My dear travelers and fans of unusual trips, welcome to the new series of long-awaited travelogues from China on the Mr.M blog. The month of May will be dedicated to one of the cradles of human civilization and a country with thousands of years of written history – China. At the very beginning of today’s travelogue, I would like to thank the Ministry of Tourism of the People’s Republic of China – Visit China and the leading Turkish airline Turkish Airlines for the kind invitation and hospitality. With their help, the travelogues and fashion stories that you will have the opportunity to read this May were created and I sincerely hope that you will enjoy them.
If by any chance you missed reading the previous travelogues or want to remind yourself of some interesting things, take the opportunity to visit the following links:
- Letters from China: Explore the Peal of the Far East with Turkish Airlines
- Letters from China: The Peninsula Beijing, explore the first luxury hotel in the heart of Beijing
- Letters from China: Tiananmen Square, let’s explore The Gate of Heavenly Peace together
- Letters from China: The Temple of Heaven, the Imperial Sacrificial Altar in the Heart of Beijing
- Letters from China: The Summer Palace and The Great Wall of China
Today we will explore together one of the oldest Hutongs in the capital of the People’s Republic of China, Beijing. Hutongs represent a type of extremely narrow alleys that are a symbol of northern Chinese cities, especially in Beijing.
In Beijing, hutongs are alleyways formed by rows of xiheyuan, traditional courtyard residences. Siheyuan represents a historical housing type commonly found throughout China, most famously in Beijing and rural Shanxi. Throughout Chinese history, the xiheyuan composition was the basic pattern used for residences, palaces, temples, monasteries, family businesses, and government offices. In ancient times, a spacious xiheyuan would be occupied by one, usually large and extended family, signifying wealth and prosperity. Today, the remaining xiheyuans are often still used as split-level apartment complexes, although many lack modern amenities.
Many neighborhoods were formed by merging one siheyuan with another to form a hutong, and then merging one hutong with another. The word hutong is also used to refer to such settlements. Since the mid-20th century, many Beijing hutongs have been demolished to make way for new roads and buildings. More recently, however, many hutongs have been declared protected, in an attempt to preserve this aspect of China’s cultural history. Hutongs were first established in the Yuan Dynasty and then expanded in the Ming and Qing Dynasties.
During the dynastic period in China, the emperors planned the city of Beijing and arranged residential areas according to the social classes of the Zhou dynasty. The term “hutong” first appeared during the Yuan Dynasty and is a term of Mongolian origin, meaning “water well”. In the Ming Dynasty at the beginning of the 15th century, the center of Beijing was the Forbidden City, surrounded in concentric circles by the Inner and Outer City. Citizens of higher social status were allowed to live closer to the center of the circles. Aristocrats lived east and west of the imperial palace. The grand xiheyuan of these high officials and wealthy merchants often had beautifully carved and painted roof beams and columns and carefully landscaped gardens.
The hutongs they formed were tidy, bordered by spacious houses and fenced gardens. Beyond the palace, to the north and south, were the common people, merchants, artisans and workers. Their xiheyuans were far smaller in size and simpler in design and decoration, and their hutongs were narrower. Almost all Siheyuans had their main buildings and gates facing south for better lighting, so most hutongs run from east to west. Between the main hutongs, many small lanes led north and south for convenient passage.
Historically, the hutong as a term was also once used as the lowest level of administrative geographical divisions in a city in ancient China, as in the paifang system: the highest division in a city in ancient China was the canine, which is the equivalent of the current day ward. Each canine was surrounded by walls or fences, and the gates of these enclosures were closed and guarded nightly, somewhat like a modern gated community.
Each canine is further divided into several panels or pai, equivalent to the current community (or neighborhood). Each pai in turn contained an area that included several hutongs, and during the Ming Dynasty, Beijing was divided into a total of 36 canines. However, as the ancient Chinese system of urban administrative division gave way to population and household divisions instead of geographic divisions, hutongs were no longer used as the lowest level of administrative geographic division and were replaced by other approaches to division.
At the turn of the 20th century, the Qing court was disintegrating as China’s dynastic era came to an end. He also influenced the traditional arrangement of hutongs. Many new hutongs, built randomly and without any plan, began to appear on the outskirts of the old city, while the old ones lost their former neat appearance. The social stratification of the inhabitants also began to disappear, reflecting the collapse of the feudal system. Many such hutong-like areas have been demolished.
During the period of the Republic of China from 1911 to 1948, society was unstable, plagued by civil wars and repeated foreign invasions. Beijing deteriorated, and conditions in the hutongs worsened. Formerly owned and lived in by individual families, xiheyuans were and are shared by many households, with additions added as needed, built from whatever materials were available. The 978 hutongs listed in Qing Dynasty records had grown to 1,330 by 1949. Today in 2008, in some hutons, such as those in Da Shi Lan, conditions are still poor.
After the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, many of Beijing’s old hutongs were destroyed, replaced by wide boulevards and high-rise buildings. Many residents were forced to leave the streets where their families had lived in previous generations and move into high-rise buildings. In Sicheng County, for example, nearly 200 hutongs were demolished out of the 820 it boasted in 1949. However, many of Beijing’s ancient hutongs still exist, and some of them have been designated protected areas. Older neighborhoods survive today, offering a glimpse of life in the capital as it was for generations.
Many hutongs, several hundred years old, near the bell tower and drum tower and Shichahai Lake are preserved among the reconstructed modern two-story and three-story versions. This area is full of tourists, many of whom tour the neighborhood on bicycles. Today, as in the past, hutongs are home to celebrities, business owners and officials. After the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, Zhao Ziyang spent his fifteen years under house arrest in a hutong. Zhao’s hutong was previously occupied by one of Empress Dowager Cixi’s hairdressers.
