Traveling to the Past in Beijing Hutongs

Hutong is an indispensable feature of the ancient Chinese cultural heritage. It is a manifestation of simplicity, ordinary life next to the grandeur of the Forbidden City.  Hutongs are known for their traditional houses  in the heart of Beijing.

About the Hutongs – The ancient streets of Beijing

Hutong, meaning “water well” in Mongolian, also referred to a labyrinth of alleys, lanes, 6-7m alleys formed by traditional houses of China (Siheyuan). At Beijing’s epicenter is the Forbidden City; Hutongs grow along the north, east, south and west sides of the palace.

The history of the hutongs follows the history of Beijing, dating from the Yuan dynasty (1271 – 1368). Walking in the heart of this area travelers are being back to the past, expressing the life of a typical Chinese family rarely beyond their home walls.

Due to the well-defined layout and structure of each individual house, the hutong has become a proud symbol, also an extremely popular Chinese attraction. In the mid-1950s, the number of hutongs peaked at 6,104. Today, the number has fallen to about 2,000, making way for urban planning projects and modern high-rise buildings.

A visit to the Forbidden City may not be complete without a hutong trip while traveling to Beijing, as this is a parallel perspective of life that took place just outside the Royal Palace  in its golden age.

In narrow lanes, children will find refuge to play hopscotch games, rugby play areas, or swing rope, while peddlers can go from this hutong to another, sell from fruits, vegetables and snacks to knives, utensils and even hair services. Each hutong tells the story of the location, origin, history, or occupation of the dwelling, as reflected in its own name.

Traveling to the Past in Beijing Hutongs
Traveling to the Past in Beijing Hutongs

Highlights and features of Hutong

Brick Tower: A recreation center in the Yuan and Ming dynasties, and a political center during the Qing Dynasty. Located near South Xisi Road (west of Hubei), Zhuanta Hutong has 10 opera houses, 20 theaters and houses of two famous writers Lu Xun and Zhang Henshui as well as the former president of the People’s Republic of China (1959-1968), Liu Xioqi. Zhuuta Hutong Center is a 10 meter high tower dedicated to Wan Song. After some reconstruction, the tower retains the style of the Yuan Dynasty.

Shichahai: located in the Northwest of the Forbidden City, east of Qinghai Lake, this area is the ideal place of nightlife with its chic restaurants and bars. From the Old Town, cross the Jing Ding Bridge on Houhai Lake to the west, visit one of Beijing’s luxurious residential areas.

Highlights include the Prince Palace and in the southwest, the magnificent preserved reserve of legendary opera star Mei Lanfang. To the south of the Jing Ding Bridge, Qianhai East is famous for Lotus Lane (Tien Ong Fang). Here you will find modern restaurants and bars, luxurious restaurants, old teahouses and lively and vibrant nightclubs.

Return to the Shichahai area, climb the Drum Tower for a panoramic view of the area.

Yandai Xiejie: In the south of the Drum Tower, between Qianhai and Houhai in the Shichahai area, Smoking Pipe Lane used to have a large number of smokers shop belonged to the Qing Dynasty. Today, this is an active shopping district with shops selling cultural items such as antiques, tribal costumes, local crafts and pottery.

In addition to the souvenir shops, a variety of traditional restaurants, including restaurants, bars, tea houses and cafes, have become Yandai Xiejie’s main attraction. At night, when the shops and streets are lit, the atmosphere is pleasant and welcoming. Facing the picturesque Lake Hou Hai in the west, this is the ideal place to stop for coffee and sightseeing.

Liulichang Culture Street: Artists’ streets located in the south of the Peace Gate (Heping) in Xuanwu District, Liulichang is the place for producing ceramic tiles for temples, palaces and houses of  State officials. Today, it is fascinating with the treasures of paintings, artwork, Mao jewelery, bizarre collectibles, old books and anything related to the calligraphy.

Coming to China, do not miss the chance to explore the treasures and take part in a trip to the past in Beijing hutongs.