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Hutong: the most representative culture of Beijing

2016-04-11 10:02:27Share:

  In some degree, Hutong represents the genuine culture of Beijing, which attracts more and more tourists home and abroad who tired of the skyscrapers and plazas.


  Originating from Mongolian language, the word “Hutong” means water well during the Yuan Dynasty (1271 A.D. - 1368 A.D.). At that time, Mongolians attached great importance to water, and almost every community in the city was designed around a well, which provided the daily water for the locals. Today, one can still find dry wells in Hutongs.


Hutong: the most representative culture of Beijing


  In the past, Beijing was composed of hundreds of courtyards around the Forbidden City, while the courtyards were connected by a large number of lanes. From the Yuan dynasty, Hutong’s number increased very fast, with 29 in the Yuan Dynasty, 1070 in the Ming Dynasty, and 2076 in the Qing Dynasty. However, as time goes by, people gradually eager to build skyscrapers while ignore the protection of ancient Hutong. Hence the number of them has fallen dramatically, and now no more than 1,000 were remained.


  To people who want to learn Beijing’s history and culture, Hutong is undoubtedly the first choice, as the twisted lanes can make people experience the life of the ancient Beijing people. The lanes have their own layout and structure. Viewing from the air, the combination of the lanes and courtyards resemble a chessboard with delicate gardens, fine rockeries and ancient ruins which makes them a wonder in the world. As Hutong stretches out in all four directions and connecting the different kinds of courtyards one another, keeping in touch with neighbors becomes easier. Neighbors share one bathroom and public toilets, while at the same time, they also share each other’s happiness and bitterness because of the close connection, which is rarely found in this modern world.


Hutong: the most representative culture of Beijing


  The naming methods of these different lanes are very interesting, and basically the lanes were named after the symbol construction in a lane, the local language, the markets, or the local positions. For instance, the Skewed Tobacco Pouch Street, also called Yandai Xiejie, was named so because it is not straight. Mamei Hutong was named after the old Beijing language. Later, the government changed their original names into more formal ones, which sound more refined.


  Among 1,000-plus Hutongs left today, Dongjiaominxiang is the longest one, with a total length of 6.5 kilometers (4 miles), while Yichi Street is the shortest one, measuring about 25 meters (82 feet). The Jiuwan Hutong, with about 13 turns, is the most tortuous one and can easily make you feel lost. The narrowest is the Qianshi (Money Market) Hutong, measuring about 30 to 40 meters (32 to 44 yards), with The narrowest part is merely 40 centimeters (16 inches) wide, thus if two people meet, they must turn sideways to pass each other. The widest one is the Lingjing Hutong , and the Sanmiaojie Hutong has the longest history, whose construction can be traced back to the Liao Dynasty (907 A.D.–1125 A.D.).

The Imperial Gardens