The real culture of Beijing is " hutong" and " courtyard". How true that is! Often, it is Beijing's winding hutongs that attract tourists from all over the world rather than the modern buildings.
Hutong is one of the unique special features in Beijing; in a degree, it could be simply defined as the old city alley that tend towards from east to west. There are thousands of Hutong here surrounded the Forbidden City, most of which were came into being in the dynasties Yuan, Ming, Qing. Old local residents have a saying: "There are 360 large hutongs and as many small hutongs as there are hairs on an ox." And with the development of the economy and city constructions, there are mainly 4000 Hutongs in Beijing at present.
Beijing Hutong has various kinds of names and even each of them may possess its own features. Most of them are named according to the feudal institution, bridges, rivers, trade market, merchandise and people’s names etc. Still we could find another features that all the hutong together with buildings inside were arranged by the past dynasty emperors in accordance to the formality manners of Zhou Dynasty to consolidate their supremepower.
Hutong is a typical lane or small street in Beijing that originated during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). "Hutong" is a Mongolian word, meaning "water well". During that time, water well is the settlement around which people lived. There are tens of thousands of hutongs surrounding the Forbidden City. In the past, Beijing was composed of countless courtyards. Hutongs were formed when people left a passageway between two courtyards to make entering them more convenient.
As the symbol of Beijing City, a hutong has its own layout and structure, which makes it a wonder in the world. When taking a bird's eye view of Beijing, you will find the combination of hutongs and courtyards just like an orderly chessboard with delicate gardens, fine rockeries, and ancient ruins. Hutongs have witnessed the development of Beijing. Where there is a hutong, there is a story.
Among the numerous hutongs in Beijing, Beixinqiao Hutong has the most turns. There are more than 20 in which you can easily get lost. The narrowest is Qian Shi Hutong (Money Market Hutong), measuring about 30 to 40 meters (32 to 44 yards), located in Zhubao Shi Street outside the FrontGate. The narrowest part is merely 40 centimeters (16 inches) wide, so when two people meet, they must turn sideways to pass each other. The longest one is Dong Jiaomin Hutong, with a total length of 6.5 kilometers (4 miles), lying between Chang'an Avenue and East Street and West Street of the Front Gate. The shortest one is Guantong Hutong measuring about 30 meters (33 yards).
THE HISTORY OF HUTONG
The word "hutong" came from the Mongolian language about 700 years ago. It originates from the word "hottog" in Mongolian meaning "water well." Where there was a spring or well, there were residents. The word "hottog" became "hutong" after it was introduced into Beijing.
Hutong means street, lane and alley, and is in fact the passage formed by lines of siheyuan (quadrangle) where most Beijing residents live. One hutong connects with another, and siheyuan connects with siheyuan, to form a block, and blocks join with blocks to form the whole city.
In old China, there was a clear definition for a street or a lane. A 36-meter-wide road was called a big street. An 18-meter-wide one was called a small street. A 9-meter-wide lane was called a hutong. The shortest one is just 10 meters long, and the narrowest hutong is only about 40 centimeters wide. Some hutong have more than 20 turns. Most of the hutongs in Beijing are in east-west or south-north directions. That has resulted from the need for houses to face south so as to take in more sunshine.
Hutong is a narrow lane among courtyards. The history of hutongs can be traced back to Yuan Dynasty (1271 - 1368) when Beijing was the capital. After the establishment of Yuan authority, the nobles and heroes were pleased to be awarded with certain pieces of land as feudal estates. They actively built houses and courtyards which were arranged in order around water wells. The passages between houses were left in consideration of light and ventilation and convenient right-of way. Though these countless passages crisscrossed the old capital like a chessboard, there were only 29 of them called hutong. Because city planning was very strict at that time, the roads which measured 36 meters (39.4 yards) wide were called main streets. The 18-meter (19.7-yard)-wide roads were named side streets and those nine meters (9.8 yards) wide or less were designated as hutongs.
Hutongs were also places where grain was stored to satisfy the needs of the royal court and armies and to feed the starving people in lean years. For example, Lumicang Hutong became famous because it was the location of Lumi Grain Depot. Lumi Grain Depot was built in the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644) and measured over 200 meters (218.7 yards) long, covering half length of the Lumicang Hutong. In the Ming (1368 - 1644) and Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911), city planning was less strict. Stallholders squeezed in the residential districts, which made the hutongs differ in width from over six meters (6.6 yards) to less than one meter (1.1 yards). What's more, hutongs at this time presented various appearances. Some hutongs, such as Koudai Hutong (Pocket Hutong) only had one entrance. Some hutongs, such as Jiudaowan Hutong (Nine TurningHutong) had many twists and turns. Some hutongs even wound around a somewhat squared off circle like the Four Rings Hutong. Small retailers peddled their wares among the hutongs to satisfy people's daily needs. The basic appearance of hutongs was generally formed during these periods.
