Ex­plor­ing Baochao Hu­tong

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Wang Wei Edited by Mary Frances Cap­piello

Baochao Hu­tong in Dongcheng Dis­trict is the only place in the city that was ac­tu­ally named af­ter money. Baochao means “pre­cious ban­knotes.”

In Chi­nese, chao gen­er­ally means “ban­knote” (al­though it is also a very un­com­mon sur­name). As the city has served as China's po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and cul­tural cen­tre for hun­dreds of years, Bei­jing has al­ways been home to many agen­cies as­so­ci­ated with money, such as one print­ing ban­knotes at Baizhi­fang in Xicheng Dis­trict. How­ever, Baochao Hu­tong in Dongcheng Dis­trict is the only place in the city that was ac­tu­ally named af­ter money. Baochao means “pre­cious ban­knotes.”

Yuan Dy­nasty Agency for Man­ag­ing Ban­knotes

Baochao Hu­tong, a north-south lane, is bor­dered by Dongdi Hu­tong to the north and Gu­loudong Da­jie to the south. The neigh­bour­hood con­tains 13 hu­tong, the lay­out of which is like a fish­bone di­a­gram. No one knows when the hu­tong were first con­structed. They were prob­a­bly de­vel­oped as early as more than 700 years ago or dur­ing the Yuan Dy­nasty (1271–1368).

Af­ter the found­ing of the Yuan dy­nasty, the gov­ern­ment be­gan is­su­ing pa­per money. To en­sure the smooth cir­cu­la­tion of notes, the gov­ern­ment en­acted laws for man­ag­ing them and es­tab­lished an agency in Bei­jing that was re­spon­si­ble for print­ing, is­su­ing and al­lo­cat­ing ban­knotes, as well as for de­stroy­ing old cur­rency. Yuan dy­nasty pa­per money was made of a kind of mul­berry bark, the thin bark be­tween the tree's outer bark and its sap­wood. Af­ter soak­ing the bark, it would be mashed into pulp. Then the pulp would be pressed flat and dried af­ter it was spread out. This kind of pa­per fea­tured fine fi­bres, en­abling a good print­ing ef­fect. But due to tech­ni­cal con­di­tions, the pa­per money was eas­ily dam­aged dur­ing cir­cu­la­tion. There­fore, a large amount of dam­aged pa­per notes needed to be re­placed. The gov­ern­ment's of­fice for dis­pos­ing of and de­stroy­ing old notes across the coun­try and sup­ply­ing new notes was lo­cated near the south en­trance of Baochao Hu­tong. At that time, the hu­tong was called Daochao Hu­tong. Daochao means “re­plac­ing old notes.” Dur­ing the reign of Emperor Qian­long (1736–1795) of the Qing Dy­nasty (1644–1911), it was re­named Baochao Hu­tong.

Im­prov­ing the Hu­tong’s En­vi­ron­ment

Un­til re­cently, unau­tho­rised, sub­stan­dard struc­tures for busi­nesses were crowded along Baochao Hu­tong. The walls of many houses along the 824- me­tre hu­tong were opened up and busi­nesses op­er­ated out of them, for ex­am­ple sell­ing build­ing ma­te­ri­als, clothes, snacks and daily ne­ces­si­ties. This se­ri­ously af­fected this tra­di­tional Bei­jing al­ley­way's en­vi­ron­ment and lo­cal peo­ple's lives. In 2016, the open­ings along the walls

be­gan to be bricked up and those busi­nesses were re­lo­cated.

Be­cause of this, the en­vi­ron­ment in the hu­tong has greatly im­proved. Nowa­days, when walk­ing along the hu­tong, one can see a tran­quil tra­di­tional Bei­jing al­ley­way. Court­yards in the hu­tong have been re­stored or ren­o­vated. Win­dows, eaves and walls fea­ture tra­di­tional Chi­nese ar­chi­tec­tural style and even air con­di­tioner ex­ter­nal units have been dec­o­rated. Af­ter be­ing re­fur­bished, some busi­nesses, such as cof­fee shops and gro­ceries, have been al­lowed to op­er­ate. In ad­di­tion, flow­ers and other plants are be­ing in­creas­ingly grown along the street. Ex­ist­ing trees have been care­fully trimmed.

Prince Na’s Man­sion

Prince Na's Man­sion is a high­light of Baochao Hu­tong. This palace is lo­cated on the west side of the hu­tong and faces south. It bor­dered by Guox­i­ang Hu­tong to the north and Guox­ing Hu­tong to the south. It was only palace in Bei­jing that was owned by Mon­go­lian no­bles dur­ing the Qing Dy­nasty. Cel­ing (1672–1750), its first owner, was an 18th-gen­er­a­tion de­scen­dant of Genghis Khan (reign: 1206–1227). In 1715, he joined the army and was given the hon­orary ti­tle “chaoy­ong” (“ex­traor­di­nar­ily brave”) by the gov­ern­ment due to his bril­liant achieve­ments in war. Nayantu (1867–1938) was sev­en­th­gen­er­a­tion de­scen­dant of Cel­ing and one of a few Mon­go­lian no­bles who strongly sup­ported the Qing Dy­nasty. His whole fam­ily re­ceived ed­u­ca­tion from the Manchu no­bles. Dur­ing the Repub­lic of China pe­riod (1911–1949), pres­i­dents Yuan Shikai (1859–1916), Li Yuan­hong (1864–1928), Xu Shichang (1855–1939) and Cao Kun (1862–1938) had great re­spect for this Mon­go­lian prince be­cause of his spe­cial sta­tus and rep­u­ta­tion.

