Liulichang is known throughout China and the world for its ancient books, calligraphy, paintings, rubbings, ink stones and ink. The street, which is only 750 meters long, is located south of Hepingmen (Peace) Gate within walking distance of the Hepingmen Quanjude Peking Duck Restaurant.
In Ming and Qing times, Liulichang was a favorite haunt for scholars, painters and calligraphers that gathered there to write, compile and purchase books, as well as to paint and compose poetry. By the Kangxi period (1661-1722), Liulichang had become a flourishing cultural center and was described as having “homes and buildings lined up like fish scales.” During the Qianlong period (1736-1796), the street was even more prosperous. There one could find “rooms filed to the roof beams with all kinds of books,” “a street filled with treasures and trinkets,” and the “quintessence of all the markets in the capital concentrated in one street.” When Emperor Qianlong decided to revise the Complete Library of the Four Branches of Literature, he ordered scholars from the project, and Liulichang became a center for research in textual criticism. For visiting scholars, a book-buying trip to Liulichang’ s over 30 bookstores was one of the pleasure of a stay in Beijing.
The Liulichang of Qianlong period was described in the notes of Li Wenzao: “To the south of the kiln is bridge which separates the tile works in to two sections. To the east of the bridge, the street is narrow and for the most part, the shops there sell spectacles, metal flues for household use, and daily necessities. To the west of the bridge, the road is wider, and besides the regular bookshops, there are shops selling antiques and other curios, shops specializing in calligraphy books, scroll mounters, professional scribes, engravers of name seals and wooden blocks for painting, as well as shops where stone tablets are inscribed. Here also are shops offering the articles needed by a scholar participating in the imperial examinations-brushed, paper, ink bottles, paperweights” This was Liulichang up till the end of the Qing Dynasty. In his book Postscript to the Bookshops of Liulicahng, the bibliographer Miao Quansun (1844-1919) listed bookshops, the names of which had remained unchanged from the Qianlong period up through the early 20th century. Those established more recently were also recorded, of which one, Hanwenzhai, was still in business during the 1950s.
At the end of the Qing Dynasty, the Superior-Level Normal School, the Five-Cities (in the Ming, Beijing was divided into five city districts) School and the headquarters of the Telephone Company were built on the site of the glazed tile works. In 1927, when Hepingmen (Peace) Gate was opened up in the city wall, the bridge was demolished and Nanxinhua Road was built, dividing Liulichang into eastern and western sections. The east became known as a center for antiques and curious, while the west was famous for its books. Shanghai Commercial Press, China Publishing House and Youzheng Press, which published books of Chinese calligraphy, all established branches here.
In 1950, the People’s Government passed laws to prohibit the export of valuable antiques and books. The Palace Museum and the Museum of Chinese History bought up all important historical artifacts, paintings, calligraphy and other works of art that had been scattered among Liulichang’s shops. Books of Song and Yuan dynasty woodblock prints, Ming and Qing classics, old hand – annotated texts and the Beijing Library, Beijing University and Beijing Normal University bought publication.
In 1949, Liulichang still had over 170 shops. In 1956, following the transition to joint state- private ownership, many of the small shops were amalgamated into large yet uniquely individual enterprises. The Baoguzhai (Studio of Precious Antiquity) dealt in paintings and calligraphy; the Qingyuntang (Happy Cloud Studio) sold rubbings, collotypes, ink slabs and name seal; and the Yunguzhai (Studio of Chairman Antiquity) sold pottery, bronzes, jade and porcelain from various dynasties, as well as fine handicrafts from the Ming and Qing. The Cuizhenzhai (Studio of Collected Treasures) specialized in ancient inscriptions, porcelain and pottery and the Moyuange (Affinity for Ink Pavilion) specialized in the calligraphy and paintings of famous modern artists. The Jiguge (Draw from Antiquity Pavilion) produced ceramic figurines and horses designed on ancient models as well as colored rubbings, while the Suiyaxuan (Gallery of Profound Refinement), built on the old site of Haiwangcun (Village of the Sea King), dealt in books on history, literature and philosophy as well as important modern works on archaeology and medicine. The list also includes Hukaiwen, Daiyuexuan and Yidege, all of which dealt exclusively in Chinese writing brushed, ink and other writing implements, as well as a variety of arts and crafts. Today, inside the large courtyard of the China Art Gallery sells works of famous scrolls, hanging scrolls, albums and fans.
There are also shops for paper, scroll-mounting, book binding and the carving of stone tablets and name seals. The most famous of these is Rongbaozhai (Studio of Glorious Treasures), which has a history of over 200 years. Here internationally renowned reproductions of Chinese paintings are made using the traditional technique of woodblock color printing. It was the craftsmen of Rongbaozhai who reproduced in six volumes the collection of Beiping Woodcut Stationery With Illustrated Poems Edited by Lu Xun and Zheng Zhenduo in 1933.
Liulichang’ s history can be traced back to the Tang Dynasty when it was part of the prefecture of Ji. Under the Liao it was known as Haiwangcun (Village of the Sea King). The kiln, which made glazed tiles, was first built in the Yuan Dynasty. When Ming rulers began to build their palaces in Beijing, the factory was enlarged and became one of the five kilns under control of the Board of Works. Most glazed structural components of the Ming halls and palaces were produced in these factories.
In 1979, the State Council approved a recommendation to restore and expand Liulichang. The original shops have been restored and the road broadened into a 15-meter-wide pedestrian mall. A museum displaying classical paintings, calligraphy and other antiquities tells the story of the old street.
Beijing Antique Shopping Tours
Old Beijing Walking Tour
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