Exploring Baochao Hutong
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.