Shikumen Residence - Ligong House

Written by Ruru Zhou Updated Sep. 2, 2021

Shikumen (Stone Warehouse Gate) is a unique local residence in Shanghai. Combined with Chinese and Western architecture styles, the residences appeared in the 1860s. It is a 2 to 3 stories townhouse. Decorated with modern elements, Shikumen is becoming a new fashion in Shanghai. There are still about 2 million Shanghai people living in Shikumen houses. Tianzifang and Xintiandi are famous for the Shikumen in Shanghai. 

Shikumen residence is the most extended traditional housing style in Shanghai. In their peak era, there were more than 9 000 "shikumen". The gates of these houses are made of solid and thick wooden boards painted in black. And the door frames are made of stone.

Shikumen is a Symbol of Old Shanghai

Aged more than a century now, some of these constructions do not correspond anymore to the modern residential concepts which are further interested in the space arrangement thus several of these former buildings are demolished.

Nevertheless, the shikumen spread out in Shanghai, has the charm of past days and constitutes unique architectural works of the city.

To the point, "shikumen" summarizes the old Shanghai. Through their long history, these buildings testify events that endured ordinary people and secret activities of the revolutionaries. The Chinese Communist Party moreover held its first Congress in a «shikumen ", 88 years ago. They are also the cradle of numerous literary, university, and artistic works.

Formerly, the districts of «shikumen» welcomed numerous infrastructures: factories, banks, inns, warehouses, newspapers, schools, and casinos. Even today, approximately a third of the population of Shanghai lives in "shikumen", where they redo history in a new epoch. For local residents, "shikumen" symbolizes their memories, their family heritage, their friendship, and their sense of community.

Old Houses in Shikumen

These houses date back to the 19th century when Shanghai welcomed numerous refugees further to the Taiping Rebellion, a massive civil war in southern China from 1850 to 1864.

Composed by two or three floors, with a small courtyard in front of the house and surrounded by a wall of bricks, the house follows a customary replica: at the ground floor is the kitchen and the main space while bedrooms are on higher floors.

Often adjacent, they shape a line of residences called lilong tang. After the Second World War, and the influx of population, it was common that several families are divided into a single shikumen.

They got modernized over time and lilong tang are animate places with itinerant merchants moving everywhere. The inhabitants are playing cards or chess, practicing t'ai chi; an authentic haven of peace in the modern city.

As the population density increased, the inhabitants gradually began to practice some of their activities in public places. These houses which fuse eastern and western styles are not only the result of an admixture of the oriental and western cultures but an essential symbol of the cultural style of Shanghai as well.

Wulixiang Shikumen Museum

Near  Xintiandi, Wulixiang Shikumen Museum is a great place to see old local culture and houses of Shanghai in the past. The family was one of Shanghai’s middle-class families living in a Shikumen house. There are old photos of the original owner and his family. Wulixiang Shikumen Museum has 3 stories and a garret with exquisite decorations. Travelers can see a lot of old house decorations used in the 1920s. There are antique furniture and decorations in the house.

Occupying an area of 513.9 square meters, the exhibition is as big as 367.2 square meters. Wulixiang is a local Shanghai dialect with a meaning of home. Welcome to Wulixiang which means welcome to my home. It is also called an open house. There are a lot of books and pictures to introduce the old house and the changes of Xintiandi on the second floor. The museum has introductions about Shanghai’ Shikumen in Chinese and English.

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