Folk So­ci­ety

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS -

Hu­tong (al­leys) is a Mon­gol word, mean­ing “wa­ter well.” Hu­tong, the sig­na­ture ur­ban ar­chi­tec­ture in Bei­jing, first emerged dur­ing the Yuan Dy­nasty, and bloomed dur­ing the Ming and Qing dynasties. With many twists and turns, hu­tong are lined by si­heyuan (quad­ran­gles), ma­jor res­i­dences of peo­ple in old Bei­jing. Hu­tong and si­heyuan, dove­tail­ing with each other, form stretches of neigh­bour­hoods brim­ming with folk cul­ture.

Dis­tinct Al­leys

Hu­tong have been revered as the must-see tourist at­trac­tion for their vivid pre­sen­ta­tions of old Bei­jing. Vis­i­tors are wel­comed to em­bark on their own ad­ven­tures in al­leys and quad­ran­gles to savour the bustling yet or­derly life.

The Old­est Zhuanta Hu­tong

For hun­dreds of years, al­leys have wit­nessed the pas­sage of time. Zhuanta (Brick-tower) Hu­tong, lo­cated in Bei­jing’s Xisi area, boasts a his­tory of over 700 years. Prob­a­bly the old­est al­ley in Bei­jing, Zhuanta Hu­tong earns its name be­cause of the lofty Brick Tower here. For many gen­er­a­tions, Zhuanta Hu­tong had al­ways been an en­ter­tain­ment cen­tre, where pubs and inns were scat­tered and dif­fer­ent opera troupes also flour­ished.

At that time, Bei­jing lo­cals would watch opera per­for­mances in small groups and en­joy del­i­ca­cies and wine. Dur­ing the Qing Dy­nasty, the al­ley was taken over by mil­i­tary in­sti­tu­tions. Later, it was con­verted to an or­di­nary lane, and the Brick Tower also un­der­went sev­eral ren­o­va­tions. Zhuanta Hu­tong ac­com­mo­dated sev­eral so­cial fig­ures, like Lu Xun (1881–1936, a Chi­nese writer) and Zhang Hen­shui (1895–1967, a Chi­nese writer). It was in the north room at No. 61, Zhuanta Hu­tong that Lu Xun com­pleted his fa­mous nov­els, like A Happy Fam­ily and Soap.

The Long­est Dongjiaom­inx­i­ang

Most hu­tong in Bei­jing are only hun­dreds of me­tres long, with Dongjiaom­inx­i­ang be­ing

an ex­cep­tion. It is Bei­jing's long­est al­ley with a length of three kilo­me­tres. Ini­tially, it was called Jiang­mix­i­ang, with mi mean­ing “rice,” as it served trans­port of grains. Dur­ing the reign of Em­peror Yon­gle, this al­ley was di­vided into Dongjiang­mix­i­ang and Xi­jiang­mix­i­ang. Af­ter the Sec­ond Opium War (1856–1860), throngs of for­eign­ers swarmed into Jiang­mix­i­ang. Even some aris­to­cratic princes had to make way for th­ese new com­ers. Later, coun­tries like Ja­pan, the United States, France, Ger­many, Bel­gium and the Nether­lands started to es­tab­lish their em­bassies here. Af­ter the Boxer Pro­to­col was signed in 1901, Jiang­mix­i­ang was re­named “Le­ga­tion Street” and marked as “Dongjiaom­inx­i­ang” on Chi­nese maps. Soon, for­eign banks were set up here, such as the Hongkong and Shang­hai Bank­ing Cor­po­ra­tion Lim­ited (HSBC), along with fa­cil­i­ties like post of­fices and hos­pi­tals.

Af­ter the found­ing of the Peo­ple's Re­pub­lic of China in 1949, many shabby build­ings in Dongjiaom­inx­i­ang were torn down to im­prove trans­porta­tion. Now, this long­est hu­tong in Bei­jing is more like a broad av­enue.

The Short­est Yichi Da­jie

Chen Zong­fan (1879–1954), a suc­cess­ful can­di­date in the high­est im­pe­rial ex­am­i­na­tions in the late Qing Dy­nasty, once de­picted this hu­tong in his book Yandu con­gkao (“in­quir­ing into Bei­jing”). Yichi Da­jie is the short­est hu­tong in Bei­jing, mea­sur­ing 25 me­tres long. In the west sec­tion of Yang­meizhu Xiejie (a by­way), a part from the north en­trance of Tongzi Hu­tong to that of Ying­tao Hu­tong, used to be the orig­i­nal Yichi Da­jie. There were six old shops along the al­ley with their ad­dresses reg­is­tered un­der Yang­meizhu Xiejie.

