Neiliansheng: Weaving history and innovation in traditional Chinese footwear

By Théophile Niyitegeka
On 13 May 2024 at 02:29

Founded in 1853 during the Qing Dynasty’s Xianfeng era, Neiliansheng has become a venerable institution in the world of traditional Chinese footwear, revered for its craftsmanship and historical significance. Nestled in Qianmen Dashilar Commercial Street, just south of Tian’anmen Square, this storied establishment embodies a legacy that resonates through the ages.

The name ’Neiliansheng’, meaning ’continuous promotion’, signifies the belief that wearing their imperial boots could elevate a court official’s rank by three levels.

Originating as a maker of official boots for the court’s elite, Neiliansheng gradually expanded its clientele to include prominent families, skillfully marrying artistry with functionality in each pair of shoes.

The legend of Neiliansheng’s craftsmanship has flourished over the years, receiving endorsements from a host of historical figures, including Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, and Deng Xiaoping.

Its iconic thousand-layer sole has become a hallmark of the brand, earning Neiliansheng the title of "the first Chinese cloth shoes" by the China Chamber of Commerce Federation in 2006—a year that also saw it recognized as a "Chinese time-honored brand" by the Ministry of Commerce.

To honor its rich heritage, Neiliansheng’s flagship store created a small museum on its third floor, offering visitors a glimpse into the enduring cloth shoe culture.

The allure of Neiliansheng shoes lies in their meticulous production. Crafted with traditional techniques and made from natural materials like pure cotton, hemp, and wool, these shoes promise environmental sustainability and unparalleled quality.

This dedication to traditional methods has garnered the brand numerous national patents and recognition on the national intangible cultural heritage list in 2008, further cementing its status as a cultural beacon.

In 2011, in recognition of its cultural significance and innovative practices, Neiliansheng was designated as a demonstration base for the production of national intangible cultural heritage by the Ministry of Culture.

It also stands out as the only "high-tech enterprise" among China’s time-honored brands, showcasing its capability to innovate within the bounds of traditional shoemaking.

Neiliansheng’s influence stretches beyond mere fashion and culture. It has played a role in major national events, such as the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where it provided specially designed etiquette award shoes for female hostesses.

Continuing this tradition, in 2022, Neiliansheng crafted custom cloth shoes for international dignitaries attending the Winter Olympics, demonstrating its global appeal and the timeless relevance of its craftsmanship.

These shoes are made from natural materials.
The legend of Neiliansheng's craftsmanship grew alongside its reputation, bolstered by endorsements from historical figures and modern leaders alike, from Mao Zedong to Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping.
Different machines used to make shoes are also displayed inside the museum.
Considering the rich legacy of cloth shoe culture, Neiliansheng established a small museum on the third floor of its building on Qianmen Dashilar Commercial Street.
A visit to the store and museum gives a glimpse into Chinese traditional shoe making process.
Shoes at Neiliansheng are crafted using traditional techniques.
Neiliansheng store has established itself as a venerable institution in the world of traditional Chinese footwear.
The true allure of Neiliansheng shoes lies in their meticulous production process.
Some of boots displayed inside the small museum at Neiliansheng store.
Neiliansheng store is located in Qianmen Dashilar Commercial Street.
This storied shoemaker started by crafting official boots for the court's elite and over time, expanded to serving notable families.