Cap­ti­vat­ing Streets and Al­leys

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Pan Yingzhao Edited by Scott Bray

Back in the Qing Dy­nasty (1644–1911), Bei­jing’s dis­tinc­tive hu­tong criss-crossed the en­tire cap­i­tal. To­day, many of these al­ley­ways still ex­ist, de­light­ing tourists from across the world, who visit in search of his­tory and lo­cal cul­ture. Visi­tors can get a glimpse at what tra­di­tional life was like in the cap­i­tal in places like Qian­men.

Look­ing back to an­cient times, one finds Bei­jing’s sig­na­ture chess­board pat­tern took form in ur­ban Bei­jing as early as the Yuan Dy­nasty (1271–1368) Dadu (“Great Cap­i­tal”) pe­riod. At the cen­tre of that Great Cap­i­tal were the glo­ri­ous im­pe­rial palace and city. Ar­ranged in ac­cor­dance with the im­pe­rial city, wide streets, and nar­row al­leys and hu­tong were built square and straight. This net­work of streets and al­leys was at its dens­est dur­ing the Qing Dy­nasty (1644–1911), form­ing the “grid” of a time-hon­oured Bei­jing.

These street blocks and lanes carry the his­tory and pro­found cul­ture of Bei­jing, mix­ing the past and present. For cen­turies, Bei­jing's cus­toms, eti­quette, and anec­dotes have been un­fold­ing here, each step a new story in a long his­toric scroll.

A Trip to the Mar­ket­place

Re­turn­ing to the present, one finds each of Bei­jing's criss­cross­ing streets and al­leys have their own unique char­ac­ter.

Some of these blocks have truly an­cient be­gin­nings, dis­play­ing the grace­ful bear­ing of an an­cient cap­i­tal and in­her­it­ing the charms of China's time-hon­oured cul­ture. Oth­ers yet are ag­gre­ga­tions of Bei­jing-style build­ings and time-hon­oured stores in a dis­play of the unique mer­chant cul­ture in Bei­jing. Still more re­veal the epit­ome of Bei­jing's mod­ern, in­ter­na­tional ur­ban charm. Tra­di­tion per­fectly blends with moder­nity in these street blocks, ful­fill­ing the needs of peo­ple look­ing for leisure and en­ter­tain­ment with a hint of the an­cient. To­gether, these streets have long been at­tract­ing peo­ple from across China and the world over.

Qian­men and Dashilar

Spend any amount of time in Bei­jing and there is no doubt one will hear the names Qian­men (“Front Gate”) and Dashilar (“Grand Fence”).

Qian­men's Dashilar, lo­cated in the “outer city,” has been the most sig­nif­i­cant cul­tural and com­mer­cial land­mark in Bei­jing since the Qing Dy­nasty. As sto­ries from the mar­ket­places of the streets and al­leys con­tin­ued to spread, the area has at­tracted at­ten­tion from all over the world.

Qian­men Street has a his­tory that can be traced back more than 500 years. An im­por­tant part of the south­ern Cen­tral Axis, Dashilar has been a pros­per­ous busi­ness dis­trict for ages. Formed in 1436, it had its be­gin­nings in the Yuan Dy­nasty, was for­mally es­tab­lished in the Ming Dy­nasty (1368–1644) and has been pros­per­ous since the Qing Dy­nasty. Once called Yulu Tian­jie (“Im­pe­rial Road and Heav­enly Street”), the name it has to­day has its roots in the Ming Dy­nasty. At the time, wooden fences stood at street en­trances to pre­vent thieves from hid­ing in the streets and al­leys. Ac­cord­ing to the later Qind­ing Ling­dian Shili (“Im­pe­rial Or­ders, Stan­dards and Cases”), 440 fences were ap­proved in the outer city in 1730, and an­other 1,919 fences in the in­ner city and 196 fences in the im­pe­rial city were recorded in 1754. To­day's “Grand Fence” (Dashilar) was noted for mak­ing larger, bet­ter pre­served fences, gain­ing renown through­out Bei­jing and the name “Dashilar” with it.

A fea­tured his­tor­i­cal block, Bei­jing's ar­chi­tec­tural, mer­can­tile, guild-hall, opera and folk cul­tures have come to­gether with the flow of time. Flour­ish­ing and pros­per­ous since its early years, row upon row of stores line the 9-me­tre (m)wide Dashilar Street. Gath­ered here are cen­tury- old Chi­nese brands like Ton­grentang, Rui­fux­i­ang, Zhangyiyua­n, Li­u­biju, Houdefu Res­tau­rant and Chang­shengkui Dried Fruits Shop. Dashilar is also se­cond-to-none when it comes to leisure and en­ter­tain­ment. Long-stand­ing opera houses like the Qin­gle Opera House, San­qing Opera House and Guangde Tower wel­come guests from world­wide to this sto­ried street. Bei­jing's first cinema, the Daguan­lou Cinema, opened dur­ing the early Re­pub­lic of China pe­riod (1912– 1949) on this street, where China's first film, Dingjun Moun­tain, played on the sil­ver screen.

The old street has taken on new life

thanks to ren­o­va­tions based on how the street looked dur­ing the early Re­pub­lic of China. Street lights de­signed with bird­cages, bronze drums, and can­died hawthorns on a stick char­ac­ter­is­tic of old Bei­jing, speak of how Dashilar and Qian­men Street have re­newed them­selves af­ter 500 years of chal­lenges and suc­cesses. As part of its old-yet­new ren­o­va­tions, Qian­men Street has been paved in green and white stone, re­veal­ing the past mien of an im­pe­rial road. The rapid changes have also re­vived the unique scenery of the Wu­pai Arch­way and other Ming and Qing dy­nasty build­ings. Among those build­ings, a crisp “clang“rings out from days gone by—the tram too has re­turned, to bring visi­tors through Bei­jing's beau­ti­ful scenery.

Even af­ter its ren­o­va­tion, Dashilar Block has re­tained the same street lay­out that was built dur­ing the late Ming and early Qing dy­nas­ties. Among its twelve streets is Lang­fang Er­tiao, a flour­ish­ing road since the end of the Qing Dy­nasty. Though it looks a bit plain on the out­side, there is much to be found within. In­side Zhenyang Book­shop are the writ­ten mem­o­ries of old Bei­jing, while old items in the gen­eral stores re­call a sweet sense of nos­tal­gia when there was no short­age of cus­tomers. Out­side, the mere men­tion of roasted duck at Siji Minfu Res­tau­rant, Feng's Quick-fried Beef Tripe (a cen­tu­ry­old favourite) and dalian hu­oshao (a flat­bread wrap with a va­ri­ety of stuff­ing) in Menkuang Hu­tong is enough to make the mouth wa­ter.