Ac­cord­ing to Bei­jing lo­cal Chuban zhi (“record of pub­li­ca­tion”), there used to be a book­store called Shang­hai Book­store on Yichi Da­jie. Ac­cord­ing to Yin­shi fuwu zhi (“record of cater­ing ser­vices”), in 1920, there stood an in­scrip­tion shop called Wen­qizhai apart from Longhuazhai. At that time, shops en­gaged in en­grav­ing char­ac­ters strewed that sec­tion stretch­ing from the Li­ulichang East Street north­west of Yichi Da­jie to the east­ern Yang­meizhu Xiejie. To­day, there stands a land­mark of Yichi Da­jie, bring­ing at­ten­tion to tra­di­tional cul­ture of old Bei­jing.

In­trigu­ing By­ways

Bei­jing's streets mostly stretch south–north, or east–west, with some ex­cep­tions. Myr­i­ads of al­leys, xiejie (by­ways) and av­enues in­ter­weave, re­sem­bling a chess­board.

Yandai Xiejie, Com­mer­cial Hub of Ming and Qing

The streets in the Dong­dan area, Xisi area and in front of the Drum Tower were the most pros­per­ous com­mer­cial ar­eas dur­ing the Ming Dy­nasty. About 100 me­tres in front

of the Drum Tower is the Yandai Xiejie (PipeStem Lane) stretch­ing south­west, the old­est by­way in Bei­jing. In the early Ming Dy­nasty, it was called Dayut­ing Xiejie, but dur­ing the Qing Dy­nasty, it was re­named Yandai Xiejie. Coin­ci­den­tally, the street is shaped like the stem of a large to­bacco pipe.

Ac­cord­ing to Rixia ji­uwen kao (a col­lec­tion of ver­i­fied records of Bei­jing) com­pleted dur­ing the reign of Em­peror Qian­long, this street came to be lined with shops sell­ing to­bacco pipes due to in­creas­ing de­mand.

At sun­rise and sun­set, the sound of the bell from the Bell Tower, and that of the drum from the Drum Tower can be heard re­spec­tively. Lean­ing against its win­dows, one could en­joy the charm of this street from day­light to night­fall. In old days, a res­tau­rant called Qingyun­lou was lo­cated at its west en­trance. Now, it is known as Kaorou Ji (Ji's Grilled Meat). Din­ers can en­joy the de­li­cious food while ap­pre­ci­at­ing beau­ti­ful scenery around the Qian­hai Lake.

Yang­meizhu Xiejie, No­table Cul­tural Des­ti­na­tion

The name of Yang­mei Xiejie ap­peared on Bei­jing's map drawn in 1750 dur­ing the reign of Em­peror Qian­long. Its name orig­i­nated from an anec­dote. Long ago, there once lived a smart match­maker sur­named Yang, renowned for her ac­com­plish­ments. Res­i­dents named this street Yang­mei Xiejie, with Yang­mei re­fer­ring to “match­maker Yang.” Later, the name was re­fined as Yang­meizhu Xiejie.

The street was home to many fa­mous pub­lish­ing houses, in­clud­ing Shi­jie, Zhongzheng, Kaim­ing, Guangyi, Huan­qiu, Dazhong and Zhonghua pub­lish­ing houses. Many Euro­pean-style struc­tures could also be found here. To­day, an eye- catch­ing build­ing called Qingyunge still stands here. It used to be the lead of the four big com­mer­cial cen­tres, but only an arch­way of it is well pre­served.

Tieshu Xiejie, Birth­place of Mei Lan­fang

This 600-me­tre-long by­way is fa­mous for be­ing the birth­place of Pek­ing Opera mas­ter Mei Lan­fang (1894–1961), who was born at No. 62, Li­tieguai Xiejie, or the east wing room of the Mei fam­ily's res­i­dence at No. 101 of to­day's Tieshu Xiejie.

