The Hutong Tour is also called
Rickshaw Tour. In Beijing, clusters of neighboring “Siheyuan”(Quadrangles),
low and gray, make into many small alleys, most of which orderly
laid out like a chessboard, running either from south to north or
east to west. This sort of alleys is called “Hutong” in Peking dialect.
Hutong is the old residential area in Beijing . The word “hutong”
was originated from the Mongolian language, pronounced “hottog”,
means “well”. The Mongolians tended to live around the “well”. So
the original meaning of “hutong” should be "a place where people
lived together”. Hutong has a long history it can date back to the
13 th century AD during the Yuan Dynasty. It is the epitome of Beijing
's old history. For Hutong Tour you can take the rickshaw to drive
through the old walking alleys to see the old living residence.
You can also visit the local family to talk with them. This is a
very good opportunity for you to have a real understanding of the
local people's life. When climb the old Drum Tower you can have
a very good eye view of the old part of Beijing .
More Stories about the Hutongs in Beijing:
Rickshaw to visit the Hutongs in Beijing
In Beijing, clusters of neighboring “Siheyuan”(Quadrangles), low
and gray, make into many small alleys, most of which orderly laid
out like a chessboard, running either from south to north or east
to west. This sort of alleys is called “Hutong” in Peking dialect.
Hutong, first appeared in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368AD), has a
history more than 800 years. According to experts, the word “hutong”
was originated from the Mongolian language, pronounced “hottog”,
meaning “well”. In ancient times, people tended to gather and live
around wells. So the original meaning of “hutong” should be ”a place
where people live together”. In the 13th Century, Genghis Khan,
came to Beijing and made Beijing the capital. He gave the city new
name “Dadu”, which meant Grand Capital. He had his palace built
and built fifty residential areas around his palace. Between these
residential areas, there were passageways for people to go though
as well as to make into isolated belts against fire risks, In Mongolian
language this kind of passageways was called Hutong. In the Ming
and Qing Dynasties, with the population increased, Hutongs were
further developed. During the Cultural Revolution, some architecture
was destroyed and in the recent years some of them have been renovated.
According to the old etiquette of plan of the capital, the palace
of the monarchs should be in the center facing south and the main
streets should be arranged surrounding it. The hutongs centered
closely to the east and west of the palace were regular hutongs,
lived by the imperial kinsfolk and aristocrats. The hutongs far
from the palace were simple and crude, lived by merchants and common
people. In the late of the Qing Dynasty, there were 2,500 different
hutongs in Beijing. Now there are 6,000 hutongs but some of them
are not neat and well arranged as before.
The hutongs have experienced the changes of the history. They are
the badge, the symbol and the epitome of Beijing. Inhabited by ordinary
people, hutongs are secular and embrace everything, thus symbolizing
a larger, broader and more profound existence.
The hutongs in Beijing are unique in the world. They are the carrier
of history in that almost every part of them involves some stories,
implications and humanistic contents, so they are the cradle and
the treasure house of historical materials, folk customs and folktales.
In the process of urban modernization, the fate of hutongs has faced
threats. So it is in urgent need of protecting them.
There are some special hutongs, such as Yichi Dajie, one-foot Street,
which is the shortest hutong with a total length of merely more
meters; the narrowest hutong, Gaoxiao hutong, which is around 60
centimeters wide; the most zigzag hutong, Jiudaowan hutong, which
has more than twenty turns.
When we mention the hutongs, it is necessary to talk about the most
representative buildings, which are called Siheyuan or quadrangles
in the hutongs. In Chinese, siheyan means quadrangle compound with
rooms on its four sides. Standard quadrangles are built facing the
south and the rooms are connected with walls to form an enclosed
compound. Generally speaking, the gate of a quadrangle is opened
at the southeastern corner of the courtyard.
The quadrangles are traditional Chinese buildings and they are built
in the inner-courtyard-style. Quadrangles of Beijing have spacious
courtyards, corridors linking rooms standing on independent four
sides up, and the construction is convenient for daily life. Such
a close quadrangle residence provides dwellers with high privacy
when the only facing the street is shut and it is suitable for a
single family to live in. Rooms on four sides all have doors open
facing the courtyard, so that all members of the family can live
harmoniously together. In the courtyard, trees and flowers can be
planted, birds and fish bred, rockeries and screens made, and in
addition to comfortable lodgings, dwellers can share the beautiful
field granted by Nature.
The quadrangles imply profound cultural connotations and are the
carrier of traditional Chinese culture. In the past, residence owners
were utterly particular about geomancy. When choosing the sites
and deciding the specific scales of each building, they all acted
according to the theory of geomancy, which was actually the theory
of architectural environments in ancient societies of China and
an important part of traditional architectural theories. It guided
the constructional activities for thousands of years in China. Besides
the theory of geomancy, they were built in according to the requirements
of the feudal ethics. There were several generations as well as
men and women, masters and servants living together. Resulting in
the differences between seniors and juniors, men and women, master
and servants, it was impossible for all the people to live in the
rooms with the same standard. So the enclosed quadrangles were the
good choice and they can show the clear distinctive positions of
the people. The carved decorations and colored paintings in quadrangles
all embodied folk customs and social practices and traditional culture
and expressed the people’s pursuance for happiness, fineness, prosperity
and auspiciousness under certain historical conditions. For examples,
the pattern composed of bats and the character “shou (longevity)”
expressed the wish of attaining both happiness and a long life;
a pattern with Chinese roses in vase meant “Safe in All Seasons”.