The “Eight Great Hu­tong” lo­cated south of Tieshuxie Street were formed in the reign of Em­peror Qian­long, thrived in the mid­dle and late Qing Dy­nasty and came to their “great fame” at the end of the Qing Dy­nasty and Re­pub­lic of China pe­riod. Af­ter Huiban (Pek­ing Opera troupes from An­hui Prov­ince) ar­rived in Bei­jing, the Sixi Troupe took up res­i­dence in the Eight Hu­tong area.

When it comes to com­merce, to­day's Qian­men Street high­lights a com­bi­na­tion of mod­ern com­mer­cial func­tions and the clas­sic fea­tures of an an­cient cap­i­tal. In ad­di­tion to such “cen­tury-old trade names” as Yuesh­engzhai, Qinglin Spring Tea House, and Quan­jude mov­ing back to their orig­i­nal sites, dozens of well-known in­ter­na­tional brands have also set up shop there.

Based on Dashilar's nearly 600 years of cul­tural his­tory is Bei­jing Fun, an ar­chi­tec­tural com­plex that car­ries on the area's an­cient hu­tong styling. His­tor­i­cal fea­tures or­gan­i­cally blend with a tra­di­tional com­mer­cial en­vi­ron­ment in this ar­chi­tec­tural love let­ter to the past, build­ing a hu­man­is­tic, cul­tural and com­mer­cial com­plex that stands apart as “a new land­mark of ur­ban cul­ture.”

Reach­ing Zhubaoshi Street to the east, Lang­fang Er­tiao to the south, Meishi Street to the west and Xi­heyan Street to the north, at the heart of Bei­jing Fun is the cen­tury-old site of Quanyechan­g. With such pro­tected cul­tural and his­tor­i­cal build­ings like Qianx­i­ayi and the former sites of Yanye Bank and the Bank of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, the vast com­plex has in­te­grally sus­tained the fea­tures of build­ing dur­ing the Re­pub­lic of China pe­riod. By bring­ing in in­ter­na­tion­ally fa­mous brands along­side lo­cal Chi­nese brands, Bei­jing Fun aims to cre­ate an in­no­va­tive in­dus­try with re­gional cul­tural char­ac­ter­is­tics, re­alise high-qual­ity ur­ban life in the area and bring forth a uniquely charm­ing cul­ture that blends an­cient his­tory with mod­ern real­ity.

Dashilar, an his­toric and cul­tural block, con­forms to the spirit of the cap­i­tal and meets the needs of Bei­jing's fu­ture ur­ban de­vel­op­ment. In its pro­tec­tion, trans­for­ma­tion and re­newal, Dashilan glows with new vi­tal­ity.

Li­ulichang, An­cient Cul­tural Street

A short walk west from Dashilar brings us to an­other street fa­mous for its an­cient cul­ture: Li­ulichang.

Dur­ing the Yuan Dy­nasty, an of­fi­cial kiln was set up here to pro­duce glazed tiles for the im­pe­rial palace. By the Ming Dy­nasty, the Glazed Tile Fac­tory (Li­ulichang) be­came one of the five fac­to­ries un­der the su­per­vi­sion of the Im­pe­rial Board of Works. Af­ter Bei­jing's outer city was built in 1553, the area be­came part of the “city proper,” and thus no longer suit­able for the pro­duc­tion of tiles. Though the Glazed Tile Fac­tory was re­lo­cated to Li­uliqu Vil­lage Men­tougou Dis­trict, the name “Li­ulichang” re­mains to this day.

As the Siku quan­shu ( Com­plete Li­brary of the Four Branches of Lit­er­a­ture) was com­piled dur­ing the reign of Em­peror Qian­long (1736–1795), book­sell­ers from across the coun­try flocked to Li­ulichang to set up stalls and stores. By 1876, it was home to over 270 book­stores. In the early years of the Re­pub­lic of China, nearly 200 shops and

work­shops sold cul­tural com­modi­ties, es­tab­lish­ing Li­ulichang Cul­tural Street, famed both at home and abroad.

In ad­di­tion to such fa­mous book­stores such as Huayin Moun­tain House, Daiyue Xuan and Li Fushou Pen House, Li­ulichang is also home to the China Book­store, the largest an­tique book­store in China. The Com­mer­cial Press, Zhonghua Book Com­pany and the World Book Com­pany, three ma­jor pub­lish­ers, orig­i­nally stood in West­ern Li­ulichang.

Among its many stores and pub­lish­ing houses, Rong­baozhai is well worth vis­it­ing. It was once a fo­cal point of gath­er­ings for men of let­ters in the late Qing Dy­nasty. Former gen­er­a­tions of cal­lig­ra­phers and painters such as Yu Youren, Zhang Daqian, Wu Chang­shuo and Qi Baishi fre­quently vis­ited this house of the writ­ten word.

Rong­baozhai has its be­gin­nings in the early Qing Dy­nasty. Not only do they sell au­then­tic cal­li­graphic works and paint­ings here, they also use wood­block print­ing to cre­ate copies, a process which in­cor­po­rates en­grav­ing, print­ing, fold­ing, cut­ting and other tech­niques.

As the Re­pub­lic of China came about, Li­ulichang was on the de­cline. Fol­low­ing the con­struc­tion of Heping Gate and Xin­hua Street ren­o­va­tions in 1927, Li­ulichang Cul­tural Street was di­vided into East­ern and West­ern Li­ulichang. Busi­nesses here mainly sold cal­li­graphic works, paint­ings, the “four trea­sures” of a study (brush-pen, ink, pa­per and ink slab), an­tiques and an­cient books, sus­tain­ing its rep­u­ta­tion as a “gath­er­ing point” of the cul­tural in­dus­try since the Qing Dy­nasty. With its an­cient, uniquely charm­ing ori­en­tal cul­ture, Li­ulichang is fa­mous both at home and abroad.

Along the streets of Li­ulichang, this liv­ing an­tique, the tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­ture is pal­pa­ble. Walk­ing amid the unique fra­grance of books and the rhyme of the ink well, one can­not help but feel im­bued with au­then­tic Bei­jing cul­ture and the charms of an an­cient cap­i­tal.

Guoz­i­jian Street

Guoz­i­jian (“Im­pe­rial Col­lege”) Street has greeted trav­ellers in Bei­jing for over 800 years. Amid the green shade of the street lined with an­cient Chi­nese scholar trees looms a tow­er­ing arch­way. On both sides stand tem­ples and res­i­den­tial court­yards, adding to the an­tiq­uity, sim­plic­ity and tran­quil­lity here.

