Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Beijing Hutong Part Two

胡同

Hutongs are the winding narrow streets that traverse the traditional neighborhoods of Beijing. They are however dwindling fast as the wrecking ball smashes its way through the capital.

Beijing HutongThese alleys surround traditional courtyard residences, and the term “hutong” has come to refer to a neighborhood.

In the past, and to a certain degree still true today, the closer you lived to the Forbidden City, the higher your status was. The elite lived to the east and west of the imperial palace in high-end hutong with gardens and ornamental houses. In other areas, however, the hutong were smaller, less decorative, and much poorer.

With the end of the imperial system, Chinese society underwent many changes. The hutong were not immune to them. Many deteriorated or were built with little or no planning.

This was accelerated following 1949, when the People’s Republic was born. Streets were widened, and hutong were leveled in favor of modern buildings.

In recent years, as China’s economy has boomed, a similar pattern has emerged. Perceived of as “poor”—or, worse still, of little value in the commercial real estate market—the hutong are once again at the mercy of the government and builders, which are in a race to knock them down and replace the courtyards and alleys with glass towers.

However, they do remain and some now are protected. Close to Chairman Mao’s Mausoleum is the Dazhalan Xi Jie shopping street that wends its way through a neighborhood full of hutong (pictured above).

Wander down any of the smaller streets off of Dazhalan Xi Jie to get an idea of what a traditional hutong is like. You will get lost, but you will get out eventually. (A map is very helpful, especially one with Chinese characters.)

For a better-preserved hutong, try the area east of Qian Hai, the middle of the three lakes in the Back Lakes area (pictured below right).

Beijing HutongAccess
Dazhalan Xi Jie is five minutes south of Chairman Mao’s Mausoleum and Tiananmen Square. Walk south from the Mausoleum on Qianmen Daijie. Turn right after three or four blocks onto a shopping street. This is Dazhalan Xi Jie.

For the Back Lakes area, take the subway to Gulou Daijie, walk south to the Drum & Bell Towers, which is interesting in its own right. From there it is several blocks east. Cross the short bridge over the lake and walk into the hutong.

Details

Buy a map with English and Chinese. It will be very useful in cabs and when you are lost.

© Beijing-visitor.com

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