Today, we’re continuing our series about some of the most famous streets in China. Haikou, capital of the island-province of Hainan, features a stylishly-classical fusion of European and Asian architecture. Here Qilou (骑楼老街), or Chinese arcade houses, form the city’s most exotic landscapes. With its origins in ancient Greece some 2000 years ago, arcade architecture was introduced into Haikou by overseas Chinese merchants in the 1920s. A Qilou stands three or four storeys in height, with the ground floor set back halfway into the building, to be used as a storefront. The upper floors serve as the living quarters, extending over the pavement and supported by columns. These unique buildings look inviting and customer-friendly, and still today, the design remains popular for commercial premises.
Chinese people have a strong sense of their roots and national identity. The early 1920s saw many merchants return to their homes in Hainan, after making their fortunes in Southeast Asia. They were responsible not only for bringing about rapid economic development, but also for the appearance of a brand new architectural style; the unique Qilou arcade building.
He Daqi was a famous merchant and philanthropist. With his monopoly over Hainan’s oil industry and shipping trade, he was the richest businessman on the island. By establishing the first direct shipping route between Haikou and Southeast Asia, he opened the door to the outside world, for people on Hainan.
Haikou’s Qilou Old Street is the most impressive example of arcade architecture in all of China. To some extent, it is also the symbol of Haikou. The Qilou area has witnessed the many vicissitudes that have affected the city in the past century; it has also benefitted – architecturally and commercially – from the deeply-rooted love felt for their home town by the overseas Chinese from Southeast Asia. A stroll along the hundred-year-old street, with its echoes of history, gives visitors a taste of traditional Haikou life.
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