The 670-m-long street starts from the in­side of And­ing Gate, stretch­ing east­ward to Yonghe Palace Street. On its arch­way, a hor­i­zon­tal tablet with the char­ac­ters for “Chengx­ian Street“re­veals a hint of the street's past.

With the in­sti­tu­tion of Con­fu­cian­ism and the birth of the im­pe­rial ex­am­i­na­tion sys­tem, ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions re­lated to Con­fu­cian­ism came into be­ing. Guoz­i­jian and Bei­jing's Con­fu­cius Tem­ple are ex­am­ples of such build­ings.

In 1306, Guoz­i­jian was con­structed to the west of the Con­fu­cius Tem­ple. Known as “Chengx­ian Street” dur­ing the Qing Dy­nasty, it was re­named Guoz­i­jian Street in 1965.

Just across the west wall of the Con­fu­cius Tem­ple is Guoz­i­jian, which from the Sui Dy­nasty (AD 581–619) on­ward, had been the high­est in­sti­tu­tion su­per­vis­ing ed­u­ca­tion and re­spon­si­ble for gov­ern­ment de­crees re­lated to Chi­nese stud­ies. Dis­ci­plines such as rit­u­als, mu­sic, law, archery, char­i­o­teer­ing, cal­lig­ra­phy and math­e­mat­ics fell un­der its ju­ris­dic­tion. Since Guoz­i­jian was con­structed in the Yuan Dy­nasty, the Yuan, Ming and Qing dy­nas­ties had used it as the high­est ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tion. Dur­ing those times, there was hardly an act more il­lus­tri­ous to one's an­ces­tors than study­ing in Guoz­i­jian. By the late Qing Dy­nasty, Guoz­i­jian was no longer a venue for ed­u­ca­tion but one for ex­am­i­na­tions. Its Chi­nese scholar trees were planted through­out Guoz­i­jian to sym­bol­ise the task of “as­cend­ing the Chi­nese scholar trees and the caul­dron.” Past the en­trance of the Jix­ian Gate (Gate of Gath­er­ing Tal­ents), is the only glazed arch­way which does not be­long to a tem­ple. Atop the three gates of this hiproof glazed arch­way is a hor­i­zon­tal tablet with the in­scrip­tion yuan­qiao jiaoze (“im­pe­rial grace of a cir­cu­lar bridge”) writ­ten by Em­peror Qian­long on its front and an­other with xue­hai jieguan (“sec­tioned view of the sea of learn­ing”) in­scribed on its back. Af­ter travers­ing the mag­nif­i­cent gate­way, one reaches Biy­ong, the core build­ing of Guoz­i­jian.

Biy­ong, a square pavil­ion hall with dou­ble- eaved roofs, was built in the cen­tre of a cir­cu­lar pool sur­rounded by a long cor­ri­dor. Sym­bol­is­ing a “round sky and flat earth,” Em­peror Qian­long gave lec­tures in Biy­ong with an un­prece­dented grandeur. Since then, ev­ery em­peror was im­pelled to give a lec­ture at Biy­ong af­ter as­cend­ing the throne, to show the im­por­tance the cen­tral gov­ern­ment placed in higher ed­u­ca­tion.

As teach­ing and learn­ing com­ple­ment each other, so too has Guoz­i­jian pre­served its an­cient charm. Guoz­i­jian Street is fa­mous the world over ow­ing to the Con­fu­cius Tem­ple and Guoz­i­jian. Bei­jing's long and pro­found his­tory and cul­ture lives on here, with such an­cient cus­toms as of­fi­cials be­ing re­quired to dis­mount (then, a horse) and walk con­tin­u­ing to­day. For those want­ing to ex­plore that his­tory and cul­ture, Guoz­i­jian Street should be on the top of your list. Wan­der­ing the old street, with its over 700-year his­tory amid those green pines and cy­presses, traces of the unique her­itage of Bei­jing's cul­ture un­veil them­selves to thought­ful eyes.


North of Guoz­i­jian Street is a long, nar­row hu­tong that runs east to west.

While 632 m long, Wu­daoy­ing Hu­tong is only 6 m wide. This was once the strong­hold of the Ming Dy­nasty Wudeweiy­ing Bat­tal­ion, a gar­ri­son which safe­guarded the city. By the Qing Dy­nasty, the name had mis­tak­enly be­come “Wu­daoy­ing Bat­tal­ion.” Although the name had been al­tered, it was also named af­ter the troop sta­tioned there, which be­longed to the Xianghuang Ban­ner, one of the eight ma­jor mil­i­tary di­vi­sions of the Qing Dy­nasty.

With the progress of so­ci­ety, many for­eign­ers who love Bei­jing's hu­tong cul­ture have laid down roots here, open­ing restau­rants and cafes. Stores sell­ing creative, cul­tural sup­plies have also taken heed of these trends, flock­ing to set up branches here. This has at­tracted an ever greater in­flux of visi­tors to this “new strong­point of cul­ture and in­no­va­tion,” grad­u­ally giv­ing rise to its cur­rent scale. What­ever style you are af­ter, trendy, vin­tage, cute or oth­er­wise, they can all be found here. In this lane where Chi­nese and west­ern styles meet, many visi­tors, es­pe­cially young peo­ple fond of lit­er­a­ture and art, come here out of ad­mi­ra­tion. It has also be­come one of the most ideal lo­ca­tions for out­door pho­tog­ra­phy. A mind­ful hu­tong vis­i­tor may also see the most down-to-earth hu­tong scenes un­fold, like an old man wear­ing slip­pers tak­ing a walk, a mid­dle-aged woman car­ry­ing an enamel bowl to buy tofu, chil­dren play­ing with sand or for­eign­ers on their bi­cy­cles.


Ev­ery year tourists pour in to Nan­lu­ogux­i­ang from all over the world. It has some­thing to do with its unique, com­pletely pre­served, tra­di­tional chess­board-style res­i­den­tial area with its dis­tinct Yuan Dy­nasty lanes and court­yards. Its large scale, high qual­ity and rich re­sources cre­ate a spec­tac­u­lar view for any vis­i­tor.