The site of Jin Zhongdu lies south­west of Bei­jing City. The pond of the im­pe­rial park of Jin Zhongdu is known as to­day's Lo­tus Pond to the south of Bei­jing West Rail­way Sta­tion. The site of Yuan Dadu is only a few miles away from that of Jin Zhongdu. Grad­u­ally, the by­way Tieshu Xiejie slowly took shape be­tween the two places. Dur­ing the Ming Dy­nasty, res­i­dents merely called it Xiejie.

Dur­ing the Qing Dy­nasty, be­cause there was a well-known iron­ware stall owned by a man sur­named Li, it was given the name Li­tieguo Xiejie (“a by­way where Li makes iron pots”). Later, due to sim­i­lar­ity in pro­nun­ci­a­tion be­tween guai (crutch) and guo (pot) in Chi­nese, it was re­named Li­tieguai Xiejie. In 1965, it got its cur­rent name—tieshu Xiejie.

Ying­tao Xiejie, Home to Op­er­atic Cir­cle So­ci­ety

Since peo­ple walked to and fro, it gave rise to Ying­tao Xiejie as well as many other by­ways like nearby Tieshu Xiejie, Yang­meizhu Xiejie and Zong­shu Xiejie. Ying­tao Xiejie winds south­east—south­west from Dashilar West Street to Datangzi Street. Dur­ing the Ming Dy­nasty, there once stood a woollen prod­ucts work­shop, so there is a record of Yangzhan Hu­tong, with zhan mean­ing “felt,” in Jing­shi wucheng fangx­i­ang hu­tong ji (a book with col­lected records of Bei­jing's lanes).

Such a name was given prob­a­bly ei­ther be­cause “杨” (yang, “po­plar”) is pro­nounced the same way as “羊” (yang, “sheep”) or this work­shop was owned by a man sur­named Yang. Dur­ing the reign of Em­peror Qian­long, it was re­named Ying­tao Xiejie. This new name orig­i­nated from the fact that there were cherry trees along the street with a slop­ing style.

Ying­tao Xiejie was mainly oc­cu­pied by res­i­dences, and once housed the Guizhou Guild Hall. In 1928, Beip­ing Op­er­atic Cir­cle Char­ity was jointly es­tab­lished by Pek­ing Opera per­form­ers Ye Chun­shan (1875–1935), Hou Xirui (1892–1983) and oth­ers. Lo­cated in Ying­tao Xiejie, it aimed to as­sist poverty stricken Pek­ing Opera per­form­ers. In 1936, it was reshuf­fled and re­named Beip­ing Op­er­atic Cir­cle So­ci­ety. Yang Xiaolou, Mei Lan­fang and other Pek­ing opera masters were elected as its di­rec­tors.

Colour­ful Life

Bei­jing lo­cals en­joy a wide range of ac­tiv­i­ties like read­ing, sight­see­ing and watch­ing opera per­for­mances. Many of th­ese en­ter­tain­ment ac­tiv­i­ties take place in time hon­oured build­ings with fas­ci­nat­ing cul­ture.

Im­pe­rial Li­brary of Pek­ing, Fore­run­ner of Chi­nese Li­braries

The Im­pe­rial Li­brary of Pek­ing was the pre­de­ces­sor of the Na­tional Li­brary of China. The early 20th cen­tury wit­nessed east­ward spread­ing of West­ern cul­ture. A group of elites strongly ad­vo­cated the re­form and re­quested that the Qing gov­ern­ment build li­braries and schools to carry for­ward na­tional cul­ture and learn ad­vanced tech­nolo­gies from the West.

On Septem­ber 9, 1909, Em­peror Xuan­tong granted the per­mis­sion to con­struct the Im­pe­rial Li­brary of Pek­ing. It was sit­u­ated in Bei­jing Guanghua Tem­ple and headed by Miao Quan­sun (1844–1919), a com­piler and fourth- grade of­fi­cial of the Im­pe­rial Academy.

Af­ter the Xin­hai Revo­lu­tion in 1911, the min­istry of ed­u­ca­tion of the Bei­jing gov­ern­ment took over the li­brary and be­gan to of­fer pub­lic ac­cess from Au­gust 27, 1912. In 1916, it of­fi­cially re­ceived de­posit copies of do­mes­tic pub­li­ca­tions, a her­ald of its per­for­mance of some func­tions as a na­tional li­brary of China.

