As the Central Business District (CBD) of Nanjing, Xinjiekou endlessly pumps life into the city’s economy, and acts as, not only the CBD, but also an important area for political and governmental exchange, as well as entertainment. As many as half a million people pass through Xinjiekou every day, rising to 1 million during peak holiday periods.
Nowadays, it is the Nanjing International Finance Centre (1 Hanzhong Lu) that acts as the gateway to Xinjiekou, which then opens up into a homogonised mega mall.
However, once upon a time, the area was made up of unique European-style architecture, with whole roads specialised in one particular product or service. Hongwu Lu was known as “Financial Street”, Zhongshan Lu as “Walking Street”, Taiping Lu as “Gold Jewelry Street”, Shigu Lu as “Bar Street”, Wangfu Dajie as “Food Street”, Mochou Lu as “Antique Street”, Changjiang Lu as “Culture Street” and so on, while Xinjiekou Square itself was a place of political gatherings and rallies.
Due to the construction of Metro Line 1 in 2001, Xinjiekou Square was demolished and the bronze statue of Dr. Sun Yat-sen (1996 edition) was relocated; its last before finally settling back onto its podium 9 years later. It boasts an epic tale that, interestingly, began with a Japanese sculptor, named Maktai Hiroshi, and his four casts.
Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s Bronze Statue
Makita, from the Sugawara Gold Works in Japan, was commissioned to produce a total of four casts of Dr. Sun Yat-sen. One of these was personally sent to Nanjing by Meiwu Zhuangji in March, 1929, and placed in the Central Military Academy, while the remaining three found their way to the Guangzhou Huangpu Memorial Hall, the Guangzhou Zhongshan University and the Macau Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall.
During the height of the cultural revolution in 1966, hot debate erupted between the Red Guards who argued over whether the statue was revolutionary or representative of the bourgeois. It was reported that, on 27 August, 1966, Xinjiekou square was crowded with people, while the Red Guards bickered over what to do and a crane stood by ready to remove the statue. Premier Zhou Enlai himself made the decision to protect it and so had it removed to another location. As a result, Nanjing Municipal Party Committee transported the bronze statue, according to Zhou’s instructions, to the Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum.
Calling for a return of the statue, Nanjing citizens began a heated discussion in 1994 as to whether this should be permitted. So it was to come to be, in 1995, on the 70th anniversary of the death of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, that his bronze statue was finally allowed to return to its spot in the centre of Nanjing. However it would not be the original statue; a new, bigger and taller version had been commissioned and so got to work Dai Guangwen of the Nanjing Sculpture Studio, whose creation was to be 5.75 meters high, weigh 6.2 tons and paid for purely by social donations.
With construction of the metro underway, once again, the then-recently-built bronze statue was removed and placed in a warehouse on Fujian Lu, to be later moved to a mountain in Jiangbei. At the beginning of 2005, businessman, Tao Peifen, deputy of the Nanjing Municipal People’s Congress, together with deputy secretary of the Xinbai Party Committee both submitted a proposal to “return the bronze statue of Sun Yat-sen to Xinjiekou”, as Xinjiekou had “lost its soul”. Thus, on the evening of 19 May, 2010, the statue was finally placed back onto its podium in the central square of Xinjiekou and was rotated to face south, towards Sun’s birthplace in Guangdong Province.
Xinjiekou’s 1,500 Years of History
Ancient remains of wooden piles and scattered porcelain dating back 1,500 years were once unearthed on Huaihai Lu in Xinjiekou. At 5 metres underground, this archaeological site was U-shaped, while excavations also revealed a middle layer comprising a tunnel that proves the rivers in the Xinjiekou area were once criss-crossed.
It was in the Tongzhi Restoration during the Qing Dynasty that Xinjiekou was thus named. As a reference to its narrow streets, “Xinjiekou” may be used to refer to the square itself, or the surrounding area. Before 1928, Xinjiekou was nothing more than a cold block of low houses and narrow streets.
It was not until the fall of the last dynasty and the establishment of government in 1929, that the “Capital Plan”, completed in December of that year, outlined proposals to turn Xinjiekou into an area dedicated to trade. It was to be some 7 years later that the sweeping boulevards of Zhongshan Lu would meet with Hanzhong Lu, forming the main plaza at their intersection, becoming the main transport hub for the city.
Trade necessitates finance, and so the establishment of major banking operations such as the Bank of China, the Zhejiang Industrial Bank and the Bank of Communications commenced in 1930, to form a banking district to be known as China’s “Wall Street”. Following in the banks’ wake, the Central Shopping Mall, the Dahua Grand Theatre, the Xindu Grand Theatre, the Fuchang Hotel and the Central Daily News were to make up the core of Nanjing.
