is a unique form of community that exists only in China.
If you are fed up with high buildings and wide streets,
enter Beijing's hutongs then. Here, you will find "Hutong
Culture" and "Courtyard Culture". "Hutong"
literally means a small street or a lane between two courtyards.
There are thousands of hutongs in Beijing City. Most of
them were built in the Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties (1271-1911).
1. Hutong's Origin:
The word "hutong" is Mongolian in origin, meaning
a "water well". In the old time with the digging
of new wells, came the new communities. Later it was referred
to as narrow streets or lanes formed by quadrangles. The
word " hutong" with the meaning of narrow lanes
was formed during the Yuan Dynasty in the 13th century when
the Mongols, led by Genghis Khan, occupied Beijing, then
the capital of the Jin Dynasty. In 1260 Kubla Khan, grandson
of Genghis Khan, established the Yuan Dynasty. Kubla Khan
chosed Beijing as his capital. During the takeover by the
Mongols, the old city had been largely demolished, and so
he decided to rebuild the city. When the new city was finished,
there were clear definitions of streets, lanes and hutongs.
A 36 metre wide road was called a "big street".
An 18 metre wide one a "small street” and a 9
metre wide lane was called a "hutong". Surrounding
the Imperial Palace, hutongs were established throughout
the Yuan (1206-1341), Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911)
Dynasties. Most of the hutongs we see today were built during
the Ming and Qinq. You only still find a very few hutongs
preserved from the Yuan Dynasty.
2. Hutong's names:
Like streets, hutongs have their names. Some have had only
one name since their establishment and others have had a
few names throughout their history. Beijing was once a consumer
city. A lot of hutong names are linked to the names of food.
Some are connected to the names of the places, the temples,
daily necessities, trades, light industry, plants, people's
names and even government's organs.
Food names, such as Miancha Hutong (noodle and tea)
Temples, Baoguosi Hutong ( Baoguo Temple )
Daily necessities, Caomao Hutong ( straw hat )
Place names, as Inner Xizhimen Hutong
Plants, such as Liushu Hutong (Liushu means willow)
Light industry, as Damuchang Hutong ( big wood factory )
People's names, as Songguniang Hutong (Ms Liu )
Government organs, as Jingcha Hutong (Police Bureau)
3. Hutong Development:
When the new city of Yuan Dynasty was established, it is
recorded that there were about 390 roads formed by the rows
of quadrangles. Some of were called streets and lanes, and
some "hutongs". There were over 900 hutongs were
listed in Qing Dynasty. The records increased to 1,330 by
1949. Now many of the old hutongs have been turned down
and replaced by the high buildings and wide roads of today’s
Beijing. Many citizens have to leave the narrow lanes where
their families have lived there for generations, and residing
in apartment buildings with modern facilities. However,some
of Beijing’s ancient hutongs still survive, due to
the local government's protection policy and people's request.
Many have been listed as protected areas. So these ancient
neighborhoods today provide a glimpse of the real life in
the capital city as it has been for generations. Many hutongs
are being restored and renovated.In Beijing, there are mainly
two hutong areas well preserved - Shichahai area in Dongcheng
District and Qianmen area in Xuanwu District. The hutongs
in the area of the Bell Tower and Shichahai Lake are especially
well preserved whch attract lots of tourists who travel
the hutongs by pedicabs.
1. Siheyuan and its layout:
It is a residence very popular in China, but most common
in Beijing. The name literally means a courtyard house,
a house enclosed by four walls, called a quadrangle. In
Chinese history, the Siheyuan building was the basic system
of the building for housing, palaces, temples, and government
offices. There are three kinds of Siheyuan - small, medium
and big courtyard houses. For small and simple Siheyuan,
the main gate is open to the south; the main rooms in the
north for grandparents are facing south; the corner rooms
for grandchildren; the west rooms and east rooms are for
sons or daughters; the rooms by the main gate facing north
are used as the living room or studio. For medium and big
courtyard houses, there is more than one yard, two, three
or even more yards with lots of rooms for some high ranking
officials or rich merchants. The layout of a typical courtyard
is actually a vivid showcase of traditional Chinese morality.
Why such a layout? Well, the four buildings in a single
courtyard get different amount of sunlight. The northern
rooms receive the most, thus using as the living room and
bedroom for the eldest, usually the Siheyuan owner. The
eastern and western rooms get less, and used as the rooms
for the young or the guests. The southern rooms, just opposite
the owner's rooms, get the least sunlight, and usually served
as the rooms for service staff or studios. The northern,
eastern and western rooms are linked by pretty decorated
passages. These passages are used as shelters from the sunshine
during the day, and offer a cool shade and have a good view
of the courtyard at night. Behind the northern rooms, there
would often be an independent building for unmarried daughters.
In the old China, unmarried girls were not allowed directly
to seen in the public, hence living in the most secret building
in the courtyard house. What's more, a Sheyuan has a scientific,
human-oriented feature. The wall in the north-western building
is normally higher than the other walls to stop the inner
building from the cold winds, blowing from the north-west
side in the winter. The curved eaves helps the accumulated
rainwater flow along the curved rather than dropping directly
down. The ridge-type rooftop gives much shade to have the
rooms escape from the heat in the summer.
2. Siheyuan's present and future:
Many of the city's residents in still live in the traditional
courtyards within the second ring road, which featuring
the limits of old Beijing. Part of the central part of Beijing
is composed of hutongs or narrow lanes caused by the courtyards.
The well preserved residential quadrangles are mainly scattered
over the East District, West District, Xuanwu and Chongwen
districts of the city. Those in the East and West districts
are in the best condition. A number of good-shape courtyards
are listed as the special protection Siheyuan areas by the
local government. Furthermore, the building of highrises
in the city proper is under the strict control. However,
Beijing faces much problem of housing shortage. Beijing
is a city that is growing both spatially with its population
growing at a fast rate. Many old courtyards are being torn
down to address problems of overcrowding, replaced by modern
apartment blocks. So quite a few of those who have lived
in the courtyards for generations have now moved to high-rise
apartments of blocks in new residential areas.