The Site of the First National Congress of the Communist Party of China: A Typical Shikumen Building of Shanghai

The Site of the First National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) is not far from Xintiandi. It also has great similarities in appearance and style with Xintiandi. With the same grey-green and red brick walls, the same arch lintels with enchased flowers and small yards, they look like an old photograph of Shanghai. The only difference lies in the disposition it expresses. It is history that makes it distinct.

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The present document introduces it like this, “At 8pm. 23rd of July, 1921, the first national congress of the CPC was held in No. 106, Rue Wantz (now No. 76 Xingye Road). 15 people were present in the congress, including 2 delegates from the Communist International. On the last day, the congress moved to the South Lake in Jiaxing, Zhejiang Province, and was concluded there…” After the establishment of PRC, the state leaders Mao Zedong, Dong Biwu etc. decided after discussion to have the first day of July, i.e., July 1st as the founding date of the Chinese Communist Party. In 1952, the Memorial of “The Site of the First National Congress of the CPC” was established for people to visit and have commemorations. In 1999 the city government conducted a reconstruction of the memorial hall at the site, and the new memorial hall is 12 meters high with 2 stories at the front and 3 stories at the back.

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The Site of the First National Congress of the CPC is a typical Shikumen building of Shanghai. This kind of residence first came into being in the 1860s, when refugees from south Jiangsu Province and north Zhejiang Province flooded into the Concessions in Shanghai when Taiping Army’s advanced eastward in 1860. In order to accommodate the refugees, the Concessions encouraged investments on construction of buildings.

These buildings were in large part townhouse-style Shikumen alleys so as to make the best use of land. They are called Shikumen (stone-ringed door) because their door frames are made of stone, and the doors are made of thick wood which are painted in black. In Chinese, the hoops around the doors are called “Gu”, and then the buildings with the stone-“hooped” doors were called “Shigumen”. Owing to the local dialect, gradually this kind of building gained the name – “Shikumen”.

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The overall layout of Shikumen adopts the style of European townhouses, while the interior structure draws a lot from Chinese quadrangle. The difference lies in that the quadrangles have fewer stories and more yards, spreading horizontally, while Shikumen features more stories and fewer yards, developing vertically in order to make as much use of the space as possible. The door of Shikumen is quite unique. The part over the lintel is arc-shaped, with embossed relief similar to the European family shield. However, the curves on top are cloud-shaped in Chinese style, and the flowers look like plums, a good combination of the Chinese and western style.

Entering No. 76 of Xingye Road and going through the security check, you will arrive at the main hall. The meeting room on the ground floor is about 20 square meters, with white walls and red floor, the same color as that of the door and windows. The interior layout is exactly the same as it was then: a long rectangle table covered with a white cloth is laid in the middle, with tea cups and matchbox on it. Around the table are 12 round wooden stools. A tea table and two chairs are placed against both the east and west walls each. The room looks quite similar to the rooms of common Shanghai households at that time.

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The second floor is taken up by the exhibition hall. There is also a wax statue hall on the second floor, showing the 15 attendees of the congress sitting around the table. Young Comrade Mao Zedong, holding a piece of paper in his hand, is standing in the middle. It reproduces the historical scene of the day when the First National Congress of the Communist Party of China was taking place, and you will feel as if they were personally at the scene.

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Coming out and looking back, you will see “Shu De Li” carved on the gate tower, also typical in Shanghai alleys.

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Travel Tips:

After visiting the Site of the First National Congress of the CPC, you may also go to Taipingqiao Greenland to take a breath of fresh air. In the middle of the Greenland is the largest man-made lake in downtown Shanghai, with large-scale fountains in the middle. Along the northern edge of the lake is 1,200-meter-long Hubin (Riverside) Road. Two small islands dot the lake on both the western and eastern sides – Yulan Island and Hehuan Island. In this hustling and bustling downtown area, this Greenland is really a sight for sore eyes.

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