A road that's short in distance, long in traditional charm
Jing’an is a potted history of Shanghai. Century-old villas, well-preserved traditional shikumen neighborhoods with high walls and stone gates, and renovated factories all have a story to tell. Glitzy retail malls, charming boutiques and annual music and arts events give the district a distinctive ambience and ever-growing opportunities. In this series, we explore some of the landmarks that have come to characterize the district’s culture and history.
Name: Shaanxi Road N.
Formerly called: Seymour Road
Significance: hailed by the State Council as a “Chinese Nominated History and Culture Road”
Shaanxi Road N., built in 1914 under the name Seymour Road, is one of 11 backstreets that feed into Nanjing Road W., often called Shanghai’s Fifth Avenue.
Shaanxi Road runs about 1 kilometer from Xinzha Road to Yan’an Middle Road. It has long been regarded as an epitome of the city’s inclusive spirit and international atmosphere.
Famed Shanghai writer Cheng Naishan said when she was visiting the Leaning Tower of Pisa, she chanced upon a small alley one day while walking and it flooded her with memories of Shaanxi Road N..
The road between Xinzha and Nanjing roads is dotted with more than 20 historical buildings of different architectural styles. They include the traditional shikumen-style Datong Lane, the neoclassical Garden House, the red-brick townhouses of Pacific Garden and the Greek revival-style of the Ohel Rachel Synagogue. The southern section of Shaanxi Road is mostly commercial.
A 230-meter section between Nanjing and Weihai roads reopened earlier this month after a six-month renovation that combined new touches with old elements.
Along this section, 17 shops with venerated brands, including the 300-year-old Leiyunshang pharmacy and heritage-listed Longfeng Cheongsam, have outlets. They have retained their traditional charm even while embracing modern retail concepts to keep pace with a highly competitive, rapidly changing marketplace.
“We have upgraded the stores both inside and out,” said Zhuang Qianyun, chief executive of the Kaikai Group that undertook the renovation. “From exterior appearances and interior layouts, to products and services, we have been meticulous in every detail.”
To the extent possible, traditional architectural crafts and materials were used in the renovation. Half of the stores are fronted with red brick processed from decades-old bricks, to blend in with the shikumen residences above.
Zhuang said she hoped the vintage atmosphere would encourage people to tarry awhile and take photos, but the ultimate aim was to entice them inside the shops.
So what exactly do these stores provide?
“Retailing concepts are changing,” said Zhuang. “Demand for the highest possible quality of goods is growing. These brands, part of the character of the city itself, needed to bring themselves up to date. This is no longer just a place where things are sold. We’ve done all we could to give people plenty of reasons to visit.”
Time-honored brands are considered to be the “living history” of the city’s commercial development. By exhibiting old photos and paraphernalia and by inviting skilled craftsmen to perform traditional skills, the stores pass on their history to the next generation.
Haute-couture services will be available for people to order tailor-made clothes, and workshops will be set inside stores for people to experience traditional skills such as making sachets and herb tea.
Also, people will see new products debut along the street.
“The street is a brand-culture display center, a bespoke tailoring center, a traditional craft center, a new product launch center and a marketing center,” Zhuang said.
Leiyunshang, the oldest brand in Jing’an, was the first of the venerable names to try something new.
The pharmacy has two traditional Chinese medicine “doctors,” both robots. They can scan facial complexions, do tongue diagnosis and talk to patients. They draft medical reports and dispatch them to specialists at the Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
The No.6 Grain & Oils Convenience Store has instituted a modern system that allows customers to make swipe payments.
The 101-year-old Hongxiang, a pioneer in Chinese women’s fashion, has a 3D-fitting mirror for customers to see clothes would look on them.
Preserving traditional skills while injecting them with new vigor is truly the best of both worlds, but serves no purpose unless we can guarantee the survival of the brands, according to Zhao Jian, deputy director of the Jing’an Commerce Commission.
“We hope the street pleases sightseers and shoppers alike, and becomes a window to the beauty and ingenuity that Shanghai’s culture offers to the world,” Zhao said.
Window to the beauty of Shanghai culture
A stroll from Weihai Road to Nanjing Road W. takes you past shops with venerable brands, traditional decor
The No. 6 Grain & Oils Convenience Store (820 Weihai Rd)
Established in 1958, this grocery store offers inexpensive, quality food to residents on their doorstep. Products include rice, flour, oils, dressing, cigarettes, liquors, breads, cakes and snacks.
Kaikai Clothes (95-99 Shaanxi Road N.)
