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Hutong (alleyways)

Dr. David Silber 19.08.2010 rerelease 23.05.13

One of the best advises I got from my chinese colleagues was to visit the hutongs of Beijing. Indeed, in the hutongs you can find the heart of the capital. Here, you can see the life of ordinary people driving trishaws, practicing caligraphie, playing badminton or cards.

    Some of the hutongs:
  • are 900 years old,
  • became nightlife hotspots,
  • or became shopping streets.

One of the hutong I visited was one of the oldest and best preserved hutongs in China. It was build in the 13th century and was home to merchants. In most courtyard houses there still live families and they are not open to the public. However, other courtyard houses have become stores, restaurants or coffee shops. What is nice about these coffee shops is that they blend traditional china with the modern china.

The traditional architecture of the houses in the hutongs was strongly influenced by the climate. While sloping roofs are very common in the south of china (because these houses have to withstand much rain), the houses in Beijing have steep roofs. In contrast to the houses in the south the houses of Beijing are constructed to maximize sunlight exposure. Therefore, the biggest and most important window looks always to the south, so that in the long cold winter month the house do not get to cold. Furthermore, the houses were often arranged as courtyard houses, so that the thick outer walls could keep out the cold wind, which blows in from the north and brings much dust.

Remark: Beijing houses do not look like westeners expect them to look. That is because our image of china comes mostly from the southern parts of china. If you want to see architecture which resembles the whole traditional china, you should go to "beihai" imperial garden near the forbidden city. It was build in the 10th century and reflects scenic spots from all over china. You will find there pavillions, water ways and the nine dragon wall.