In the Yuan Dy­nasty, the city of Dadu was di­vided into 50 blocks, with the present-day Nan­lu­ogux­i­ang serv­ing as the di­vid­ing al­ley be­tween Zhao­hui Block and Jin­gong Block. Later in the Ming Dy­nasty, the in­ner city of Bei­jing had 28 such di­vi­sions, with Zhao­hui Block and Jing­gong Block merg­ing into one known as “Zhao­hui Jing­gong Block,” with present-day Nan­lu­ogux­i­ang as its northsouth axis. Known then as Luoguox­i­ang (“Hunch­back Al­ley”), a care­ful look at its land­form re­veals a high cen­tre amid its lower north­ern and south­ern parts, tak­ing on the like­ness of an old man with a hunch­back. The Jingcheng Quantu (“com­plete map of the cap­i­tal city”) painted in 1750 shows that “Luoguox­i­ang” had since been re­named “Nan­lu­ogux­i­ang” with Di'an­men­dong Street on the south and Gu­lou Street to the north. As there was a “Nan” (South) Luoguox­i­ang, so too there must be a “Bei” (North). In­deed, op­po­site of Nan­lu­ogux­i­ang on the north side of Gu­lou East Street is “Beilu­ogux­i­ang.” This north­ern coun­ter­part was in fact the di­vid­ing line be­tween the Lingchun and Jin­tai Blocks dur­ing the Yuan Dy­nasty. Dur­ing the Qing Dy­nasty, the im­pe­rial court stip­u­lated that in Bei­jing, sol­diers and cit­i­zens should live in dif­fer­ent parts of the city, with the Eight Ban­ners sol­diers liv­ing in the in­ner city and the Han liv­ing in the outer city. At the time, Nan­lu­ogux­i­ang and Beilu­ogux­i­ang be­longed to the Xianghuang Ban­ner.

Just 8 m wide and about 800 m

long from north to south, Nan­lu­ogux­i­ang has a num­ber of hu­tong that branch off the street. On the east­ern side there are Miaodou, Ban­chang, Dong­mi­an­hua, Beib­ing­masi, Qin­lao, Qianyua­nensi, Houyua­nensi and Ju'er Hu­tong, while to the west are Fux­i­ang, Suoyi, Yu'er, Mao'er, Jingyang, Sha­jing, Heizhima and Qian­gu­louyuan Hu­tong. These names alone rouse an an­tic­i­pa­tion for many sto­ries. With its eight sym­met­ri­cal lanes on each side neatly ar­ranged, Nan­lu­ogux­i­ang looks like a cen­tipede, earn­ing its vivid nick­name, “Cen­tipede Street.” This lay­out is all thanks to the street main­tain­ing the same lay­out since the cap­i­tal's Dadu ( Yuan Dy­nasty) pe­riod.

Nan­lu­ogux­i­ang and its sur­round­ing ar­eas were at the cen­tre of the Yuan Dy­nasty's Great Cap­i­tal, and served as land for the wealthy and no­bil­ity dur­ing the Ming and Qing dy­nas­ties. The street and its al­leys at­tracted nu­mer­ous dig­ni­taries who built count­less kingly man­sions and noble houses. In this block abun­dant in the fea­tures of old Bei­jing “loom” many man­sions and houses in a plethora of styles. Boast­ing ei­ther deep and pro­found or bright and ex­quis­ite ar­chi­tec­ture, each build­ing has mul­ti­far­i­ous sto­ries be­hind them. Tak­ing any ran­dom house or man­sion in Nan­lu­ogux­i­ang, one finds sto­ries re­lat­ing to gen­er­als in the Ming Dy­nasty, princesses in the Qing Dy­nasty or men of let­ters in past dy­nas­ties.

Yet to­day, rich and in­flu­en­tial fam­i­lies live among more or­di­nary cit­i­zens. From the Qing Dy­nasty to the 1930s and 1940s, the hu­tong of Nan­lu­ogux­i­ang have grad­u­ally de­vel­oped from their orig­i­nal Manchurian Xianghuang Ban­ner de­mo­graph­ics, with an ever in­creas­ing pop­u­la­tion. This was fol­lowed by the rapid emer­gence of small stores in Nan­lu­ogux­i­ang, in­clud­ing stores which took “food as the para­mount ne­ces­sity of the peo­ple,” which spe­cialised in grains, veg­eta­bles, oil and salt, pork, mut­ton, sliced noo­dles, wine or ready-to-eat foods as well as busi­nesses closely re­lated to lo­cal liveli­hoods, in­volv­ing coal, brick and tile, shred­ded linen, mats, sheds and black­smithing tools. Still other busi­nesses fol­lowed suit, like shops for wed­ding sedan chairs, med­i­cal clin­ics, phar­ma­cies, bar­bers, tai­lors, cob­blers and weavers. And one could be as­sured that tea­houses and pawn­shops also dot­ted the land­scape here. In spite of its rel­a­tively com­pact size, these shops cov­ered nearly 30 in­dus­tries. As for cer­tain large shops spe­cial­is­ing in satin, gold, sil­ver at the like, those were con­cen­trated in the area of Di'an­men­wai Street and the Drum Tower. It was only af­ter the Qing Dy­nasty dis­in­te­grated that Nan­lugux­i­ang tem­po­rar­ily with­ered from its pros­per­ity, once again fall­ing silent.

As time has passed, re­cent vis­its to Nan­lugux­i­ang wel­come trav­ellers not only to the Cen­tral Academy of Drama to the north of Dong­mi­an­hua Hu­tong but also many more bars and small shops sell­ing creative, cul­tural com­modi­ties which have a wealth of con­tent de­spite their hum­ble façades. Nos­tal­gic, cor­dial and re­fresh­ing busi­ness icons are found every­where, mak­ing it among the liveli­est and most fash­ion­able al­leys. “Let's look around Nan­lu­ogux­i­ang” has be­come a muchan­tic­i­pated ac­tiv­ity by fash­ion­istas and trend-set­ters alike, re­gard­less of gen­der or age. Nan­lu­ogux­i­ang has also be­come a must-visit des­ti­na­tion for visi­tors who truly ap­pre­ci­ate what the cap­i­tal has to of­fer. Whether va­ca­tion­ing trav­eller, lover of an­cient sto­ries look­ing for the former res­i­dences of such fig­ures as Qi Baishi or

Mao Dun, or merely a passer-by crav­ing a sim­ple and idle af­ter­noon, this place, with its pro­found his­tor­i­cal cul­ture and re­laxed, com­fort­able at­mos­phere, is a road well worth tak­ing. Yandai Xiejie Yandai Xiejie (lit­er­ally, “Skewed To­bacco Pouch Street”) is a fa­mous at­trac­tion in Xicheng Dis­trict's Shicha­hai area.

The street is in­trin­si­cally re­lated to the trans­porta­tion of rice and other im­pe­rial trib­utes through the Huihe River, dredged in the Yuan Dy­nasty. Af­ter Kublai Khan con­structed Dadu (“Great Cap­i­tal,” to­day's Bei­jing) to have its “im­pe­rial court at the front and mar­ket­place at the back,” the Huihe River was dredged to con­nect it with the Grand Canal so that rice, tea and other com­modi­ties were sup­plied by a mer­chant fleet that sailed past a for­est of stores and ho­tels. This in­clined street was con­structed to serve as a chan­nel from a dock in the Jishui­tan Pool to the Drum Tower. In the 1960s, dur­ing the con­struc­tion of a depart­ment store near the Di'an Gate, relics of the em­bank­ment were found here, in­di­cat­ing that it was part of the north­east­ern shore of Haizi (an­other name for Jishui­tan Pool). This in turn gave rise to the streets and al­leys as found in the present-day Yandai Xiejie.

