Beijing hutongs: village life in the city

Beijing's hutong alleyways offer a glimpse at a communal way of life that is fading

Hutongs, Beijing

The changes have made residents optimistic about their neighbourhoods’ future: Many surviving hutong have recently been targeted for historic preservation work. (AFP)

Hutongs, Beijing

The people who live in each nook may not be kin, but they are very close.

The narrow streets come alive each morning with residents selling breakfast snacks from small stalls — crisp-fried egg crepes, steamed dumplings and warming bowls of millet porridge.

Fruit vendors, butchers and convenience shop owners start their days by setting stools out on the street so they can easily converse with passersby.
(AFP)

Hutongs, Beijing

The neighbourhood has not changed for centuries.

It is lined with courtyard homes - hundreds of which form networks of “hutong” alleyways in the heart of China’s capital city. (AFP)

Hutongs, Beijing

Nowadays, with space scarce in the city of 21.5 million, most hutong courtyards are filled with makeshift wood-panel shacks or higher-quality concrete rooms — allowing each courtyard to accommodate multiple households.

(In picture: The banner reads "The house belongs to government and the government forbids the people who live here to rent it to others") (AFP)

Hutongs, Beijing

Bicycles and motorbikes are the best ways to get around the disorienting alleyways, which can resemble mazes.

Although many of the refined old homes are now rundown, gentrification has begun to transform some of the neighbourhoods into havens for hipsters — with numerous craft breweries and art galleries cropping up. (AFP)

Hutongs, Beijing

“There is no privacy here, everyone sees your comings and goings and overhears your conversations,” said Luo Pu, a young man living in an alley near the Drum Tower, a historic landmark that was used to keep time during the Qing Dynasty.

(In picture: People playing Mahjong in their home) (AFP)

Hutongs, Beijing

The atmosphere of Beixinqiao is very communal.

People greet each other and gush over children as if they are all family members.
(AFP)

Hutongs, Beijing

Hundreds of years ago, stately red doors lining the alleys led to spacious courtyards decorated with carved roof beams and painted pillars. Even commoners’ homes featured open spaces in the middle.

But since the mid-twentieth century, especially during the tumultuous Cultural Revolution, many hutong homes were taken from their original owners and eventually bulldozed.

(AFP)

Beijing

The centre of Beijing is crossed with a grid of many hundreds of small lanes and alleyways. These are called hutongs and their layout dates originally from the Yuan dynasty in the 14th century. The number of hutongs in the city peaked in the 1950s at around 6000. (AFP)

Beijing

Gu Chen has slept and worked in the same one-room apartment in Beijing’s ancient “hutong” neighborhood of Beixinqiao all his life.

Rent has increased fivefold in the past decade, but Gu still charges customers as little as US$6 (S$8.40) for each repair.


The people who live in each nook may not be kin, but they are very close.

“China changes quickly, but it is often for the better,” Gu said.

(In picture: Gu Chen) (AFP)