Beijing is one of the oldest city in China, except the world heritage sights, the Hutong (胡同) is the best place to see the local life. With their unique spatial structure that bridges the past and present, hutongs underline the historical element for city development in China and become an important carrier of Chinese culture.
1. What does hutong mean?
2. How many hutongs exist in Beijing? Who lives here?
3. 2 Great Hutong museums in Beijing very interesting to visit
4. Special Hutong in Beijing
5. Recommend Hutong walking route
What does hutong mean?
There are several theories about the origin of the word “胡同”(hutong). The one I believe most is the transliteration of the word “well” in Mongolian. China used to be conquered by Kublai Khan who is the grandson of Genghis Khan. When they move to China, they choose Beijing as the capital. It may be because Beijing is near their hometown, if they didn’t rule this country well, they can run away from China. Anyway, a lot of Mongolians move to Beijing and stay here. Mongolians are Nomads who always move to look for food especially fresh grass for their sheep. So water became very important to them, where ever they move to, they need to find water and dig water well first. So after they move to Beijing, a lot of water wells dug outside their house which became landmarks for the city. So people name the street with hutong after that. But the traditional house which united with a hutong street people calls it “SIHEYUAN” which means Quadrangle dwellings.
How many hutongs exist in Beijing? Who own the hutongs?
In 1980, there were about 4000 Hutongs left in Beijing. More and more hutongs were destroyed during the last 40 years of Chinese economic reform. There are about half of them still exist and under the protection of the local government. The locals who lived here, they own the hutong, but they don’t have the rights to change it.
Actually, a lot of young people are willing to move out the hutong. Why?
The Quadrangle dwellings are designed well for a rich family to live, but as the improving of Beijing as the capital. More and more people moved to Beijing. Before the economic reform, everyone was asked to be equal, so the government shares the hutongs to all the citizens who live in the City. In 1950th, Beijing only had 2 million people, but it is over 22 million today. The hutong became very crowded and narrow for modern life.
2 Great Hutong museums in Beijing very interesting to visit
Special Hutong in Beijing
Hutong has been protected by our government, most of the hutong is clean and easy to visit. But the one you can find from the internet is always tourists. So I will give you some tips on visit the off-the-beaten Hutong, this will 100% unique and interesting.
The narrowest hutong: Xiaolaba hutong located near Zhushikou
This hutong was the place for poor people to live, so the house is very crowded. You can take a walk around there, this is a place only for locals, you will be the only tourists here.
The longest: Dongjiaominxiang Hutong 东郊民巷 (1552 meters)
There are a lot of historic sites and former embassies, as it is the government offices, it is not popular with tourists. If you would like to see the old embassies and the government buildings today, it is a great place to visit.
The shortest: Yichi Dajie 一尺大街（25 meters）
This hutong is between qianmen street and liulichang east street, it is only 25 meters. There are many nice hutong around here, such as the famous Bada hutong (八大胡同). The bada hutong is an area of 8 hutongs which was full of whore houses. But no whore house anymre. The buildings are very nice, a good place to walk.
The oldest: Zhuanta Hutong 砖塔胡同 800 years old
Near xisi subway station, it is the oldest hutong. There live the locals only, with a beautiful pagoda, inside the pagoda, there is a book store, you can have a drink inside, like the time go back to hundreds of years ago.
Recommend Hutong walking rote:
This is the most classic route to make the hutong walk. Start from Nanluoguxiang, turn to the left to avoid the crowded tourist, then you will walk into the Hutongs where the locals live and work. You can then walk to Drum and Belltower, Houhai, visit Prince Kung’s Mansion at the end. It is about 3 hours walking, you can stop at Shichahai eat and rest, then it will be a perfect half-day Hutong trip.
2. Qianmen Area
This Area is good to combine with Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.
You can start from Liiulichang street, you will find a lot of Chinese element with paintings and calligrapher. Then walk to Dashilan which is the business center for Beijing over the last 600 years, there are many traditional Chinese shops there. You can visit the Food street at the Xianyukou Hutong. Then about 10 minutes walk to Tiananmen Square.
Feel free to leave me a message with any of your questions or suggestion, I will help you make your trip better!