MEMORIES • ARCHIVES
Hutong , Beijing’s Legendary Lanes Beijing’s hutong is an essential part of the capital’s culture, and with a library of books on streets and hutong, these resources help today’s readers learn more about city planning in history.
East of Wangfujing, Meizha Hutong stretches from Mishi Avenue in the east to Xiaowei Hutong in the west, and neighbours Jinyu Hutong in the north and Beishuaifu Hutong in the south. The fame of Meizha Hutong is rooted in the historical fact that Shenjiying stationed yamen (the office or residence of a public official in imperial China) there in 1861. Shenjiying was one of the three elite imperial military divisions stationed around Beijing during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644). It was the world's first independent firearms division, even 100 years earlier than the well-known Spanish musketeer. Inheriting this military system of the Ming Dynasty, the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) selected more than 10,000 soldiers from the Eight Banners and equipped them with muskets. In early days of the office, many banner people visited there to seek for a job. At that time, Meizha Hutong saw a gradually bustling ambiance.
According to Jingshi fangxiang zhigao (“manuscripts of the records of lanes in Beijing”), a book written in 1879 by Zhu Yixin (1846–1894), a scholar in the late Qing Dynasty, “Meizha Hutong was named after the steelmaking slags accumulated there from a casting factory.” Today, the bustling Shenjiying has already disappeared. But people can still learn things about this lane from historical records.
Luckily, Zhu's manuscripts still exist. From these manuscripts, readers might be surprised by legendary stories that took place in Beijing's hutong (lanes).
A hutong is an old narrow lane in Beijing. It once was an integral part in local people's daily life. Today, it still carries a nostalgic meaning for many. There are many kinds of statements on hutong's historical origin. The best-accepted theory is that hutong comes from the Mongolian word meaning wells, or places with wells. The Chinese characters for hutong appeared for the first time in Dan dao hui ( Meeting the Enemies Alone), a play by Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368) playwright and poet Guan Hanqing (1241–1320).
Hutong weren't commonly seen in ancient Chinese cities. Khanbaliq, the capital of the Yuan Dynasty, was divided into 50 residential districts, or fang, such as Futian Fang, Baoda Fang, and