In the early Ming Dy­nasty, the street was called Dayut­ing East Street. At that time, dig­ni­taries built houses along the shores of Jishui­tan Pool. The ad­ja­cent in­clined street not only main­tained the pros­per­ity of the past, it saw the emer­gence of restau­rants cater­ing to those dig­ni­taries, along­side literati and schol­ars in their tours and feasts. In the Rixia ji­uwen kao (“a re­view of present-day an­tiques”) printed dur­ing the reign of Em­peror Qian­long, the sec­tion in front of the Drum Tower was called Gu­lou Xiejie (Drum Town In­clined Street). At that time, the peo­ple of the Ban­ners (peo­ple of Manchurian mil­i­tary di­vi­sions) liv­ing in the north­ern part of the city were par­tic­u­larly fond of hav­ing to­bacco in hold­ers or wa­ter pipes, car­ry­ing their shred­ded to­bacco in pouches. As the to­bacco in­dus­try in Bei­jing de­vel­oped, de­mand for to­bacco pouches in­creased with each pass­ing day. On this street, stores sell­ing to­bacco pouches be­gan pop­ping up one af­ter an­other, with high stair­cases and over­sized wooden to­bacco pouches serv­ing as store sign­boards. With its vivid black pipes and golden bowls of to­bacco, the name Yandai Xiejie be­came ever more ap­pro­pri­ate.

Ad­ja­cent to Houhai Lake, the street it­self looks some­thing like a cig­a­rette pouch—its east­ern en­trance like the mouth of a to­bacco pouch; slen­der street its pipe; and south­west­ern turn lead­ing to the Sil­ver In­got Bridge its bowl. Bei­jing is pre­dom­i­nately a square city, with nearly all of its streets fac­ing due east, west, south or north. Only a few skewed, or in­clined, streets ex­ist in Bei­jing, such as Yandai Xiejie, Li­t­ie­gai Xiejie (Iron-crutch Li In­clined Street) and Yang­meizhu Xiejie ( Waxberry and Bam­boo In­clined Street).

An in­clined street is called “xiejie,” a nar­row street is called “ji­adao” (lit. “nar­row way”). Bei­jing also has badaowan (“eight bays”) for twist­ing streets and xi­awazi (Low-ly­ing Area) for a low-ly­ing street. There are many lanes in Bei­jing named af­ter their lay­outs.

As one of the old­est streets in Bei­jing, the 300-m-long in­clined street was mainly en­gaged in sell­ing to­bacco pouches, to­bacco im­ple­ments and an­tique cal­li­graphic works and paint­ings. Dur­ing the late Qing Dy­nasty, it was known as “Lit­tle Li­ulichang.” As time went on, sta­tionery, lo­cal snacks and other busi­nesses ap­peared on the street. To­day the in­clined street is flanked with stores with plain store­fronts, re­flect­ing the char­ac­ter­is­tics of old Bei­jing. As a well-known cul­tural street in Bei­jing, many cul­tural celebri­ties have walked down its street.

The present-day Yandai Xiejie fo­cuses on de­vel­op­ing a uniquely Bei­jing cul­ture along­side China's folk cul­ture. As a fea­tured street for busi­ness and tourism, it has plain and el­e­gant build­ings with the eye-catch­ing tra­di­tional styles of the Ming and Qing dy­nas­ties. Its lay­out, hav­ing stores at the front and dwellings in the back, re­veals the pro­found mar­ket­place fea­tures that un­de­ni­ably be­long to Bei­jing. If you are in Bei­jing, you owe it to your­self to make the trip to Yandai Xiejie. Pe­ruse the an­tiques, take in its cal­li­graphic works and paint­ings and, of course, keep an eye out for the de­li­cious lo­cal food—it is an un­de­ni­ably sat­is­fy­ing cul­tural tour.

Vi­brant Life in the Hu­tong

These streets and al­leys are meant to be wan­dered down. Ev­ery tourist in Bei­jing, af­ter vis­it­ing so many of Bei­jing's renowned street blocks, should not miss the ac­tiv­ity, that is, to take a look here and there in the lanes in Bei­jing to feel these places at their most “alive.”

As many know, from their rudi­men­tary Yuan Dy­nasty be­gin­nings to their ma­tu­rity in the Ming and Qing dy­nas­ties, the hu­tong and the si­heyuan court­yards have car­ried on the uniquely ur­ban, uniquely hu­man char­ac­ter of Bei­jing. “Hu­tong are unique to Bei­jing. Why they are called ‘ hu­tong?' There are many an­swers. Most schol­ars think it is from a Mon­go­lian word mean­ing ‘wells.' I've heard a fel­low writer in Ho­hhot say that hu­tong is the Mon­go­lian ‘gudum,’ mean­ing a long, nar­row land­form that re­cesses down the mid­dle,” wrote Wang Zengqi in his Gudu can­meng (“Resid­ual Dream of an An­cient Cap­i­tal”). There is in­deed a say­ing that “hu­tong” orig­i­nated from a Mon­go­lian translit­er­a­tion of “a well” or “a set­tle­ment

of in­hab­i­tants.” Af­ter all, in nearly ev­ery set­tle­ment there must be wells.

The Jing­shi wucheng fangx­i­ang hu­tong ji (“a col­lec­tion of the blocks, al­leys and lanes in the five cities of the cap­i­tal”) com­piled by Zhang Jue (1485–1566) in the Ming Dy­nasty is the first book giv­ing de­tailed records on the hu­tong in Bei­jing. In this book, Zhang Jue recorded that, at the time, Bei­jing had 1,200 streets and al­leys, as well as 459 hu­tong. In the late Qing Dy­nasty, Zhu Yixin (1846–1894), a man of let­ters, stum­bled upon this work and sus­tained the his­tor­i­cal record of the blocks, al­leys and lanes in Bei­jing. Jing­shi fangx­i­ang zhi­gao (“a gazetteer on the blocks and al­leys of Bei­jing”) recorded 2,077 streets and al­leys, 978 of which were di­rectly called hu­tong, 40.7 per­cent of all streets. Fol­low­ing the Re­pub­lic of China pe­riod, the num­ber of streets and al­leys in Bei­jing con­tin­ued to in­crease. Records re­veal that Bei­jing had over 6,000 lanes at its peak, noth­ing short of vo­lu­mi­nous. Most are straight and reg­u­lar, con­cen­trat­ing along the east­ern and west­ern sides of the im­pe­rial palace and line up neatly along the streets from south to north. These roads were once home to rel­a­tives of the im­pe­rial fam­ily and other dig­ni­taries. Rel­a­tively sim­ple streets are sit­u­ated on the north­ern and south­ern sides, fur­ther from the im­pe­rial palaces. These lanes were mostly oc­cu­pied by mer­chants and com­mon­ers. “Con­nect­ing these streets fac­ing due east, west, south and north are hu­tong. They have taken the big tofu of Bei­jing and cut it into many small pieces. It is in these small tofu pieces that Bei­jingers live their lives.

