CULTURAL VENUES IN HUTONG
Dongcheng District is an important part of Beijing's core area. It features numerous historical and cultural streets and relics. One can learn more about the profound culture of the city when visiting the district. Doing so is like unfolding a huge, painted scroll depicting the past.
Beijing has been removing functions that are nonessential to its role as the capital of China as part of optimising and upgrading. Dongcheng has been establishing cultural venues in sites that have become available as a result of this process. The venues are scattered in tranquil hutong (alleys), vibrant commercial areas and basement sites. They all have a strong cultural atmosphere and now hold exhibitions and other events.
Telling Historical Stories
The Dongsi Hutong Museum is located at 77 Sitiao, Dongsi Sub-district. The building was once a sub-district police office. It now displays historical artefacts.
Covering an area of 1,023 square metres (sq.m), the museum is typical of siheyuan (traditional courtyard residences) composed of three courtyards. Visitors can learn about the architectural style of Beijing's traditional, local residences, which are havens of tranquillity in the vibrant, modern city.
The museum features five sections: Dongsi Impression, Roof Tile Houses in Memory, Cultural Visits, Cultural Exchanges and Cultural Relics Display. The Dongsi Impression section contains photos that portray the history of hutong in the Dongsi area, including information about the origination of their names and their development during the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) dynasties, the Republic of China period (1911–1949) and the modern period after the founding of the People's Republic of China. The Roof Tile Houses in Memory section comes next. It features information about roof tiles, which are an essential element of siheyuan, and aims to arouse people's enthusiasm for protecting traditional culture by combining old roof tiles with modern artwork. After this, the Cultural Visits section can be found. Visitors can experience old Beijing by listening on headsets to peddlers hawking goods and viewing historical photos. The Cultural Relics Display is next. It features architectural components from Fu Kang'an mansion (1754–1796, a general from the Qing Dynasty) and old bricks from Beijing's city wall dating back to the 22nd year of the reign of Emperor Jiaqing (1795–1820). In the Cultural Exchanges section, LED displays show videos about the culture and history of hutong in the Dongsi area.
The museum offers visitors an opportunity to experience the olden days of Beijing. Elderly Beijingers helped with the creation of the museum. They have many valuable memories and artefacts, which have been useful. Seventy-three-year-old Yang Shiming lives in the area and helped with the project. He sent rice-related artefacts to the museum. They are about 100 years old and are from imperial granaries from the past, where Yang's ancestors worked during the Qing Dynasty.
The Dongsi Hutong Museum represents the living museum area from Santiao to Batiao streets in Dongsi. This area was included in the first national-level historical and cultural street selection in 2015 and
has witnessed Beijing's development and cultural evolution.
Over 13,000 visits to the museum have been made since it opened to the public in mid-november 2018. Volunteers at the museum help people learn more about Dongsi and old Beijing. Xu Shuhui is a 61-year-old volunteer who lives in Nanmencang Community, Dongsi SubDistrict. She grew up on a hutong in Dongsi and is familiar with stories and monuments in the area. She can explain information about traditional architectural components in the hutong and give detailed information about the history of the alleys.
Improving Facilities for Readers
In the past, 88 Jingtai Lu (Road) was filled with squatter settlements and illegal buildings and was considered a messy area. It has now become a cultural zone with salons, exhibition venues and studios after two months of renovation,. The over 70-sq.m site features smooth grey walls and French doors and windows. It was also given a new name— Gengdu Kongjian (“studying and reading space”). Residents in the area have described it as a haven of tranquillity for readers.
The municipal government issued a document on July 17, 2018 indicating that Yongdingmenwai Sub-district decided to create Gengdu Kongjian as a traditional culture bookshop with a special focus on elderly people and children. It was meant to become a public platform to help readers learn about Beijing's traditional culture and ancient Chinese architectural culture. It also features cultural and creative products.
The bookshop contains more than 3,000 books, including classics, illustrated books for children, poetry collections, novels and essays. There are mats on the first floor, which make it comfortable to sit down. Salons and various courses are available to people of various age groups as long as they register in advance and pay for materials. Children enjoy going to the facility on summer vacation. Wang Yuebo is a famous storytelling performer and was the first lecturer at the facility, leading a class for children about Beijing's folk customs and culture.
Passing on Intangible Cultural Heritage
People often consider underground spaces to be stifling, claustrophobic and even dangerous. If an underground space holds more than 100 residents, it is even more likely to be hazardous.
The Dushi Xinyuan Community in the Chongwenmenwai area used to include a site formerly used as a civil air defence facility that was divided into small, underground rooms that were available for rent. According to local residents, the 200 sq.m space once accommodated over 150 residents. In 2015, the Chongwenmenwai Sub-district Office vacated the space. It was renovated and overhauled. The 200-sq.m area became an intangible cultural heritage museum, and about 600 sq.m of additional space has been turned into a cultural and sports venue.
The cultural and sports venue features a table tennis room, a reading room, a billiard room and a music studio. Other rooms are under construction as well. The venue will ultimately be a centre for fitness, entertainment and leisure, serving local residents.
The intangible cultural heritage museum is currently open to the public. It features nine exhibition sections showcasing subjects like culture and history, kites, diabolos, Beijing- style embroidery and more. There is also an interactive area that focuses on introducing and promoting 14 heirs of intangible cultural heritage and their works. She Zengtai and Zhang Shide are district-level heirs of cooking halal food and making Beijing-style kites, respectively. They live in the Dushi Xinyuan Community. They currently offer courses and demonstrate their crafts at the museum. The sub-district office organises hands-on, intangible cultural heritage events occasionally as well. A lantern fair was held at the museum during the 2018 Lantern Festival (the fifteenth day of the first lunar month of the year). Over 180 lanterns shaped like watermelons, pumpkins, fishes, peacocks and so on lit up the site. The museum serves residents in the area with its folklore exhibitions, provides pleasant festivities and enhances people's expectations for having a good year.
According to Secretary of Dushi Xinyuan Community Committee of the Communist Party of China Liu Yan, who also serves as the community's director, local residents are looking forward to more vacated areas being used as public facilities such as greengroceries, facilities to care for the elderly and children's centres. The community office will report residents' suggestions to superior authorities. It is estimated that planning related to the vacated areas will be completed by 2020.
An exhibition space at the Dongsi Hutong Museum
Gengdukongjian (“studying and reading space”) in Yongdingmenwai Sub-district