Tradition Mission

In step with the times

Updated: 2011-01-11 08:31

By Huang Lan (

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Wearing a pair of Neiliansheng shoes used to be a symbol of good taste and noble social stature back in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). "Walk in shoes by Neiliangsheng and you will see good fortune at your job," an old Beijing saying goes.

First opened in 1853 by Zhao Ting, Neiliansheng specialized in making court boots for top officials and royal families. In Chinese, "nei" means "the court" and "liansheng" means "endless promotions in official ranks."

Neiliansheng's most popular product is the traditional multiple-layer cloth shoe, which, in Chinese, is known as "Qiancengdi" – literally, a "thousand-layer sole." The sole, made of 100 percent white cotton and linen thread, requires very sophisticated handiwork to cobble. A shoemaker needs to make more than 4,200 sewings to make just one sole. It takes more than 90 procedures and around 40 kinds of tools to make a pair of "Qiancengdi." The delicate craftsmanship gives the shoes a soft, flexible and sweat-absorbing feel. It is also listed by UNESCO as part of China's intangible cultural heritage.

Like other traditional brands, Neiliansheng has met the challenges of increasing competition from the fancy oversea brands pouring into the market these days. And yet the time-honored brand is a nostalgic memory for a lot of people in Beijing. Its clients range from celebrities to ordinary people. It had also made shoes for Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai and many national and foreign leaders.

He Kaiying is a fourth-generation master shoemaker in Neiliansheng. He took the job from his father and has been working for Neiliansheng for more than 30 years. Now he has three apprentices. He feels obliged to preserve and pass on these traditional skills to future generations.

It took more than three years to complete the apprenticeship. He Kaiying thinks being a good craftsman means more than just mastering the skills. Being a good person is more important than anything else.

Ren Chenyang is a post-80s college graduate with a bachelor's degree in hotel management. He didn't apply to be a hotel manager but sent a résumé to Neiliansheng after graduating in 2005 and became an apprentice of He Kaiying.

To maintain its popularity among consumers, especially the youth, Neiliansheng has also developed a great plethora of new and stylish designs, successfully combining them with traditional shoemaking techniques. For those who put equal priority on comfort and fashion, Neiliansheng is still an ideal choice.

Video: Huang Lan

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