would hurt the historical landscape.

"I know it's for the Olympics, but it's quite new," said Jennifer Wu, 16, who came to Beijing to watch the Games.

Along with the Great Wall and Tian'anmen Square, Qianmen Street is one of the "must-see" places listed in many tourist guides.

The street lies on Beijing's historic central axis just south of the Tian'anmen Square and the Forbidden City, the imperial palace from the mid-Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) to the end of the Qing Dynasty.

The commercial street took shape about 570 years ago and reached its heyday in the 1920s and 1930s, garlanded with restaurants, theaters, silk stores and tea houses. It was still a famous shopping area even before the refurbishment, despite its rundown condition and over-population.

The street was closed for the facelift in May 2007, with old buildings demolished. A tram was also restored after being discontinued in the 1960s.

But the tram along will not be operational during the Olympics because the marathon runners will pass along the street, Wang said.

Source: Xinhua

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