A brief intro about the Hutongs of Beijing

There are not many better places to find the soul of the Beijing Chinese urban life than in the old Beijing Hutong area. Originally, thousands of hutongs were built around the Forbidden City, mainly during the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties that spanned the centuries between the years 1206 and 1908. In the prime of their power the Emperors arranged the hutongs in accordance with etiquette, so that the most important citizens lived closest to the Forbidden City. Most hutongs consisted of four houses arranged in a rectangular structure around a courtyard that provided both a measure of intimacy for family members and a degree of mutual privacy and protection. The houses and the courtyards varied in size according to wealth and status – the homes built for ordinary folk were simple with low ceilings, while the minor aristocracy and high ranking officials enjoyed large and ornately decorated living rooms. As China came under foreign influence following the collapse of the Qing dynasty, the formal regulation of the hutongs disappeared – many new ones showed little resemblance to traditional design and the social order of allocation began to break down too. Following the period of decay that lead to the formation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, many overpopulated hutongs were demolished, and, with them, a historic part of old Imperial China has vanished for ever.