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Hutong Tour

 
Hutong's Origin
Hutong (narrow alley) is Mongolian in origin, meaning a "water well". In the old time with the digging of new wells, came the new communities. The word " hutong" with the meaning of narrow lane was formed during the Yuan Dynasty in the 13th century when Kubla Khan rebuilt Beijing. When the new city was finished, there were clear definitions of streets, lanes and hutongs. A 36 meter wide road was called a "big street". An 18 meter wide one a "small street", and a 9 meter wide lane was called a "hutong". Surrounding the Imperial Palace, hutongs were established throughout the Yuan (1206-1341), Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties. Most of the hutongs we see today were built during the Ming and Qing.

 

 
Hutong's names
Hutongs have their own names. Some have had only one name since their establishment and others have had a few names throughout their history. A lot of hutong names are related to food. Some are connected to the names of places, temples, daily necessities, trades, plants, people's names and government's organs.
Food names, such as Miancha Hutong ( noodle and tea )
Temples, Baoguosi Hutong ( Baoguo Temple )
Daily necessities, Caomao Hutong ( straw hat )
Place names, as Inner Xizhimen Hutong
Plants, such as Liushu Hutong (Liushu means willow)
Light industry, as Damuchang Hutong ( big wood factory )
People's names, as Songguniang Hutong ( Ms Liu )
Government organs, as Jingcha Hutong ( Police Bureau )

 
 
 
Bell Tower near HutongHutong Development
When the new city of Yuan Dynasty was established, it is recorded that there were about 390 roads formed by the rows of quadrangles. Some of were called streets and lanes, and some "hutongs". Over 900 hutongs were listed in Qing Dynasty. The records increased to 1,330 by 1949. Nowadays many of the old hutongs have been turned down and replaced by the high buildings and wide roads of today’s Beijing. Many citizens left the narrow lanes where their families have lived there for generations, and reside in apartment buildings with modern facilities. However, some of Beijing’s ancient hutongs still survive, due to the local government's protection policy and people's request. Many have been listed as protected areas. So these ancient neighborhoods today provide a glimpse of the real life in the capital city as it has been for generations. Many hutongs are being restored and renovated. In Beijing, two main hutong areas are well preserved. They are Shichahai area in Dongcheng District and Qianmen area in Xuanwu District. The hutongs in the area of the Bell Tower and Shichahai Lake are especially well preserved which attract lots of tourists who travel the hutongs by rickshaw.

 
 
family visitSiheyuan ( courtyard houses ) and its layout
Siheyuan is a residence in China, most popular in Beijing. The name literally means a courtyard house, a house enclosed by four walls, called a quadrangle. In Chinese history, the Siheyuan building was the basic unit of the building for housing, palaces, temples, and government offices.
 
There are three kinds of Siheyuan - small, medium and big courtyard houses. For small and simple Siheyuan, the main gate is open to the south; the main rooms in the north for grandparents are facing south; the corner rooms for grandchildren; the west rooms and east rooms are for sons or daughters; the rooms by the main gate facing north are used as the living room or studio.
 
For medium and big courtyard houses, there are two, three or even more courtyards with lots of rooms for some high ranking officials or rich merchants. The layout of a typical courtyard is actually a vivid showcase of traditional Chinese morality. The four buildings in a single courtyard get different amount of sunlight. The northern rooms receive the most, thus using as the living room and bedroom for the eldest. The eastern and western rooms get less, and used as the rooms for the young or the guests. The southern rooms, just opposite the owner's rooms, get the least sunlight, and usually served as the rooms for service staff or studios. The northern, eastern and western rooms are linked by pretty decorated passages. These passages are used as shelters from the sunshine during the day, and offer a cool shade and have a good view of the courtyard at night. Behind the northern rooms, there would often be an independent building for unmarried daughters. In the old China, unmarried girls were not allowed directly to seen in the public, hence living in the most secret building in the courtyard house. The wall along the north-western building is normally higher than the other walls to stop the inner building from the cold winds, blowing from the north-west side in the winter. The curved eaves help the accumulated rainwater flow along the curved rather than dropping directly down. The ridge-type rooftop gives much shade to have the rooms escape from the heat in the summer.

 
 
Bird view of HutongTen Hutong tours
1. A strolling along shady Chengxian Street, the east-west roadway, starting about 700 years ago with its structures built in line with ancient Chinese customs, once one of the China's most important humanist centers.- the Confucius Temple and Guozijian (Imperial College). On the street, you will visit "Rongbu Tang" with a century old craftsmanship at its boutique store on Chengxinjie Street. The title of Rongbu Tang is given to a famous craftman - Tang Qiliang, a well-known elder craftsman in making toys with downy materials including wool and cotton (rongbu) which is listed as the intangible cultural heritage in China.
 
2. Ascending the 4-meter high and two-story Drum Tower dating from 1420, seeing the big drum tower and having bird's eye view of the surrounding communities of hutongs and siheyuan - existing traditional Beijing.
 
3. Walking along Yandai Xiejie ( Tobacco Pipe Lean Street ), a quaint 800-year-old hutong located directly north of Yinding Bridge between Qianhai and Houhai and the south of the Drum Tower, used to be well-known for sellers of long-stemmed pipes, hence the name. Standing on the Silver Ingot Bridge ( Yinding Bridge ) , a narrow channel joining Qianhai Lake and the Houhai Lake, the hub of Shichhai area with surrounding quiet hutongs.

the Prince Gong' Mansion4. Visiting the Prince Gong' Mansion. It was once the private dwelling of He Shen, a favorite minister of Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), it was first constructed in 1777. In 1851, the mansion was offered to Prince Gong by Emperor Xianfeng (1851-1862), hence the name. Now it is the most well preserved mansion in Beijing.
 
5. Experiencing some typical hutongs in the Shichahai area like Da Jinsi Hutong Tao, the most famous hutongs, keeping the original layout of Hutong Area and also visit a local nursery.
 
6. Taking a boat cruising on the Shichahai Lake in the center of old Beijing. The lake is the only remaining water system, dating back to the Yuan Dynasty (13th Century). The lake is a scenic area with 34 hectares which is surrounded by former princes' houses, well kept Chinese courtyards and residences of celebrities.
 
7. Interviewing with Mr. Dacheng Bai, a local folk craftsman, famous for making "Zongren Bai", a traditional "Zongren", a kind of figurines of drama characters made of the hair of a pig or a horse, cloth and silk, listed a city-level intangible cultural heritage in Beijing.
 
8. Immersing with an ordinary family courtyard home, having lunch there and exploring the real local life in Beijing. In addition, you can have a hand-on experience with Beijing Opera make-up and performance learning!
 
9. Visiting the former residence of Mr.Mei Lanfang (1894 - 1961), the best known Beijing Opera master ever, the greatest artist in the world, founder of one of the three greatest acting methods created by Shakespeare, Stanislavsky and Meilanfang.
 
10. Visiting the former residence of Song Ching Ling ( 1890-1981 ), once a garden of one of the Qing Dynasty prince's mansions. She was late Honorary Chairman of the People's Republic of China, known as "the Mother of China".
 
 

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