Kaikai, established in 1936, is famed for high-end shirts and sweaters.
Dameihua Shoes (101 Shaanxi Road N.)
Dameihua, established in 1904, sells cloth shoes in a style dating back more than 3000 years in China. The handmade shoes, with cloth soles and embroidery on the vamp, are old-fashioned. but they are becoming popular among young people thanks to the recent vintage trend.
Meixin Dimsum (103-107 Shaanxi Road N.)
This eatery, famed for its seductive snacks, was set up in 1925. In summer, people always lined up on the street, waiting to enjoy cool silky noodles with vinegar and sesame paste. From today, diners will once again have access to popular signature snacks such as tang yuan, or glutinous rice balls with sweet sesame or salty pork stuffing.
Taichang Food (109 Shaanxi Road N.)
Taichang Food, established in 1945, sells biscuits, cakes and pastries. Bestsellers include palmier, a traditional French pastry, and crunchy taitiao cookie bars. Taitiao refers to dried green algae that is long and thin. It is widely added to Chinese pastry.
Leiyunshang Pharmacy（111-115 Shaanxi Road N.）
Leiyunshang Pharmacy has history of about 300 years. It specializes in traditional Chinese medicinal products, including sachets filled with herbs, herbal pastes and acupuncture plasters.
Harbin Foodstuff Factory (127-129 Shaanxi Road N.)
For locals, this pastry maker is synonymous with the taste of childhood. It was opened by Yang Guanlin, a Shandong Province immigrant in 1936, as Fuli Bakery. Later, he renamed it Harbin because he had been once been a baker in Harbin and Vladivostok. He refined Russian pastries to suit local tastes and was a huge success. Today, popular treats include almond bars, butter cookies and palmier.
Hongxiang Clothes (131-133 Shaanxi Road N.)
Hongxiang, founded in 1917, was the first couture house in China to hold a fashion show. To make a perfect garment, Hongxiang tailors need to master 30 techniques that are listed as part of the city’s “intangible cultural heritage.” It’s an ideal place for women to find quality garments, and tailor-made clothes can be picked up within 72 hours.
Xinzhenjiang Restaurant Takeaway Department (149 Shaanxi Road N.)
Opened in 1927, the restaurant offers traditional Shanghai and Huaiyang (Jiangsu) cuisines, which are famous for their elegant delicacy. Famous dishes include red-braised lion's head, or steamed pork balls in soy sauce; Yangzhou-style dried sliced bean curd; and steamed buns.
Xiqu Laodafang Food (177 Shaanxi Road N.)
Opened in 1851 as Laodafang, the food store changed name to Xiqu Laodafang in 1956. It faithfully uses recipes passed down through generations to make traditional Chinese snacks, including Shanghai pork mooncake, hailed as one of the most delicious in the city. In Shanghai, this mooncake is famed for its crispy, layered pastry, fatty broth and savory pork filling.
Gujin Lingerie (181-185 Shaanxi Road N.)
Gujin is one of the oldest and most renowned lingerie brands in Shanghai. It sells high quality and inexpensive lingerie.
No.1 Siberia Leather (189 Shaanxi Road N.)
The leather store was opened in 1930 by Chinese businessman Chen Jinsun to compete with Russian rivals. He named his store No.1 Siberia to show his ambition to become the No.1 retailer in his specialty, and he recruited a Russian to be the store manager. His store soon stood out due to high-quality leather and fashionable styles.
Magnolia Silk (195-197 Shaanxi Road N.)
This shop, selling elegant silk products, is named after Shanghai’s official city flower.
Humsuit Suits (199-201 Shaanxi Road N.)
Humsuit is an upscale store built in 1929. It’s an ideal place for men to buy quality suits.
Longfeng Cheongsam (207 Shaanxi Road N.)
Longfeng, opened in 1936, is one of the most reputable cheongsam makers in Shanghai. It retains its high-profile status by ensuring that the cloth and tailoring suit the age, lifestyle and personality of each customer. A fitting includes the measurement of 36 parts of the body. The brand continues to use its unique skills in making buttons called pankou, or frog fasteners.
Jingdezhen porcelain (212 Shaanxi Road N.)
Jingdezhen in Jiangxi Province is known as the capital of porcelain in China. It has become a famed brand name and has been designated as a national “intangible cultural heritage.” The store sells a variety of porcelain products, from vases to pots.
Seagull Watch (1189 Nanjing Road W.)
The brand, founded in 1955, marked the end of the era when China was considered capable of only repairing but not creating watches.