“Many small lanes in Bei­jing fea­ture sim­ple and or­di­nary ex­te­ri­ors and su­perbly com­plex and mag­i­cal in­te­ri­ors.” As writ­ten in “I Love the Small Lanes of Bei­jing” by renowned Chi­nese lin­guist Ji Xian­lin. Each hu­tong seems the same on the out­side, yet are vastly dif­fer­ent on the in­side.

Shijia Hu­tong

If there is any hu­tong in Bei­jing that has an ex­tra­or­di­nary rep­u­ta­tion, it is Shijia Hu­tong.

Shijia Hu­tong stretches from Chaoyang­men Nanx­i­ao­jie to the east and Dongsi Nan­da­jie to the west, con­nect­ing with Donglu­o­quan Hu­tong and Xilu­o­quan Hu­tong to the south, and ad­ja­cent to Nei­wubu Street to the north. While it ap­pears to be just any reg­u­lar hu­tong, it is a place of “crouch­ing tigers and hid­den dragons,” with leg­endary sto­ries in each court­yard.

The No. 51 Court­yard in Shijia Hu­tong was the former res­i­dence of Chi­nese politi­cian Zhang Shizhao (1881–1973), the chief of ed­u­ca­tion af­ter the Revo­lu­tion of 1911. In 1949, Zhang Shizhao par­tic­i­pated in the peace talks in Peip­ing as a mem­ber of the Nan­jing-based Kuom­intang del­e­ga­tion. He be­gan liv­ing in Shijia Hu­tong in 1959. Chi­nese diplo­mat Zhang Hanzhi, the adopted daugh­ter of Zhang Shizhao (1935–2008), was fond of the court­yard. Re­call­ing the past, she said she of­ten sat in the court­yard lis­ten­ing to her fa­ther talk­ing about the past. Among the court­yard, the green plants she grew per­son­ally are still lush.

The No. 32 Court­yard, though not as fa­mous as No. 51 Court­yard, has a prom­i­nent his­tor­i­cal po­si­tion. It was oc­cu­pied by Fu Zuoyi (1895–1974), a se­nior gen­eral of the former Na­tional Revo­lu­tion­ary Army prior to the found­ing of the Peo­ple's Re­pub­lic of China. In such wars as the Revo­lu­tion of 1911, the War of the North­ern Ex­pe­di­tion, the War of the Cen­tral Plains and the War of Re­sis­tance against Ja­pan in Suiyuan, he had cre­ated a record win­ning vic­to­ries in five plains. He can be counted among the most fa­mous gen­er­als en­gaged in mul­ti­ple wars dur­ing the twen­ti­eth cen­tury. In 1949 when Peip­ing was peace­fully lib­er­ated, it was he who “re­lin­quished” Peip­ing. Af­ter the found­ing of the Peo­ple's Re­pub­lic of China, he be­came its first Min­is­ter of Wa­ter Re­sources.

Ling Shuhua, renowned mod­ern Chi­nese writer and pain­ter, also lived in Shijia Hu­tong, where she was the owner of No. 24 Court­yard. Ling, along­side Lin Huiyin and Bing Xin were con­sid­ered the “three ta­lented women of the lit­er­ary world.” Com­ing from a fam­ily of schol­ars, Ling was adept at both paint­ing and writ­ing, ed­u­cated by Gu Hong­ming, a fa­mous man of let­ters. She had a deep friend­ship with es­say­ist Hu Shi and poet Xu Zhimo, and would or­gan­ise paint­ing meet­ings in this court­yard with artists Chen Hengke and Qi Baishi. At her be­hest, Tagore, an In­dian poet, had also painted lo­tus leaves and Bud­dhist stat­ues on san­dal­wood chips here. It was in this court­yard that Ling Shuhua met her hus­band, Chen Xiy­ing, a renowned mod­ern Chi­nese critic and trans­la­tor.

Those who built a bond with Shijia Hu­tong in­clude men of let­ters, fig­ures of renown and pa­tri­otic gen­er­als. In the late Qing Dy­nasty, Liu Fucheng, Chair­man of the China-france Bank and Sai Jin­hua, a fa­mous cour­te­san, also had houses here,

among many oth­ers. Its many years of ac­cu­mu­lat­ing such prom­i­nent names have given rise to its unique celebrity cul­ture.

Although Shijia Hu­tong is only one among nu­mer­ous hu­tong in Bei­jing, it car­ries the his­tory of Bei­jing, a con­tainer of pro­found cul­ture and the rich flavour of life. This hu­tong, with over 400 years of his­tory, is a mi­cro­cosm of Bei­jing's lanes. Among its court­yards is No. 24—which be­came the Shijia Hu­tong Mu­seum, the first hu­tong mu­seum in Bei­jing. With old mot­tled bricks, 130 court­yards were re­stored in minia­ture. Though hid­den in the lane, the mu­seum dis­plays the cul­ture of the si­heyuan court­yards and a col­lec­tion of old hu­tong mem­o­ries.

Among the ‘Firsts’

The long­est hu­tong in old Bei­jing is Dongjiaom­inx­i­ang–xi­jiaom­inx­i­ang, which runs nearly 3 kilo­me­tres from Chong­wen­men­nei Street to Xuan­wu­men­nei Street. Yet it is known for more than just its length.

A Yuan Dy­nasty hu­tong, with its tax of­fice and cus­toms of­fice that con­trolled the wa­ter trans­port of rice and other grains into Bei­jing, it be­came a strate­gic lo­ca­tion in the trans­port of grains from the south to the north. Ow­ing to this it was named Jiang­mix­i­ang (“River Rice Al­ley”). In fact, Jiang­mix­i­ang refers to the in­ter­con­nected al­leys of Dongjiaom­inx­i­ang and Xi­jiaom­inx­i­ang. The orig­i­nal Jiang­mix­i­ang was split into two parts ow­ing to the con­struc­tion of the cap­i­tal's “chess­board lay­out” dur­ing the Ming Dy­nasty, cre­at­ing Dongjiang­mix­i­ang (“East­ern River Rice Al­ley”) and Xi­jiang­mix­i­ang (“West­ern River Rice Al­ley”).