The auspicious words and phase on lintels, couplets on columns and
masterpieces of paintings and calligraphies on walls in rooms were
to eulogize the beautiful landscapes, or bare the ways of acting
in society, praise high aspirations. They were all in an elegant
way and presenting a heavy cultural flavor. To stay in a thus decorated
courtyard is really like lingering in a hall of traditional Chinese
In the old times, the feudal hierarchies were very strict. So the
social class of the quadrangle owners, including the royal family
members, strictly confined the architectural styles, scales and
even the decorations. Those who exceeded the according standards
would be published or even executed.
As the scales of the quadrangles, they could be divided into large,
medium and small ones.
Small-scale quadrangles have only one courtyard, with rooms built
on their three or four sides. They are small but exquisite. For
medium-scale quadrangles, there is the second gate between the principal
room and daozuo room, (the rooms opposite the principal rooms).
And there are posterior shielding rooms behind the principal room.
The large-scale quadrangles are those developed in depth with a
few courtyards as well as gardens. Generally speaking, in front
of the main gate of quadrangles, stand the locust trees, while in
the courtyard trees are like pomegranates, cassia, Chinese flowering
crabapples, walnuts and jujube trees, which can offer fragrant flowers
and a cool pleasant shade in summer and rich fruits in autumn. The
plantation of these trees reflects people’s hope at that time to
have greater numbers of offspring and an ever-thriving family. Whatever
the scale of a quadrangle is, it is enclosed with rooms and low
walls; the rooms are both linked and separated. The construction
can prevent wind and blown sand and resist noises as well. The rooms
are usually hard gabled, with combined tiles placed on the ridges
of the roofs. Rooms with such thick and solid walls and roofs can
either insulate against or preserve heat, thus giving warmness in
winter and coolness in summer.
The main gate
In the feudal society, a strict hierarchy was formed, thus residences
and their gates were the direct representatives of
the owners’ ranks and social statuses. Hence the saying ” the same
family status was well matched in social and economic status”. For
this reason, people paid much attention to the types and grades
of the gates.
Classified by their forms, gates of quadrangle residences in Beijing
fall into two categories: The house-typed gates (composed by one
or more rooms) and the wall-typed gates (open on the spot where
two sections of walls met). Those with official status or solid
economic base, i.e. the middle and upper classes of the society,
generally adopted the former; the latter were mostly the entrances
of the residences of the common people.
House-typed gates can be classified as follows:
The gates of residences of the princes, which are 5-bayed with 3
pairs of doors or 3-bayed with one pair of doors. Guangliang Gates,
which are one-bayed gate and the panels of such gate, are set between
the central columns and the outside area is spacious. Jin Zhu Gate
and Man Zi Gate are similar with Guang Liang Gate. Ru Yi
Gates, which was comparatively narrow ones between outer
columns, with brick walls linking the gables on both sides and they
were decorated by meticulously carved bricks above the lintels.
This kind of gates was very popular among those who were quite well
off but lack in high political status. The wall-typed gates were
popular among the common people of lower class. They were very simple.
The decorations of the main gate
They were necessary for the gates. There were door studs on the
panels of the gates of residences of the princes. There was a pair
of cymbal-shaped decorations, made of bronze called doorknockers.
There were columns on the lintel called clasps. The auspicious phrase
such as “Auspicious”, “Fortune” and “Longevity” were carved on them.
The couplets were carved on the door-panels to express the ideas,
pursuance, and wishes or believe of the owners. On both sides of
the thresholds of the gates there were gate piers, called gate pillows
in architecture, which served to reinforce gate frames as well as
being decorations for gates. Ancient ones shaped like drums are
vividly called drum stones. On top of the age-old drum stones were
mostly carved dragons’ heads or reclining lions while on front,
right and left sides were carved a great variety of patterns. For
instance, the pattern of bat holding an ancient coin in its mouth
implies that good fortune is right before you for in Chinese language
the two expressions are homonymous; that of a lion playing with
a ball indicates the status of the house owner as a military official.
In the recent one-handed years, the rectangular gate pillows appeared.
They were carved with lions, flowers and even immortal figurines.
Screen walls Screen walls are called “Zhaobi” or
“Yingbi’ in Chinese, which are built facing the gates of quadrangles.
Most of them are shaped like the Chinese character “一”, thus called
Yizi screen walls. The upper part of them is covered with semi-circle
tiles, the middle part is built with bricks and the lower part is
the base. Meticulously constructed with finely joined polished bricks,
some of the large-sized screen walls are carved with floral patterns
and matched with a base built of bluestones, looking impressive
and tasteful. There are other types of screen walls with different
shapes, including Bazi screen wall, so named because they are shaped
like the Chinese character “八”, and Yanchi or wild-goose-wing-shaped
screen walls. The screen walls make the people outside not see what
is happing in the quadrangles. Screen walls set off each other with
the gate, so they are inseparable. Though being only a section of
wall, the screen wall at the entrance-exit point of the quadrangle
can function as the “finishing touch” because they are cleverly
designed and meticulously worked out.
