By Jacqueline Wong
SHANGHAI (Reuters) - The grey brick building where China's Communist Party held its first congress 90 years ago in the glitzy former French Concession area of Shanghai doesn't betray any trace of its peasant-proletariat past.
Instead, the memorial site, thronged by busloads of party cadres to mark the anniversary of the founding of the party on Friday, sits in the shadows of Shanghai's fashionable tourist enclave of Xintiandi, a potent symbol of China's growing wealth and entrepreneurial brand of socialism.
Xintiandi, which means New Heaven and Earth in Chinese, is among the priciest pieces of real estate in China's financial capital.
Until the 1990s, the area consisted of low-rise "Shikumen" or typical Shanghai stone-arched gate houses in narrow alleys. Today, the heritage buildings have been conserved and the neighborhood transformed into an affluent playground of trendy restaurants, bars and boutiques.
"Xintiandi is emblematic of what China represents today, entrepreneur-based and ruled by a Communist doctrine. It seems to work pretty well," said architect Benjamine Wood, who designed Xintiandi with Nikken Sekkei International.
Sandwiched in the middle of Xintiandi, the museum of the First National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) is itself a showpiece of how far China has progressed in its economic transformation.
The museum showcases years of struggle of the CPC led by Mao Zedong through its hundreds of revolutionary relics, documents and photos. A waxworks hall reproduces the scene of the historic first political meeting.
On July, 1921, thirteen members held their first national congress of the CPC to mark the birth of the party.
Few at the museum interviewed on a recent afternoon seemed bothered by the apparent contradiction of a Communist icon residing in one of Shanghai's most capitalist districts.
"Capitalism is just a way for the economy, while Communism is political. Economics and politics are not opposite. A Communist country can also develop a capitalist economy," said Fu Songtang, a Communist Party member, 47, from Jilin province.
Fu said the museum's proximity to Xintiandi reflects the successful leadership of the Communist Party.
In the lead-up to the 90th anniversary celebrations marking the founding of the CPC, convoys of tour buses brought Chinese tourists from outlying provinces to the site to pay homage.
Long lines of tourists, many affiliated to the CPC, posed for photographs with the red Communist Party flag.
Leading a big group of government officials from Guangdong province was tour guide, Gu Yi, 37.
He said that when Hong Kong's Shui On Land bought the old houses for commercial development around the memorial, he didn't see the sense in redeveloping the birthplace of the CPC in the midst of the commercial glitz.
"Now I can understand," said Gu. "It's a commercial society after all. The Communist Party had very good foresight 90 years ago to choose this place for their first meeting, this fashion icon."
(Additional reporting by Anita Li; Editing by Sugita Katyal)