THE CULTURE OF HUTONG
Beijing’s hutong culture is a unique Gem of the Chinese culture. About the Beijing hutong culture, there are a lot to say, either from the historical side or the personal experiences. Chinese history, right in the world-famous also seldom-noticed hutong, has gone through its three-time ethnical fusion with the same progress of the assimilation of the Western Culture and architectual styles. Each of which are small alley civilians Paradise, you will see the elderly and laverock dialogue, the innocent playing children. Beijingers rush busy all the timeto present great and extraordinary means of living style. Time and again, some calls from the lanes still permeated a kind of long and silvery flavors. To say something in details, there you can enjoy a lot of the ordinary human life and also some special way of talking, eating are appealing. People, especially the old generations, like to sitting together around hutong talking, or playing chess. In the early morning and evenings, it is easily to see that the Chinese traditional way of exercise Taijiquan as well as folkway dancing and songs or Peking Opera arias. All of which, in a sense, are kinds of Chinese culture soul. Beijing civilian foods could also be found here.
Not only as a kind of folk culture, but also connected a lot to the formal literature
As time goes by, we could see many operas, plays and films about hutong. They are deeply enrooted in literature history. The most famous playwright associated to hutong is Laoshe, who is one of Chinese greatest novelists in 20th century. As he himself was born in such environment in a small lane. He had gone through what the real life in hutong personally. Though later he had left there for several years, still he remained his originally emotion closely on it. Reflected to his writings, the most famous is “ the Four Generations Under One Roof”, he set the background of the novel in a hutong named “Small Sheep Pen Hutong”. Another perfect representation of his based Hutong Culture is the dream “Teahouse”, it is just a description on the small ordinaries’ life in hutong, which both implies the real life aspect in hutong and reveals the problems of society at that time.
In the same way that the Forbidden City is the symbol of China's royal family, the winding Hutongs in Beijing represent the way of life of the common people. Hutongs are at the root of the Beijing people's way of life. Beijing City is like a boxy bean curd or a chess board with each hutong lying due north to due south or due east to due west. This square layout not only influences Beijinger's way of living, but also influences their thoughts and actions.
The names of these Hutongs are all-embracing and various and relate to their location, origin or history, such as Lumicang Hutong, Fuxue Hutong, and Gongyuan Hutong, which were named by official organizations. Examples of Hutongs named by craftsmen and ordinary people include: ‘earthenware pot Liu Hutong' (now Dashaguo Hutong, maybe there once lived a Mr. Liu who sold earthenware pots) Wangzhima Hutong, and Mengduan Hutong. Hutongs named by their market trade include Xianyu Kou Hutong (Fish street), for it once was the place where fish was sold. There are also Hutongs which bear the names of horses and mules because these animals were once traded there. Some Hutongs take their name from special landmarks, such as Stone Tiger Hutong, Iron Lion Hutong and Cypress Hutong. Hutongs' names are regarded as important materials when researching Beijing culture.
People are pleased with their easy life in Siheyuan (the courtyard distributed orderly in Hutongs). They live a peaceful and harmonious life in these small "boxes", away from the hustle and bustle of the streets outside. Their daily needs could be fully satisfied by hawkers who sold vegetables, eggs, fruits, and snacks. In the past, they could even get their hair cut by the itinerant barbers without walking out of their neighbourhood to find a barber shop. The winding and narrow Hutongs were heaven for children playing games. They would have played rubber-band skipping, kicking shuttlecocks, and hide-and-seek. Even in modern times, young boys get together and hold football matches in these narrow lanes. Those who live in the Hutongs love their way of life so much that it is often described by the Chinese as a culture of happiness and harmony.
However, the love of this way of life can become a burden for some Hutong-dwellers. Because many people have never known anything outside of Hutong living, they can be reluctant to move house. People have been known to live in the same Hutong for decades, until the foundations are too weak to hold the weight of the house and until the roof allows rain in. But for these people, their house still had value because they loved the wayof life that had lived there. In this insular environment, people live simply and happily but are unwilling to change.