Dongjiaom­inx­i­ang was orig­i­nally the venue of the “five chief mil­i­tary com­mis­sions and six boards” in the Ming and Qing dy­nas­ties. In the years of Em­peror Qian­long and Em­peror Ji­aqing, parts of the al­ley served as a “Wel­com­ing Ho­tel” tem­po­rar­ily hous­ing for­eign diplo­mats and en­voys. Af­ter the Opium War, em­bassies of the UK, Rus­sia, Ger­many and France and other coun­tries were es­tab­lished here. Af­ter 1901, it was re­named “Em­bassy Street.” Eleven coun­tries, in­clud­ing the UK, USA, and France set up a joint ad­min­is­tra­tive body, along with banks like the “USA'S Citibank,” “France's Credit Agri­cole Cor­po­rate and In­vest­ment Bank,” “UK'S HSBC,” “Ja­pan's Yoko­hama Specie Bank Ltd,” and churches, hos­pi­tals and build­ings. A visit to the present-day hu­tong of­fers the chance to view former sites of the em­bassies of Ja­pan, the former Soviet Union, Por­tu­gal and other coun­tries.

This par­tic­u­lar his­tor­i­cal pe­riod and “Em­bassy Street” it­self have left many west­ern build­ings of var­i­ous styles. To see an exquisitel­y small church here is also no cause for shock. The dis­tinc­tive Cathe­dral of Jiaom­inx­i­ang, also known as St. Michael's Cathe­dral, is a Gothic build­ing built in 1901, known es­pe­cially for its ex­quis­ite an­gel stat­ues above its main en­trance. The walls on both sides of the church are beau­ti­fully dec­o­rated with coloured glass win­dows im­ported from France dur­ing the late Qing Dy­nasty.

In the Qing Dy­nasty, Xi­jiang­mix­i­ang was re­named Xi­jiaom­inx­i­ang. Dur­ing the Ming Dy­nasty, it housed five chief mil­i­tary com­mis­sions re­spon­si­ble for such mat­ters as cer­e­monies, ex­changes and the Im­pe­rial guard. By the late Qing Dy­nasty and early Re­pub­lic of China pe­riod, Xi­jiaom­inx­i­ang was known as “Bank Street,” once home to the Peip­ing Branch of the Cen­tral Bank, the Agri­cul­tural and In­dus­trial Bank of China,

the Main­land Bank and the Com­mer­cial Guar­an­tee Bank of China. The head of the Shuanghesh­eng Wine Fac­tory, Chi­nese mer­chant Zhang Tingge (1875–1954) also had his man­sion here. Ad­ja­cent to its north­ern face were such in­flu­en­tial branches of the court as the Re­gional Court of Peip­ing, the Min­istry of Jus­tice and the Higher Court of Jus­tice.

Dongjiaom­inx­i­ang–xi­jiaom­inx­i­ang has been through more ups and downs than most care to count. A walk along the long­est hu­tong in Bei­jing en­ables one to find its unique his­toric coun­te­nance.

Speak­ing of the long­est, then which is the short­est hu­tong in Bei­jing? That would be Yichi Street. Mean­ing “third­me­tre,” it cer­tainly sounds short enough. The diminu­tive lane is be­tween Tongzi Hu­tong and Yang­meizhu Xiejie at the east­ern en­trance of Li­ulichang East Street. Although in spite of its hum­ble name, the hu­tong is in fact over 30 me­tres long.

Then there is Lingjing Hu­tong, the widest hu­tong in Bei­jing. 32 me­tres at its widest, it was the bound­ary be­tween Anfu Block and Xiaoshiy­ong Block dur­ing the Yuan and Ming dy­nas­ties. Its name comes from the Ming Dy­nasty Lingji Palace (later re­named Lingqing Palace), and was later called Lingjing Hu­tong dur­ing the Re­pub­lic of China pe­riod. On the south­west­ern side of the hu­tong is the former site of the Qing Dy­nasty Doroi Beile Man­sion.

Build­ing a Bond with Hu­tong

Which is the old­est hu­tong in Bei­jing? That must be Zhuanta Hu­tong, which has been around since the Yuan Dy­nasty.

Zhuanta Hu­tong, which con­nects with Xisi South Street, is named af­ter a brick pagoda at the east­ern end of the al­ley. The an­cient oc­tag­o­nal, seven-eave pagoda made with green brick stands tall. Le­gend has it that in this an­cient pagoda lie the re­mains of El­der Wan­song, an em­i­nent monk.

Com­ing from Luoyang, He­nan, Wan­song be­came a monk at the Jingtu Tem­ple (“Pure Land Tem­ple”) in Xing­tai, He­bei Prov­ince at the age of 15. Af­ter that, he be­gan to travel, spe­cial­is­ing in the study of Zen Bud­dhism. He later re­turned to the Jingtu Tem­ple and built Wan­song Pavil­ion there, call­ing him­self a “Wild El­der of Wan­song,” while the world re­spect­fully re­ferred to him as “El­der Wan­song.” El­der Wan­song was knowl­edge­able and ver­sa­tile, and was known for his thor­oughly alarm­ing speeches. When the cap­i­tal of the Yuan Dy­nasty was es­tab­lished in Bei­jing, Em­peror Shizu and his val­ued min­is­ter Yelü Chuchai ap­proached and hon­oured the monk as a tu­tor in Yan­jing (present-day Bei­jing). They talked about the Bud­dhist clas­sics and the Great Way; and played zithers and chanted tunes. Fol­low­ing their three years as dis­ci­ple and tu­tor, Em­peror Shizu gave the an­cient zheng (a mu­si­cal in­stru­ment) and the score to “Tragic Wind” kept in Chenghua Hall to El­der Wan­song as gifts. Af­ter El­der Wan­song passed away, this 16-m oc­tag­o­nal, nine-eaved brick pagoda with its plain yet del­i­cate style was built to com­mem­o­rate the favoured monk.

Zhuanta Hu­tong, named af­ter the pagoda, was a lively cen­tre of opera ac­tiv­ity in the Yuan, Ming and Qing dy­nas­ties.

Dur­ing the Yuan Dy­nasty Zaju Opera was par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar, with over 30 troupes, mu­si­cal house­holds and goulan (“per­for­mance venues”) in Zhuanta Hu­tong and the nearby Qianchuan and Yu­dai Hu­tong, gongs and drums sounded all day long. “Goulan” re­ferred to the the­atres which staged Zaju Opera, com­plete with a stage, the­atre room and shrine. Large goulan could ac­com­mo­date thou­sands of peo­ple. Dur­ing the Qing Dy­nasty, Zhuanta Hu­tong was also used as the camp for the gun team of the rightwing Han army un­der the su­per­vi­sion of Shen­jiy­ing (“Di­vine En­gine Divi­sion”). Not long af­ter that, “the for­est where songs were sung” reap­peared. In 1900, when the Al­lied Forces of the Eight Pow­ers in­vaded Bei­jing, Zhuanta Hu­tong grad­u­ally re­sumed its seren­ity.

