BEIJING’S HUTONGS ARE A PART OF CHINA’S CULTURAL HERITAGE:
Modern Beijing impresses with its high rise apartment blocks, huge shopping malls, commercial towers and wide boulevards. But to experience the charm of old Beijing and the real soul of the city, we pay a visit to one of the Beijing hutong neighbourhoods.
Our Beijing Hutong Experience includes a rickshaw ride through some of the old Beijing streets and alleyways, a walk through a more affluent hutong, as well as lunch at the courtyard residence of Mr. Liu, a hutong dweller.
Hutongs are the narrow streets or alleyways that link the old traditional courtyard residences (siheyuan) together. As more of these courtyard residences link up, a whole hutong neighbourhood is created.
The term “hutong” is of Mongolian origin and is believed to have originated during the Yuan dynasty started by Kublai Khan.
In the Ming Dynasty when the Forbidden City was the centre, the city planning and where people lived depended on their social status. The aristocrats lived to the east and west of the Forbidden City. The commoners lived further from the palace to the north and south.
Beijing Courtyard Residences
As we are visiting the hutongs in the vicinity of the Forbidden City I presume we are in a relatively well-off hutong district. The high-ranking officials and wealthy merchants lived in large courtyard residences with landscaped gardens. You can spot their residences by the beautifully carved and painted roof beams and pillars and elaborate entrance doors. An example of this is in the picture below.
Also of interest is the number of hexagonal shaped beams sticking out from above the siheyuan gate. The higher the number, the more well-off the resident. I’m not sure who determines these ratings (whether a wealth register exists?) but this two-beam door says that the people here are relatively well off, whereas the wealthier people in the above residence have a door with four beams.
Hutong Rickshaw Ride
Before going on our rickshaw ride around the Beijing Hutongs, we firstly we pay a visit to the courtyard residence of Mr. Liu to have lunch there. Mr. Liu is a champion cricket trainer and we learn about the world of cricket fighting in China from him. Read more about Mr. Liu here …
The number of rickshaws in the hutong area is surprising and it appears that rickshaw rides around the hutongs is a very popular thing to do in Beijing.
I wonder if the locals find the rickshaw invasion annoying? At one point we experience a bit of local drama when a Mercedes Benz driver refuses to let our convoy of rickshaws through, complaining that a rickshaw has made a small scratch on his car. After much shouting and gesticulating he settles for a “small sum of money” and lets us through. Not a bad way of extorting some quick bucks!
As our convoy of rickshaws zigzag the hutongs, we pass by street vendors selling local desserts, local restaurants and shops.
Some of the hutong streets have been made trendy and after our rickshaw ride we walk through these more affluent hutongs, packed with people.
There are trendy cafes and pubs, fashion shops, Western food outlets, etc. The trendier hutongs are popular with the younger crowd who, having developed a taste for all things Western, like hanging out in these areas.
With the passage of time, hutong numbers have dwindled, making way for development. Fortunately, the hutong’s place in China’s cultural heritage is being acknowledged. Some have become protected areas, for the time-being at least, .
A tour of old Beijing hutongs is definitely worth doing if you get a chance.