At first glance, Beijing appears to be a thoroughly modern city, but a stroll or rickshaw ride through the city’s alleyways (hutongs) reveals the charm of old Beijing. Hutongs are a special feature of central Beijing and weave across much of an area between Wangfujing and the east wall of the Forbidden City and also between Wangfujing and Dongdan. Typically running east to west, hutongs were created by the walls of courtyard houses (siheyuan).
During China’s dynastic period emperors arranged the residential areas of Beijing according to the etiquette systems of the Zhou Dynasty (1027-256BC). The Forbidden City was at the centre and surrounded in concentric circles by the Inner and Outer City. The more status a citizen had, the closer they lived to the centre of the city with aristocrats residing to the east and west of the imperial palace. High-ranking officials and wealthy merchants would live in large siheyuan often featuring beautifully carved and painted roof beams and pillars with carefully planned gardens. Farther from the palace, and to its north and south, were the residences of commoners, merchants, artisans and labourers.
In the Qianmen area south of Tiananmen Square, as well as hutongs and siheyuan, you’ll find many shops with original facades selling Mongolian hot pots, silks and other items. The number of hutongs in Beijing has dropped dramatically since the mid-20th century as areas of the city have been demolished to make way for new roads, buildings and the Olympic village. In an attempt to preserve this aspect of Chinese cultural history, some hutongs have been designated as protected areas.
To get you started with planning your holiday to Beijing Hutongs, we have showcased below some popular itineraries requested by our clients which we hope will inspire your visit to China
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