The district is composed of an area of reconstituted traditional mid-19th century shikumen ("stone gate") houses on narrow alleys, some adjoining houses which now serve as book stores, cafes and restaurants, and shopping malls. Most of the cafes and restaurants feature both indoor and outdoor seating. Xintiandi has an active nightlife on weekdays as well as weekends, though romantic settings are more common than loud music and dance places. It is considered one of the first lifestyle centers in China.
Xintiandi is the location of the site of the first congress of the Communist Party of China, now preserved at the Museum of the First National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party. Also nearby are the Shikumen Open House Museum and the site of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea when Korea was a Japanese colony.
The area was developed by Shui On Land during the re-development of the surrounding area. Some houses in Xintiandi were then demolished and rebuilt (not merely "renovated", which was the term used officially by the Chinese government and the real estate agencies), in order to implant an art gallery, cafes, and restaurants. Many tour groups both domestic and from abroad also visit Xintiandi as one of the main attractions in Shanghai.
This construction displaced 3,500 Shanghainese families.
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