Xinjiekou’s Buildings & Politics
While the Central Shopping Mall opened for business in 1936, it was accompanied by a boycott of foreign goods, instigated by 32 people, including Kuomintang Central Committee members Jing Jiang and Zeng Yangyu. The move aimed to promote domestic products and develop national industry and commerce.
Hence domestic merchants, such as Jingdezhen Porcelain, Zhang Xiaoquan Scissors and Hengdeli Jewelry were attracted to the Central Mall to set up shop. However, after less than 2 years of operation, the central shopping mall was forced to shut its doors due to the 1937 Japanese invasion.
Worthy of particular note was the Central News Agency, built in 1948 at 75 (formerly 34) Zhongshan Dong Lu, on the northwest corner of the Hongwu Lu and Zhongshan Dong Lu intersection. Designed by architect, Yang Tingbao, the building was a typical example of an early modern high-rise, its seven floors making it tallest building in Nanjing in the 1940s.
In addition, the Dahua Grand Theatre, built in 1934 and located at 67 Zhongshan Nan Lu, is considered a masterpiece of the Republican era. Also designed by Yang, the theatre, together with the World Grand Theatre (later renamed Yan’an Theatre), the Capital Theatre (later renamed Liberation Cinema) and the Xindu Theatre (later renamed Victory Cinema) were known as the Four Cinemas of the Republic of China. The Dahua Grand Theatre was reopened on 29 May, 2013, after more than 2 years of maintenance and renovation.
Xinjiekou’s Shopping Malls
The Central Shopping Mall was re designated as a State-Owned Enterprise by the Nanjing Municipal Government in early 1964. It being the only large department store in Nanjing at the time, the Central Shopping Mall held a monopoly over the city’s entire consumer market, until the Xinjiekou department store, Xinbai, was established in 1952. Xinbai was the only mall that spent the next 22 years standing side by side the Central Shopping Mall, and causing a sensation when it became the first listed company in Nanjing.
Hardly a sidenote, the Jinling Hotel was built on the northwest corner of Xinjiekou Square. Invested by a Singaporean overseas Chinese and Nanjing native, Tao Xinbo, it is 37 stories high and in May, 1983, was the tallest building in China, as well as the country’s first five-star hotel. The hotel remains a major Nanjing landmark today.
Next came the building of Nanjing’s Friendship Store in Xinjiekou. Being the first building in Nanjing to use an escalator, it introduced “high-end” and “chic” concepts to Nanjing for the first time.
In 1996, sales volumes of the Friendship Store reached ￥890 million, surpassing the Central Shopping Mall and second only to Xinbai. However, after slowly abandoning the “boutique” characteristics of a high-end department store and offering only low-end civilian styles, the Friendship Store began to decline. Vicious competition also brought about a price war between the three big companies.
Thus began the era of the Golden Eagle International Department Store, which officially opened in 1996. The store, with its Taiwan-funded background, was originally regarded as a “foreign intruder” by industry insiders, yet now it stands as a Nanjing icon in the eyes of locals.
Golden Eagle gradually formed its own high-end position, introducing the likes of Estee Lauder, Clinique, Chanel and Givenchy. “Whether it is a Nanjinger or a foreigner, as long as you buy gifts in Nanjing, you will definitely go to Golden Eagle”, a Nanjing financial manager was quoted as saying when he described the status of Golden Eagle in the minds of Nanjing consumers. “It’s very unreasonable for Nanjing people to have a Xinbai or Central Mall receipt in a gift bag”.
As more modern malls began opening in other parts of the city, the subsequent decline of Xinjiekou had in fact been predicted as far back as 2005, when the Hong Kong-funded Deji Group spotted the opportunity, snapping up 40,000 square metres in the northeast corner of Xinjiekou. It proceeded to build Deji Plaza in two phases, covering a total floor area of over 200,000 square metres. The plaza also contributed 8 million to the Xinjiekou metro station construction in 2006, to give people easy access to the mall from the station.
Deji Plaza’s future was secured, and its investment made worthwhile, by a visit from luxury brand Louis Vuitton’s North Asia representative, Philippe Fortunato, in 2007. He found that Deji Plaza, whether it was the environment or the metro line, very much met his requirements, and so he decided to open Nanjing’s first LV store therein. Within 3 years, the 400-square-meter store had monthly sales of ￥15 million, and its sales per square metre were second only to Shanghai, ranking second in mainland China.
Xinjiekou would not be that which it is today without its record-breaking metro station that is also the intersection of the network’s lines 1 and 2. With a total of no less than 24 exits, exceeding even that of People’s Square Station in Shanghai, there can be surely be no more an efficient transportation hub in China as the metro that lies beneath Nanjing’s iconic and historic Xinjiekou.