In many people's minds, Beijing is associated with hutongs. These are small alleyways where people live together in communities of homes packed into a small area. The architecture is intriguing, but it is more than just the architecture that draws visitors. The hutongs represent the people who live there and are a museum of Beijing's folk customs and a witness to the city's history. Beijing is the only city in China that has them.
Since the Ming Dynasty, hutongs and siheyuan (courtyard homes) have been the signature features of Beijing 's urban landscape. These homes traditionally are comprised of buildings built around an enclosed courtyard. In modern times many of these areas have now been developed and as a result these distinctive symbols of Beijing are disappearing.
|The beautiful snowscape of Beijing hutong alleyway.
||Beijing Siheyuan represents the capital's architectural style.
The narrowness of the alleyways and of many courtyard homes discourages heavy traffic and encourages residents to live their lives on the street, fostering a strong sense of community. The pace of life in these neighborhoods is less hurried than on Beijing 's broad modern avenues and the noise is less grating. It is common to see the residents playing cards, Chinese chess, Mahjong, or simply chatting with each other. The hutongs are like village within the megalopolis. As you wander through them, you may feel as though you have stepped back in time.
Many hutongs have disappeared in the past decade to make way for modern apartment buildings and wider roads. Fortunately, some historic neighborhoods are being preserved. In this respect, visitors can see Beijing as an ancient yet modern city. We suggest going on foot since this will allow you to soak in the atmosphere, move at your own pace, and observe the small details that make hutongs unique. Renting a bicycle is also a good option, this way you can cover more ground and rest your feet. Hiring a rickshaw is also a fun way to go.