Old money – China’s first ever stock exchange is now an overcrowded suburban apartment block.
It is hard to believe this dusty apartment block in Beijing was once the seat of one of the world’s most influential economies.
But the unassuming building, tucked behind an alley in China’s old district of Qianmen, was China’s first ever stock exchange, making it a site of huge importance to world history.
The Beijing Stock Exchange opened in 1918 but was closed down in 1949 after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China.
The offices where Chinese stocks were first traded nearly a century ago have been converted into living quarters in an overcrowded city struggling to house its 21 million residents.
Jens Knudsen, 35, a Danish lawyer working in Beijing, stumbled across the building while photographing the area inside Beijing’s historic city wall.
He said: “I was wandering between the alleys with a friend of mine who is a Beijing local. He took me to the building and told me it was China’s first stock exchange.
“The building was very quiet – there was a cat walking around and a man in his pyjamas cooking eggs on the veranda.
“There is a small plaque written in Chinese with the history of the building on, but apart from that you would never know what it used to be.”
When the old exchange at 196 Qianmen West Riverside first opened, it was the first Chinese-owned stock-trading guild for domestic entrepreneurs. Before the exchange was established all stock trading guilds were owned and managed by westerners or the Japanese.
The exchange traded bonds, stocks and futures. Its listed securities included treasury bills, company stocks and currency.
The establishment of the exchange represents a milestone in the development of Chinese financial markets – an important stepping stone along the way to the country becoming one of the world’s most powerful economies.
The building closed by the government in 1949 as the stock exchange was considered to be a capitalist icon, inconsistent with communist ideology. Stocks were not traded in China for another 30 years.
The Beijing Stock Exchange is now a hutong – a series of courtyard residences surrounding an alleyway which runs through the centre of the building.
Mr Knudsen said the residents crowded into the 20 small offices seemed like ordinary Chinese workers.
He said: “I was there very early in the morning around 6.30am but I got the impression that a lot of people had already left for work and some people were quietly leaving for the day while I was there.
“I don’t think these people were particularly poor, but they definitely were not rich – this is not an area for wealthy people.”
Much of the old district of Qianmen was redeveloped in the run up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the area’s historic buildings are slowly disappearing.
Mr Knudsen said: “A lot of the city has changed, so I think it’s great that this old building still exists.”
The current Chinese stock exchanges are located in Shanghai and Shenzhen.
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