- Location: Beijing, china
- Significance: Traditional Alleys and Housing
- Attraction Type: Traditional alleys, lifestyle, food, heritage
- How to Reach: The best way is to hire a rickshaw for a tour around the hutongs. The narrow alleys are difficult to access by other modes. Most Beijing tour agencies also include hutong tours in their itinerary.
- Nearest Airport: Beijing International Airport
If the Forbidden City was the place where the royalty stayed where the commoners were barred from entering, the hutongs are the places where the culture of the common man of Beijing were developed, housed and nourished. Hutongs are alleyways formed due to close establishments of traditional houses, and are an integral part of Beijing’s culture. The entire area is also called a ‘hutong’. Although many of the traditional hutongs are presently being brought down, reconstructed and restructured to make way for bigger shopping malls and other buildings of modern types, many of them continue to exist. The Hutongs are the best examples of Beijing’s co-existence of the traditional with the modern.
History of the Hutongs
The Hutongs were originally built around the main Palace complex. Beijing has been ruled by as many as six royal dynasties, and they built the hutongs according to their own principles of architecture and convenience. The hutongs belonging to the aristocracy and the nobility were located towards the east and the west of the palace and much closer to it. The buildings of these upscale hutongs, where the highest strata of the Chinese society lived, were beautifully constructed with shapely quadrangular houses that were colorfully decorated and made of wonderful metal inlays. These quadrangles were representative of the social position of the inhabitant. Placed side by side, they often formed intricate alleyways interconnecting them. These alleyways were the center of activities that gave rise to Beijing’s hutong culture.
The Hutongs belonging to the people of the lower orders of the feudal scale, like merchants and commoners were located north and south, and at a farther distance from the palace itself. The houses themselves were smaller and much less opulently decorated. However, these hutongs developed their own cultures as well.
With the breakdown of the Feudal system in the early part of the 20th century, anarchy reigned in Beijing, complicated by foreign attacks. It was a time of decline in the well organized community life of the old hutongs as well. Some of the later day hutongs, which somewhat consolidated itself after the Cultural Revolution, do not have the neat patterning of the earlier ones. The buildings are largely irregular but the traditional spirit of the hutongs is still maintained.
Hutong Tour Overview
Hutong tours are one of the most popular attractions in Beijing. Because of the old alleyways, a rickshaw ride is considered to be the best way to explore the hutongs. You can experience the traditional Chinese way of life first hand, something that has hardly changed over the last many centuries. Some of the hutongs also have great cafes and restaurants where you can enjoy sumptuous traditional meals. The hosts will be glad to guide you to a tour across the hutong and give you the necessary cultural and historical feedback on its many aspects. Most conducted tour agencies also have Hutong tours included within their itinerary.
Present Day Hutongs
Some of the hutongs that you can pay a visit to are the Inner Xizhimen Hutong, the Liushu Hutong, the Yizi Hutong, the Xiquing Hutong and the Yangshi Hutong. You can also visit the trendy Nanluoguxiang hutong, which has a number of cafes and restaurants, where you can have a lunch or stay back for dinner.
Beijing has a large number of hotels, and you can stay in any one of them. The hutongs can be approached from all of them with relative ease. Some of the top hotels in Beijing are Grand hotel, Capital Hotel, Sunworld hotel and the Grand Hyatt. There are a large number of budget and economy hotels as well.