Entering the modernized Beijing, what interest people the most often are not those row upon row of sky rises, nor are the wide streets extending in all directions. What really attracts travelers are the deep and quiet winding Hutongs full of warm, beautiful Siheyuan, or quadrangles. Therefore, the ancient capital culture has been named as “Hutong culture” and “Siheyuan culture”, this indeed is not over said.
In the past, Beijing was largely formed by tens of thousands of Siheyuan that were aligned back-to-back, face-to-face, and side by side. For the convenience of coming in and out, a walking passage must be kept between each row of Siheyuan, this is what we call Hutong.
In the Yuan Dynasty, gaps between Beijing’s Hutongs were much wider. Therefore the descendants chose the open areas to construct more Siheyuan, created narrow passages between rows of Siheyuan courtyard houses, this resulted in massive small Hutongs among many well known big ones. Hence the proverb: “Famous Hutongs are 3600, nameless Hutongs exceeded number of ox hairs”.
Until 1949, there were 6074 well known streets and alleys in Beijing’s city areas. Out of which were 1330 Hutongs, 274 streets, 111 alleys, 85 Dao (small streets), 71 lanes, 37 roads. Traditionally, people classify all the small streets and alleys as Hutongs.
In Beijing, crisscross networked large and small Hutongs weaved the capital city with distinguished people and exquisite objects. Deep in the Hutongs are innumerable warm families, this is why ordinary Beijingers have special sentimental feelings towards Hutongs.
The narrowest Hutong in Beijing is the Qianshi (money market) Hutong in the Dashalan area of outside Qianmen, the narrowest space is merely 40 centimeters. There are also some winding deep Hutongs assumed zigzag shapes, like the Jiudaowan (nine-zigzag) originally at Beixinqiao (north new bridge), it actually had more than 20 zigzags, it was later divided into 5 Hutongs; There is another Hutong also named Jiudaowan outside Qianmen, it in fact has 13 zigzag turns. The name of Hutongs in Beijing is like an encyclopedia, it reflected the historical evolution and demonstrated the social characters and styles, it has been discovered as a hard to come by traveling resources in recent years.
Presently, those big worn-out courtyards in Beijing are being replaced by the modern buildings, the old Hutongs are also losing the base they once relied on to exist. But, to maintain Beijing’s ancient capital styles and features, many famous Hutongs have been reserved as the cultural relics, it preserved certain ancient colors for our emerging capital.
Now, Beijing’s Hutong culture development has already opened up a new travel program – visiting Hutongs. Foreign travelers from all over the world take Beijing’s old-fashioned pedicab as transportation, by pass the west line of Shuchangshahai, come to Gu Lou (the Drum Tower) through Yinding bridge, go up to Gu Lou to look down at Beijing’s old city areas and Hutongs that extend in all directions. They then go to the Houhai area, visit the city’s ancient Nanbeiguanfang Hutong, Daxiaojinshi (big and small golden lion), and Qianhoujing Hutong, walk in Siheyuan, chat with residents, get to know the life of ordinary Beijingers, go to the Gong Wang Fu (Mansion and Garden of Prince Gong in Qing Dynasty) to experience the living environment and Emperor’s gardens in the old times.
Beijing’s Hutong has a kind of eternal charm as a carrier of the ancient culture.