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Beijing Hutongs

Introducing Beijing Hutongs
Community, modernization, and politics are important countrywide but take on greater meaning in Beijing and converge in the hutong. Hutongs represent an important cultural element of Beijing because almost every hutong has its anecdotes, and some are even associated with historic events.

Beijing Hutongs Fast Facts
• Chinese Name: Beijing Hutong 北京胡同
• Best Time to Visit: All year around
• Recommended Visiting Hours: About 1 to 2 hours
• Things to Do: Photography, Architecture, Chinese Culture and History
• Opening Hours: All day
• Entrance Fee: Free
• Address: Downtown, Beijing

What to expect at Beijing Hutongs

Origin of Hutong
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.

Hutong Culture
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”. 

Cultural Preservation
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. “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. Therefore, Hutong protection becomes an urgent issue for modern people.

Famous Hutongs
Among the thousands of hutongs left, there are some distinctive ones which are worthy of visiting.

Nanluoguxiang, or called South Gong and Drum Alley, is one of the oldest hutongs in Beijing. It is 768 meters long and 8 meters wide. It is also the traditional residential area of checkerboard type with the most-preserved texture of hutong and courtyard in the Yuan Dynasty (1271 - 1368).
There are eight parallel hutongs on each side of the old alley. As it is close to the Forbidden City, many royal families and officials lived here. For example, the former residence of China's last empress, Wan Rong, is in the Mao'er Hutong. Besides, a number of historical celebrities lived in the alleys before, such as Qi Baishi, a great artist, who is famous for his traditional Chinese painting.

Yandaixie Street, which is close to Shichahai, is also one the oldest Hutongs in Beijing. The length of the street is 232 meters. It got the name because there were many smoking pipe stores on the street in the late Qing Dynasty, and the street looks like a smoking pipe. The street used to be one of famous antique markets. Now it becomes a famous cultural street with classic architectures, featured stores as well as traditional restaurants.

Shichahai Hutongs best kees the most old Beijing buildings, so you can visit about 15 hutongs with particular features, imperial mansions and former homes of renowned people in this area, like the Prince Gong’s Mansion, which is the most-preserved palace of a prince of Qing dynasty in Beijing and a typical garden palace of a prince. What’s more, Shichahai is a famous tourism sightseeing area in Beijing. Fascinating natural scenery with lush plants and crystal clear lakes are placed here, which enables Shichahai to get the honor as the “Western Watery Place in China”.

How to get to Beijing Hutongs
Shichahai, Nanluoguxiang, Dashilan are main areas where Hutongs abound. Visitor can try the following guidelines to these areas.
• Take Metro Line 8 or Line 7 to Nanluoguxiang.
• Take Metro Line 8 to Shichahai.
• Take Metro Line 4 to Lingjing Hutong.
• Take Metro Line 7 to Zhushikou Station, and walk to Dashilan area.

Additional travel advice on Beijing Hutongs
• There is no parking in some hutongs. The best way to visit hutongs is on food or by bike. You can also hire a rickshaw to guide you.
• Some narrow hutongs may not have lights at night, so it is not recommended to visit these dark hutongs during night.

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