Hutongs, a type of narrow alley or street, is very typical in Beijing. At first glance, Hutongs seem to have a similar appearances with grey walls and grey tiled buildings. However, if you are patient and talk with the dwellers in Hutongs, you will find that every hutong has its own unique story.
The Hutong was not only the main thoroughfare in ancient Beijing but also the place where common people lived. Hutongs represent the vicissitude of society and are rich in cultural, which makes hutongs like a living folk museum.
The term ‘Hutong’ first appeared during the Yuan Dynasty (1279 – 1368 CE) meaning ‘town’. The neighborhoods closer to the Forbidden City was inhabited by those with higher social status such as high-ranking officials and wealthy merchants. Their houses were called siheyuan which was characterized by carved and painted roof beams and beautiful gardens. The Hutongs were built and lined by the siheyuan and walled gardens.
In the mid-20th century, many hutongs were demolished to pave the way for new buildings and roads. Some of them still stand and have been designated as protected areas.
Some famous hutongs are listed below:
It is said that Yandai Xiejie is the oldest and most famous Hutong in Beijing. It is over 700 feet (232 meters) long and located in front of Drum Tower. During the Qing Dynasty, the shops in this hutong were in the tobacco industry, including manufacturing smoking sets and curios. ‘Yan’ in Chinese means tobacco and ‘Dai,’ pouch. Yandai is therefore a pouch to contain tobacco. Some also argue that the shape of street resembles a smoking pipe.
During the 1950s many buildings were converted into residential houses and this street was redeveloped to highlight its historical features in 2007. You can find various types of shops and stores selling Indian cloths, Tibet costumes, Lijing crafts, Shaanxi pottery, and so on.
Ya’er Hutong begins in Xiao Shibei Hutong in the southwest and is connected to Yandai Xiejie. In the east end stands a famous stone bridge named Xinding Bridge. With the length of half a mile (820 meters), it winds along the north bank of Shicha Lake and parallels the north part of Houhai Lake.
Guanghua Temple is located at No.31 of Ya’er Hutong. It was constructed during the reign of Emperor Wanli of the Ming Dynasty (1368 -1644 CE). It is one of best-preserve temples in Beijing and still in use. Some important Buddhism activities are held here.
The No.12 of Da Jinsi Hutong has a special arch which was mentioned in the book Lonely Planet, and is well-known to many tourists. It is said that this siheyuan is the only place which can house foreign tourists.
Admission Fee: free of charge
Open Time: all day