Among those who had built an in­ex­tri­ca­ble bond with Zhuanta Hu­tong in­clude no short­age of celebri­ties. It was here that Lu Xun, renowned mod­ern Chi­nese writer, wrote “Bless­ings,” “Soap” and many other works and where Zheng Hen­shui, a writer of the Man­darin Duck and But­ter­fly School, passed away.

This in­ex­tri­ca­ble bond with the hu­tong may have been some­thing pre­des­tined. In Bei­jing's hu­tong, great and small loom the shad­ows of many fa­mous fig­ures.

Chengx­i­ang Hu­tong (“Prime Min­is­ter Al­ley”), a hor­i­zon­tal street, is sit­u­ated in the Xuan­wu­men­wai area. The hu­tong takes its name from its res­i­dent Yan Song

(1480–1567, in­fa­mous Ming Dy­nasty of­fi­cial). Be­hind the Bell Tower, shaded by Chi­nese scholar trees is Dou­fuchi Hu­tong, once the home of Yang Changji, mod­ern Chi­nese ethi­cist and ed­u­ca­tor, and his daugh­ter Yang Kai­hui, mod­ern Chi­nese rev­o­lu­tion­ist. Walk­ing along Shicha­hai Lake, one can reach the former res­i­dences of Soong Ching Ling, mod­ern Chi­nese politi­cian and so­cial ac­tivist; and scholar and writer Guo Moruo. And on the sub­ject of Bei­jing-style writ­ers, the prom­i­nent writer Lao She lived in the depths of Xiaoyangqu­aner Hu­tong. The hu­tong was also where many of his sto­ries took place, such as Four Gen­er­a­tions un­der a Roof.

En­am­oured by Si­heyuan Court­yards

“I live in just a cor­ner of this large court­yard, in the north­west cor­ner. But this cor­ner is not small. It's a three-row court­yard, and for the very first time I feel that artis­tic con­cep­tion of ‘a deep, deep, deep court­yard'.” Much as Ji Xian­lin (1911–2009, prom­i­nent his­to­rian and writer) had felt, the hu­tong is not only the very essence of Bei­jing, but also the abodes of its or­di­nary cit­i­zens. It is “tran­quil­lity found amid noise.” Each of these many hu­tong is like a mu­seum of folk cus­tom and habit, that have been left with the marks of the liveli­hood of the mar­ket­place, fresh and ac­tive. The har­mo­nious and joy­ful re­la­tion­ships amid neigh­bours are fully em­bod­ied in the hu­tong of Bei­jing.

Most of the main hu­tong build­ings are “si­heyuan court­yards,” though many have since be­come “mixed court­yards.” A si­heyuan court­yard is a kind of en­closed res­i­dence which con­sists of four build­ings sym­met­ri­cally op­posed in the car­di­nal direc­tions. The ar­chi­tec­tural style, scale and dé­cor of a quad­ran­gle court­yard fol­low strict hi­er­ar­chy re­stric­tions. Com­plex­ity and size is also based on the so­cial sta­tus of the owner. High-rank­ing of­fi­cials and wealthy mer­chants mostly live in large si­heyuan court­yards with fas­tid­i­ous build­ings, finely painted columns and beams, and gar­dens. Fa­mous court­yards, such as Prince Gong's Man­sion and First- Or­der Prince Rui's Man­sion, are rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the large si­heyuan court­yards for no­bil­ity. Quad­ran­gle court­yards for more com­mon peo­ple are rel­a­tively sim­ple and de­cid­edly smaller struc­tures. Gen­er­ally, the court­yards usu­ally face south, hav­ing mul­ti­ple rows of houses.

The ideal court­yard life was said to in­volve “a shed, a fish tank and a pome­gran­ate tree; a mas­ter, a fat dog and a fat maid­ser­vant.” “The court­yard must be very large, with sev­eral small fruit trees planted near the walls. Ex­cept for a track of long and square land, the court­yard should be flat and free of grass, of­fer­ing enough room to prac­tice Shadow Box­ing.” Lao She wrote in his prose, “Plant flow­ers and grasses in other places, none pre­cious or cum­ber­some, but giv­ing ex­u­ber­ant fo­liage and flow­ers. There should be at least one speck­led cat in the house and one or two pots of gold­fish in the court­yard. Hang a small cage from a small tree, where two or three green crick­ets sing as they may.”

”One can en­joy flow­ers in spring, stay cool in sum­mer, taste fresh fruits in au­tumn and en­joy pre­cious stores in win­ter.” In a si­heyuan court­yard, one sees the four sea­sons al­ter­nate. Just like the as­sort­ment of aus­pi­cious pat­terns en­graved in the quad­ran­gle court­yards, the pres­ence of “fu” (bless­ings) in bianfu (bats) and the Chi­nese char­ac­ter “shou” (longevity), along­side a vase of Chi­nese roses rep­re­sent­ing “safety in all four sea­sons” and other sym­bols re­flect a yearn­ing for a bet­ter life.

With the pas­sage of time wit­ness­ing both tri­umph and chal­lenge, the hu­tong, whether in the past or the present, have been where many peo­ple have lived their lives, closely as­so­ci­at­ing with each other. They still glow with the mul­ti­far­i­ous colours of life. Truly, Bei­jingers have in­deli­ble feel­ings about hu­tong.

Within these street blocks, lanes and court­yards, re­sides the soul of old Bei­jing. In­side that soul is Bei­jing's most au­then­tic his­tor­i­cal cul­ture and mar­ket­place liv­ing. Even the most de­tailed oral or writ­ten ac­count is no sub­sti­tute for a trip to Bei­jing's hu­tong in per­son. Only by wan­der­ing down these streets and al­leys can one trace the his­tory that cour­ses through these streets. You may just dis­cover ever greater won­der.


Li­ulichang Cul­tural Street

Guoz­i­jian Street

A bi­cy­cle shop on Wu­daoy­ing Hu­tong

Nan­lu­ogux­i­ang, a tra­di­tional res­i­den­tial area that pre­serves the lane lay­out of the Yuan Dy­nasty

Yandai Xiejie

Shijia Hu­tong

A west­ern-style res­tau­rant at Dongjiaom­inx­i­ang

Tower of El­der Wan­song on Zhuanta Hu­tong

Si­heyuan, a kind of tra­di­tional dwellings in Bei­jing

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