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Beijing Hutongs

Introducing to Beijing Hutongs, Beijing Hutongs Guide, Beijing Hutongs Travel Guide
Article from Ministry of Culture P.R. China

Beijing Hutongs were originally designed during the Zhou Dynasty when the residential areas of Beijing began to take shape. The word hutong comes from the Mongolian word hottog which means “water well.”The term came into use under the reign of Kublai Khan, grandson of Ghengis Khan, during the Yuan Dynasty, because communities start and grow around water supplies such as the lakes in many of the hutongs.

Organized by class status, in keeping with traditional principles of feng-shui, Beijing Hutongs had aristocrats living to the east and west of the palace in finely built homes while the common people lived to the north and south in much simpler dwellings. “A siheyuan is a quadrangle courtyard house” (Acharya) and, together with the east-west and north-south streets, forms the pattern of the neighborhood. Other cities have siheyuan, but the hutong are truly specific to Beijing. Today some of them are over 900 years old and in the words of local author, Li Cunbao, “Each hutong, is like a novel, a long historical story”

In Beijing Hutongs, front doors faced south for sunshine and protection from the cold northern winds. Originally six horse paces was a hutong, but now they range in length from as little as 100 yards to over 4 miles. The narrowness of some of the alleys led to the nickname “the lanes,” and those slender streets can often end suddenly, making automobile traffic very risky.

Community, modernization, and politics are important countrywide but take on greater meaning in Beijing and converge in the hutong. “There were over 7,000 hutongs in Beijing in 1949, but by the 1980s there were only 3,900 left. In recent years, hutongs have been disappearing at a rate of 600 per year” (Collins). They are victims of the conflict between the desire for cultural preservation and the need for modernization and development.

Quick Facts on Beijing Hutongs 

Name: Beijing Hutongs 
Location: Downtown Beijing
Dates: Yuan Dynasty (1267 AD)
Best Time to Visit: September to October
Recommended Time for a Visit: 5 Hours
Opening Hours: All Day
Admission Fee: Free