In 1917, it re­lo­cated to the for­mer site of Guoz­i­jian's Nanxue (dor­mi­tory and study) area in Fangjia Hu­tong. In July 1928, it was re­named the Na­tional Beip­ing Li­brary, and re­lo­cated to Zhong­nan­hai Juren Hall. In Au­gust 1929, it merged with Beip­ing Bei­hai Li­brary, and still adopted its orig­i­nal name.

In 1931, Wen­jin Street Li­brary ( to­day's Na­tional Mu­seum of Clas­sic Books) was in­au­gu­rated, rep­re­sent­ing the com­ple­tion of the largest and most ad­vanced li­brary in the coun­try then. Ex­ter­nally, the newly- built li­brary adopted a tra­di­tional Chi­nese palace- style lay­out with gor­geous dec­o­ra­tions. The li­brary was equipped with ad­vanced West­ern fa­cil­i­ties. It never paled in com­par­i­son with the Amer­i­can Li­brary of Congress of the time.

Wan­shengyuan, China’s First Zoo

Wan­shengyuan (Gar­den of Ten Thou­sand An­i­mals), at­tached to the agri­cul­tural test­ing field run by the Qing gov­ern­ment, was the pre­de­ces­sor of to­day's Bei­jing Zoo. Speak­ing of Wan­shengyuan, its con­struc­tion was or­dered by Cixi on a whim.

In fact, there was a va­ri­ety of rare an­i­mals in the im­pe­rial palace, but they were kept only as em­bel­lish­ments. In the early 20th cen­tury, nat­u­ral his­tory flour­ished and many West­ern coun­tries started to build many zoo­log­i­cal parks. The Qing gov­ern­ment also in­cluded the agenda of es­tab­lish­ing Wan­shengyuan in its plan for agri­cul­tural re­search.

In 1907 dur­ing the reign of Em­peror Guangxu, Duan­fang (1861–1911), Liangjiang Zongdu (viceroy gov­ern­ing an area in­volv­ing to­day's Shang­hai Mu­nic­i­pal­ity, and Jiangsu, An­hui and Jiangxi prov­inces), pur­chased a num­ber of an­i­mals and birds in Ham­burg, Ger­man. He bought an In­dian fe­male ele­phant and ded­i­cated it to Cixi.

By the end of the Qing Dy­nasty, there were al­ready over 100 kinds of an­i­mals in­clud­ing mam­mals, rep­tiles, am­phib­ians and birds. In 1949, it was named Xi­jiao Park by the Peo­ple's Gov­ern­ment of Bei­jing Mu­nic­i­pal­ity. In April 1955, it was re­named Bei­jing Zoo, and the in­scrip­tion of its name by Mao Ze­dong (1893–1976, founder of the Peo­ple's Re­pub­lic of China) is still in use to­day.

Zhengyici, the Old­est Wooden Opera The­atre

Built in 1688 dur­ing the reign of Em­peror Kangxi, Zhengyici ( Tem­ple The­atre Bei­jing Opera House) boasts a his­tory of over 300 years and is hon­oured as a liv­ing fos­sil of China's his­tory of opera the­atre cul­ture. It is the only ex­ist­ing in­tact wooden opera the­atre in Bei­jing.

With Pek­ing Opera gain­ing its pop­u­lar­ity, this the­atre also flour­ished. Founders of Pek­ing Opera, like Cheng Changgeng (1811– 1880) and Lu Shengkui (1822–1889), and Pek­ing Opera masters such as Tan Xin­pei and Mei Lan­fang staged per­for­mances here. The the­atre once caused a sen­sa­tion in Bei­jing with amaz­ing per­for­mances by fa­mous Pek­ing Opera per­form­ers . How­ever, its glory came to an end in 1936.

It is a re­lief that Zhengyici, just like an old tree with in­ter­twined roots, come to sprout new twigs bask­ing in the bright spring sun and sated with rich rain­wa­ter. It show­cases the same artis­tic charm as that in old days. Ev­ery night, Zhengyici in­vites per­form­ers of dif­fer­ent types of op­eras like Pek­ing Opera Kunqu Opera and He­bei Bangzi (a lo­cal opera) on­stage to en­ter­tain au­di­ences.

Na­tional Mu­seum of Clas­sic Books

Yandai Xiejie (Pipe-stem Lane) in front of the Drum Tower

The Brick Tower in Xisi area built in the Yuan Dy­nasty

Zhengyici, Bei­jing‘s old­est wooden opera the­atre

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