Other facilities In front of the main gate of medium
or scale quadrangles, there are mounting or dismounting horse stones.
And on the southern wall facing the street, there are installed
3 or 4 big iron hoops, which are used to tether horses.
Carvings on the gate lintels.
The lintels are well decorated with a complete carved brick-pattern.
The eves on both sides of the lintels are also constructed with
brick carvings. The folk artisans had the whole pattern in mind,
such as flowers, ancient relics, legendary figures, etc. They would
carve on single bricks and finally they put all carved bricks together
to form the whole vivid and lively pattern.
The inner quarter The inner quarter refers to the
arena inside the inner gate. It is the courtyard surrounded by rooms
on three sides and inner gate on south. Principal rooms are those
on the north side facing the south. Being generally 3-bay or 5-bay
across and with high base and steps, as well as large-sized rooms,
they are the predominating ones in a quadrangle.
lower rooms may be attached to either side of the principal rooms,
looking just like ears on either sides of a face, thus they are
called Er Fang (Ear rooms, literally side rooms). On the east and
west sides of the inner courtyard, there are three rooms respectively
with doors facing the courtyard. These are called Xiangfang, wing
rooms. If the space of the courtyard allows, Erfang may be attached
to the southern ends of Xiangfang on both sides. Generally, short-cut
corridors are built linking the principal rooms, wing rooms. All
such rooms possess front corridors under the eaves. Openings are
cut on the gables at both ends of the corridors, which lead to the
corridors. The short-cut corridors link all the rooms and provide
passages and enrich the layers and spaces of the constructions of
the inner quarter.
In the feudal society, the distributions of the rooms in the inner
quarter were subjected to the regulations about the order between
the elders and the youngsters, as well as that between the seniors
and the inferiors. The principal rooms, possessing the predominating
position, were decidedly for the grandfathers and grandmothers of
the older generation. Only the central one of the 3 principal rooms
has a door leading outside, while the other two on either side are
linked to the central one. The set-up is central room matched by
two inner rooms, or one opening matched by two secluded ones. The
central room is something like a living room, or the place where
relatives were received, or the place where sacrificial ceremonies
were held in festival days. The two inner rooms were mostly bedrooms.
These were also distributed according to the order of seniority.
Under the system of polygamy, the eastern one was the bedroom for
the wife and the western one for the concubine because the East
was taken as the upper. The ear rooms can be used as bedrooms or
studies. Wing rooms were for the younger generations. They are also
“ one opening matched by two secluded ones”. The central one is
waiting room and the two side ones can be used as bedroom or kitchen.
Zhao Fang, the shielding rooms were built behind the principal rooms.
They were mainly for unmarried maidens or maidservants.
Different rows or lines of rooms are linked by walls to form a secluded
courtyard. Rooms facing the street are not given rear windows or
only small windows are open on the upper part of the rear wall.
On the space of the courtyard, various trees and flowers can be
planted; fish tanks or potted landscapes can be placed, according
to the owner’s will. For a happy and pleasant life, the quadrangle
is an ideal living quarter for a family.
The fittings of the quadrangles can be divided into two kinds. First
kind is called external fittings, which include brick carvings,
door decorations, screen wall decorations and colored paintings
on the columns, etc. The internal fittings include the bed-like
compartment covered with gauze, flowery shielding, shelves with
classified holding space and wallboard, etc. The internal fittings
are undertaken to separate the space of the rooms
When the functions of the rooms change, the partitions are to be
fit on or taken down; thus wooden partitions, rather than brick
partitions, are necessary. The partitions are painted with beautiful
pictures or carved with auspicious patterns, such as Three Mates
in bitterly Cold Days and Endless Coming Generations, and so on.
Life in quadrangles
In the old times, just one household lived in one quadrangle. The
old and the young could enjoy a peaceful orderly life. But today
grate changes have taken place in the quadrangles. Several different
families are living in one quadrangle. Chinese have a long good
tradition of respecting the old and taking care of the young. The
people living in the same quadrangle can get along well with each
other and they always help each other. For examples, there is something
wrong with the TV set of some family, someone else who knows about
TV set will help to fix it voluntarily. Whoever has cooked any special
dishes or got any rare food will give some to the neighbors for
a taste. The neighboring people always chat or play mahjong, cards
together. There inevitably exist some minor squabbles among the
people at times, but the principal aspects are associated with unity
and harmony. So most people old prefer living in the quadrangles.
With the development of modern urban construction, quadrangles in
Beijing have been on the decrease. In recent years, the state has
made great efforts to preserve hutongs and quadrangles as an ancient
culture heritage; some hutongs and architectures with distinctive
features have been retained and renovated so that this ancient culture
heritage can be inherited and carried forward.