Qichengwu, the first son of Nayantu, once asked his ser­vant Cao Kuan to bor­row money from Xishiku Catholic Church by us­ing the palace's ti­tled deed as col­lat­eral. Qichengwu later bor­rowed money from the church again. In 1933, he had to use the palace to off­set the loan be­cause he was not able to pay his debts.

The palace has changed greatly af­ter 1933, but parts of it have sur­vived. The palace was orig­i­nally a group of mag­nif­i­cent tra­di­tional Chi­nese build­ings, cov­er­ing more than 25,000 square me­tres and con­tain­ing more than 320 rooms. In Nayantu's of­fice, there were many books, in­clud­ing over 1,000 vol­umes The Ad­min­is­tra­tive Code of the Great Qing ( Daqing huid­ian). The palace's main gate is now lo­cated in Jia No. 2 court­yard, Guox­i­ang Hu­tong. Ac­cord­ing to a his­tor­i­cal record doc­u­ment­ing the palace's orig­i­nal lay­out, at that time the court­yard, which was di­vided into two small court­yards, lay at north­ern end of the palace. The court­yard now con­tains a few an­cient build­ings and two large Taihu stones. A Taihu stone is a kind of lime­stone found at the foot of Dongt­ing Moun­tain near Lake Tai in Suzhou, Jiangsu Prov­ince. This kind of stone fea­tures pores and holes due to water ero­sion. Taihu stones are pop­u­larly used for dec­o­ra­tion in tra­di­tional Chi­nese gar­dens. Each of the two stones is about 1.85 me­tres high, in­clud­ing its base.

The Taihu stone from the west side of the palace is sup­ported by a hexag­o­nal base. From the front, it tends to nar­row from the lower to the up­per part and looks like a lion king with wide and an­gry eyes, turn­ing his face to look up at the sky and paw­ing at some­thing. The stone fea­tures many pores and grooves. One can look at it from many an­gles to en­joy the change of its hue or bright­ness. The Taihu stone at the east side of the palace that is sup­ported by a square base. From the front, it looks like the out­line of a hu­man be­ing's face as if the per­son were in med­i­ta­tion. It al­most looks like a mod­ern work of art. The stone tends to nar­row from the up­per to lower parts, which echoes the stone on the west side. There were many princes' palaces in Bei­jing in an­cient times, but few of them sur­vived. Be­cause of this, Prince Na's Man­sion is a ma­jor his­tor­i­cal and cul­tural site which is pro­tected at the mu­nic­i­pal level.

At­trac­tive Bars and Restau­rants

Dur­ing the ren­o­va­tion of Baochao Hu­tong, some busi­nesses have also been re­fur­bished. Al­though these busi­nesses may be un­no­tice­able from out­side, there may be an in­ter­est­ing world in­side. For ex­am­ple, the Modernista Bar is lo­cated in the depths of the hu­tong. When walk­ing near its door, passers-by can faintly hear mu­sic. As soon as they walk into the bar, they will be at­tracted by its in­te­rior de­sign fea­tur­ing Euro­pean style, such as blackand-white floor tiles, black wooden chairs, old movie posters and ab­stract paint­ings posted on white walls. Many vis­i­tors may try to swing dance on the black-and-white floor.

The Cangku Bar is lo­cated at court­yard 10. There are sim­ple dec­o­ra­tions in­side and out­side the bar and slightly warm light­ing. The in­te­rior fea­tures var­i­ous posters pic­tur­ing Chi­nese eth­nic mi­nor­ity groups' cul­tures, some of which show­case their ru­ral life­style. The bar's owner is a friend of the city's rock and roll singers. What the most at­trac­tive here is oc­ca­sional vis­its of the city's many mu­si­cians, who some­times jam at the bar.

The lo­ca­tion of the Toast at the Orchid is very easy to miss. On the first floor, the restau­rant has in­door and out­door ar­eas. The out­door area is sur­rounded by a va­ri­ety of plants. On the sec­ond floor is a ter­race. It is a van­tage point where peo­ple can en­joy de­li­cious foods while look­ing over nearby hu­tong. The restau­rant of­fers Mid­dle East­ern cui­sine. Its menu is one page, but it pro­vides cre­ative Chi­nese-english bilin­gual in­tro­duc­tions of its dishes. In ad­di­tion, the restau­rant's af­ter­noon tea is a good choice for so­cial gath­er­ings.

Af­ter ex­plor­ing Baochao Hu­tong, vis­i­tors feel sat­is­fied be­cause it is home to many vary­ing el­e­ments, from tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­ture to mod­ern Western cul­ture. The mix­ing of these el­e­ments may sur­prise vis­i­tors at first, but this may be truly what the city's hu­tong are like due to the coun­try's rapid so­cial and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.

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