Hutongs represent an important cultural element of the city of Beijing. Thanks to Beijing’s long history and its status as the capital of six dynasties, almost every hutong has its own anecdotes, and some are even connected to historical events. In contrast to the court life and elite culture represented by the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, and the Temple of Heaven, hutongs reflect the culture of Beijing’s citizens. Hutongs are residential neighborhoods that still form the heart of Old Beijing.
The pictures you can see in today’s post were taken in one of the oldest hutongs in Beijing – Yandai Xiejie (Yandai Xiejie in Chinese), Yandaikie Street (Yandaixie Street). Located in Xicheng District, it is close to Shichahai which are famous attractions in Beijing. It is 232 meters long with its eastern end at Di’anmen Street and its western end at the Silver Ingot Bridge. Stepping into the street for about 50 meters, one would come to the southern end of Dashibei Hutong, which goes to Drum Tower West Avenue (Gulou Xidajie). Crossing the Silver Ingot Bridge leads to Houhai Bar Street.
According to one of the many books, which was published during the reign of Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty, Yandai Biwai was originally called Drum Tower Xiejie and was changed to the name we know today at the end of the Qing Dynasty. It is recorded that during the Qing Dynasty, there were many pipe shops in this street, including one called Shuangshengtai. The owner of the shop placed a 1.5 meter high wooden smoking pipe as a sign. As time passed, the street was known throughout the city for its huge smoking pipe, hence its name. Some people also say that the street looks like a smoking pipe.
After the revolution ended in 1911, the Qing royal family was deposed, the army (Manchus fed by the Qing government) lost their income and many of them had to sell their possessions, such as antiques, to make a living. Gradually, many ancient markets were formed in Beijing, among which was the great Yandaikie Street. But after 1949, the antiques trade in this street gradually declined. Yandaikie Street lost its commercial position in the 1950s and many buildings were converted into residential buildings, including the Taoist Temple – Guangfu Guan.
At the beginning of the 21st century, more precisely in 2007, the street was renovated in order to regain its historical characteristics. Guangfu Guan became a tourist spot and many reproductions of classical architecture were built on the street. The buildings house shops for Indian clothing, Miao costumes and accessories, Tibetan costumes, Lijiang handicrafts, Shanxi ceramics, Chairman Mao badges and quotes, etc. If you want to experience Chinese commercial culture, the best way would be to buy some souvenirs and haggle with the merchants.
Every hutong has a name. Some have only had one name since their inception, while others have had several throughout their history. Many hutongs are named after their location, local landmark or business, such as: City gates, such as Inner Xizhimen Hutong, indicating that this hutong is located in the “Xizhimen Nei” or “Xizhimen Within” district, which located on the city side of the Xizhimen Gate, a gate on the city wall.
Markets and businesses, such as Yangshi Hutong (Yangshi literally means sheep market) or Yizi Hutong (the local term for soap is iizi) Temples, such as Guanyinsi Hutong (Guaniyinsi is the Kuan-yin Temple) Local features, such as Liushu Hutong (Liushu means willow), which was originally named “Liushujing Hutong”, literally “Willow Tree Well Hutong”, after a local well.
Some hutongs are named after people, such as Mengduan Hutong (named after Meng Duan, the Ming Dynasty mayor of Beijing whose residence was in this hutong). Others were given an auspicious name, with words with generic positive attributes, such as Xiqing Hutong (Xiking means happy) Hutongs that share a name, or longer hutongs divided into sections, are often identified by direction. for example, there are three Hongmen Hutongs (“Red Gate Hutong”), namely West Hongmen Hutong, East Hongmen Hutong and South Hongmen Hutong (all three Hutongs have been erased since 2011 and no longer exist).
While most Beijing hutongs are flat, Jiudaowan Hutong turns nineteen times. Located near Beikinkiao Station, its name jiǔ dào wān literally means “Nine Turns”. At its narrowest point, the Kianshi Hutong near Qianmen (Front Gate) is only 40 centimeters wide.
My dear adventurers, we have come to the end of this sixth and at the same time the last special travelogue in the series of travelogues about wonderful China where we had the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of this unusual country in the heart of East Asia. Today’s travelogue would not be possible without the selfless help of the Ministry of Tourism of the People’s Republic of China – Visit China, the world airline company Turkish Airlines and The Peninsula Beijing Hotel in collaboration with local partners who allowed me to feel the spirit and beauty of ancient Chinese culture and tradition. Of course, as always, I tried my best to convey to you my impressions about this unusual experience from China with Turkish Airlines.
A person is rich in soul if he has managed to explore the world and I am glad that I always manage to find partners of my projects who help me to discover new and unusual destinations in a completely different way.
I am honored to have the opportunity to cooperate with companies that are the very top of the tourism industry and I would like to thank Turkish Airlines once again for this amazing adventure and for allowing me to experience the beauty of this unusual Far Eastern culture in a completely different way.
How did you like my story about China and the presentation of the Hutongs which adorns the heart of this unusual capital of this interesting country in East Asia? Have you had a chance to visit China so far?
If you have any question, comment, suggestion or message for me you can write me below in the comments. Of course, as always, you can contact me via email or social networks, all addresses can be found on the CONTACT page. See you at the same place in a few days, with some new story!
In the following stories from China, we will discover some other interesting sights that you should visit if your journey leads you to this capital of this ancient faraway country!
With Love from Beijing,
This post is sponsored by world airline Turkish Airlines, Visit China and The Peninsula Beijing Hotel as well as other local partners. This post is my personal and honest review of the destination experience.