Riches to rags: Inside Beijing’s first stock exchange

Beijing CNN  — 

More than 100 years ago, this grand building was a thriving hotbed of finance – dozens of traders bought and sold currencies, stocks and bonds.

Today, the first stock exchange in China is unloved and dilapidated – its arched roof and brick walls providing a low-cost home to eight families. It’s a riches to rags transformation that many of the building’s residents are only vaguely aware of.

“I never feel I live in a historical building; I’m only afraid that it would one day collapse,” resident Xiao Xiaoxiao told CNN.

Xiao moved into a 20-square-meter room on the first floor of the site seven years ago when she got married. Her subdivided apartment sits at the entrance of the building and she keeps an eye on comings and goings from her screen door.

Her neighbors are noisy and the old building regularly springs leaks, she said.

“But I’m used to it now,” Xiao said with a shrug. “A house of gold or silver is never as good as my own tumbledown home.”

Capitalist symbol

Established in 1918, the Central China Stock Exchange was the first of its kind run by Chinese. Stock trading took place years earlier in the treaty port of Shanghai but those exchanges were run by Western or Japanese powers that occupied the city.

In 1948, trading stopped.

The very embodiment of capitalism, a stock exchange was an anathema to the Chinese Communists who took power in 1949. The building changed hands multiple times in the following decades. In the days of China’s planned economy, it was allocated as public housing for workers.

The building’s ownership is now unclear to residents.


Located in Qianmen, Beijing’s ancient heart, the building has been lucky to dodge the wrecking ball.

Thousands of heritage buildings, narrow lanes and old residential courtyard homes in Beijing have been demolished over the past five decades, transforming Beijing from an imperial walled city to a modern metropolis.

In more recent years, there’s been resurgence of interest in China’s architectural heritage. Not far away from the old stock exchange is the Temple Theater Opera House – a well-preserved venue for traditional Peking Opera.

There’s talk that the stock exchange building may receive protection but there’s no concrete plan.

Beijing Xicheng District Government launched a restoration project in 2014 to modify historical buildings on the street on which the stock exchange sits, according to the government’s website.

For some residents, the old building still possesses an allure missing in the modern high-rise blocks that have sprung up elsewhere in the capital.

The building is close to everything – public schools, hospitals, banks, subway stations.

Xiao’s neighbor Liu Junrong, 54, a resident here since 1989, has a spacious apartment on the outskirts of Beijing, but can’t bring herself to leave.

“The old people who have lived here their entire lives probably would want to die here,” said Xiao.

Getting there: Beijing’s former Central China Securities Exchange is located at 196 Xiheyan Street. To get there by subway, head for Hepingmen Station on Line 2.

Video shot and edited by CNN’s Justin Robertson. Follow him on Twitter @CNN_JUSTIN