Qilou Old Street in Hainan draws visitors with unique architecture

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Nearly 1,000 locals and tourists gather at Qilou Old Street in Haikou, Hainan province, a historical and cultural street, to indulge in a feast in April. SU BIKUN/FOR CHINA DAILY

Qilou Old Street in Haikou, Hainan province, is a cultural haven that beckons locals and tourists alike. With its ancient stone alleys, centuries-old stores and traditional Chinese architecture, the historical street offers a unique glimpse into Hainan’s vibrant heritage.

The street, boasting 596 buildings, is renowned as one of China’s most well-preserved architectural complexes, known as qilou, or Chinese arcade houses.

It encompasses a blend of architectural styles, including Renaissance, ancient Roman, Baroque, Southeast Asian and traditional Chinese, according to the Bureau of Tourism, Culture, Radio, Television and Sports of Haikou. This architectural fusion creates a truly exotic atmosphere that showcases the diversity of the province’s culture.

The street was recognized as a famous historical and cultural street in 2009 and listed as a city block for tourism and leisure by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in 2022.

The street’s roots can be traced back to 1849, when it was established by Chinese merchants returning from overseas. Today, it is bustling with shops on the ground level and residential spaces above, offering a genuine urban atmosphere.

Its cultural significance lies not only in its architectural beauty but also in its promotion of Hainan’s intangible cultural heritage, such as Qiong Opera performances and traditional puppetry.

“Qilou Old Street is a great area to learn about real Hainan culture. It retains the authentic local atmosphere of the city, as well as many local eateries and restaurants,” said Zhang Jintao, a traveler from Hebei province.

Recognizing the importance of attracting younger visitors, the local government has enhanced the street’s historical and cultural characteristics.

The century-old pedestrian street has undergone renovations that blend its rich history with a modern urban vibe. Last year, the local government of the city’s Longhua district introduced a 240-meter food street, specializing in local cuisine, creating a trendy dining experience.

The allure of Qilou Old Street has also captivated entrepreneurs like Li Zi, manager of a souvenir shop.

“The architecture here is so distinctive. I fell in love with the place at first sight and decided to establish my own shop here on my first visit,” said Li, from Xiamen, Fujian province, whose souvenir shop opened in May and mainly sells local specialties and cultural products.

In August, an art exhibition showcasing the historical and cultural significance of Qilou Old Street was launched. With art curation, artisan displays, interactive lectures and training salons, it consists of four themed exhibitions: a Southeast Asia Qilou Old Street art exhibition, a Meet Qilou-themed photography exhibition, a Hainan coconut carving exhibition and a Hainan Chinese Rosewood art exhibition.

“To prepare for the art exhibition, we did thorough cultural research, and finally selected literary and artistic forms that can best represent the local culture and characteristics of Hainan Qilou,” said Wang Xun, general manager of Haikou Qilou Old Street Investment Development.

“By incorporating cultural exhibitions with old buildings, we hope to integrate the cultural heritage of Qilou Old Street with tourism. Showcasing the works and achievements of local artists in painting, photography and carving will help citizens and tourists better understand Hainan’s local culture,” said Liu Hong, director of the Bureau of Tourism, Culture, Radio, Television and Sports in Longhua district.

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