The history of Beijing is found in Hutong, lined with Siheyuan -traditional single storey courtyard residences; built for people who lived outside the Forbidden City. The hutong Beijing reflects the culture of the common people.
History of Hutong Beijing:
The history of Hutong Beijing dates all the way back to 12th century. Hutong means water well. The concept of Hutong originated in Yuan Dynasty. Each community compound in ancient time would be in the form of a courtyard with a well in the middle of the compound. The main entrance is usually donned with lions, symbolic of the wealth and also used for mounting the horse.
Hutongs are designed with Feng Shui principles, so not to disturb the spiritual attributes of the surrounding landscape. The main Entrance is usually in the south with a free standing wall to keep the evil spirits out. Whereas the entrance to the head of the family quarters is in the North wall. Most of the building structures are placed in straight lines, like the Forbidden City.
Hutongs in Modern Times:
Hutong in recent times are typically characterized by narrow lanes, courtyard houses with small entry doors, small markets with grocery stores and beer shops. Life in these centuries old Hutong is in sharp contrast to that of in Beijing’s sky rise complexes. The residents of Hutong in Beijing are laid back, spend their time playing cards or Chinese Chess, eating yoghurt and drinking Tsingtao or Yanjing beers!
The smaller shops around Hutong cater to the locals and tourists selling fruits, drinks, Rice and incense sticks. Occasionally you can find shops selling art and crafts from local artists. Residents and shop keepers meander through the narrow lanes on bicycles or make shift cycles, autos and wagons carriers.
While some of the Hutong have become poplar hang out joints for the younger generation, many others have developed into cultural corners where contemporary artists and musicians rub shoulders, giving more like an art district atmosphere. Some of the best boutique hotels are found in these narrow alleys of Hutong. One such boutique hotel is hound is Fangia Hutong close to Yonghe Temple. Hotel Nostalgia is featured in one of the courtyards, which is converted into a cultural centre, dotting art deco cafes and bars.
Decline of Hutong Beijing:
With the modernization and expansion, Chinese Hutongs are on the verge of extinction, with less than 1000 remaining. Some of the ancient Hutongs are now subdivided into smaller houses losing its historical appeal.
Many have been demolished to create modern financial district. Efforts have been put into restoring and saving traditional ancient living practices. Some of the ancient Hutong around Drum and Bell Towers are designated as protected areas, ensuring the survival of 800 years old tradition. Many of the celebrities have taken up residence in some of the well preserved Hutongs.
Nanluogu Xiang is just few kilometers from the Forbidden City and it is the oldest street in Beijing. The street is flooded with bars and pubs and is locals, tourists and backpacker’s paradise.
Built in 1306, the Guozijian Street is one of the oldest streets which house the oldest higher educational institution known as The Imperial College and The Confucius Temple.
To read more about other famous Hutong Beijing, click here.
- The best way to experience hutong life is to simply wander around the alleys, either on foot or by bicycle. These lanes are relatively safe to venture into for solo travelers as well.
- Visit one of the Art Deco coffee shops in Nanluogu Xiang and imbibe the local flavors. You can try authentic Beijing breakfast at one of the coffee shops early in the morning.
- Xinjiang Fengwei Restaurant in Mao’er Hutong at the east bank of Houhai Lake serves some of the best spicy lamb Kebabs which is run by China’s Muslim Uighur minority.
- Ask your hotel for Beijing Hutong Map, it will assist you in planning your tour around the hutong.
- Read more: 16 Must (Fun) Things to do in Beijing