Beijing Hutong & Siheyuan

Beijing Hutong Origin

Beijing hutongThe word "hutong" is Mongolian in origin, meaning a "water well". In the old time with the digging of new wells, came the new communities. Later it was referred to as narrow streets or lanes formed by quadrangles. The word " hutong" with the meaning of narrow lanes was formed during the Yuan Dynasty in the 13th century when the Mongols, led by Genghis Khan, occupied Beijing, then the capital of the Jin Dynasty. In 1260 Kubla Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, established the Yuan Dynasty. Kubla Khan chosed Beijing as his capital. During the takeover by the Mongols, the old city had been largely demolished, and so he decided to rebuild the city. When the new city was finished, there were clear definitions of streets, lanes and hutongs. A 36 metre wide road was called a "big street". An 18 metre wide one a "small street", and a 9 metre wide lane was called a "hutong". Surrounding the Imperial Palace, hutongs were established throughout the Yuan (1206-1341), Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties. Most of the hutongs we see today were built during the Ming and Qinq. You only still find a very few hutongs preserved from the Yuan Dynasty.Hutong's names:

Hutong's names:

Beijing hutong Like streets, hutongs have their names. Some have had only one name since their establishment and others have had a few names throughout their history. Beijing was once a consumer city. A lot of hutong names are linked to the names of food. Some are connected to the names of the places, the temples, daily necessities, trades, light industry, plants, people's names and even government's organs.
Food names, such as Miancha Hutong ( noodle and tea )
Temples, Baoguosi Hutong ( Baoguo Temple )
Daily necessities, Caomao Hutong ( straw hat )
Place names, as Inner Xizhimen Hutong
Plants, such as Liushu Hutong (Liushu means willow)
Light industry, as Damuchang Hutong ( big wood factory )
People's names, as Songguniang Hutong ( Ms Liu )
Government organs, as Jingcha Hutong ( Police Bureau )

Beijing Hutong Development

Beijing hutongWhen the new city of Yuan Dynasty was established, it is recorded that there were about 390 roads formed by the rows of quadrangles. Some of were called streets and lanes, and some "hutongs". There wre over 900 hutongs were listed in Qing Dynasty. The records increased to 1,330 by 1949. Now many of the old hutongs have been turned down and replaced by the high buildings and wide roads of today’s Beijing. Many citizens have to leave the narrow lanes where their families have lived there for generations, and residing in apartment buildings with modern facilities. However,some of Beijing’s ancient hutongs still survive, due to the local government's protection policy and people's request. Many have been listed as protected areas. So these ancient neighborhoods today provide a glimpse of the real life in the capital city as it has been for generations. Many hutongs are being restored and renovated.In Beijing, there are mainly two hutong areas well preserved - Shichahai area in Dongcheng District and Qianmen area in Xuanwu District. The hutongs in the area of the Bell Tower and Shichahai Lake are especially well preserved whch attract lots of tourists who travel the hutongs by pedicabs.

Beijing Siheyuan ( Courtyard houses )

1. Siheyuan and its layout:
It is a residence very popular in China, but most common in Beijing. The name literally means a courtyard house, a house enclosed by four walls, called a quadrangle. In Chinese history, the Siheyuan building was the basic system of the building for housing, palaces, temples, and government offices. There are three kinds of Siheyuan - small, medium and big courtyard houses. For small and simple Siheyuan, the main gate is open to the south; the main rooms in the north for grandparents are facing south; the corner rooms for grandchildren; the west rooms and east rooms are for sons or daughters; the rooms by the main gate facing north are used as the living room or studio. For medium and big courtyard houses, there are more than one yard, two, three or even more yards with lots of rooms for some high ranking officials or rich merchants. The layout of a typical courtyard is actually a vivid showcase of traditional Chinese morality. Why such a layout? Well, the four buildings in a single courtyard get different amount of sunlight. beijing siheyuanThe northern rooms receives the most, thus using as the living room and bedroom for the eldest, usually the Siheyuan owner. The eastern and western rooms get less, and used as the rooms for the young or the guests. The southern rooms, just opposite the owner's rooms, get the least sunlight, and usually served as the rooms for service staff or studios. The northern, eastern and western rooms are linked by pretty decorated passages. These passages are used as shelters from the sunshine during the day, and offer a cool shade and have a good view of the courtyard at night. Behind the northern rooms, there would often be an independent building for unmarried daughters. In the old China, unmarried girls were not allowed directly to seen in the public, hence living in the most secret building in the courtyanrd house. What's more, a Sheyuan has a scientific, human-oriented feature. The wall in the north-western building are normally higher than the other walls to stop the inner building from the cold winds, blowing from the north-west side in the winter. The curved eaves helps the the accumulated rainwater flow along the curved rather than dropping direcctly down. The ridge-type rooftop gives much shade to have the rooms escape from the heat in the summer.

2. Siheyuan's present and future:
Beijing siheyuanMany of the city's residents in still live in the traditional courtyards within the second ring road, which featuring the limits of old Beijing. Part of the central part of Beijing is composed of hutongs or narrow lanes caused by the courtyards. The well preserved residential quadrangles are mainly scattered over the East District, West District, Xuanwu and Chongwen districts of the city. Those in the East and West districts are in the best condition. A number of good-shape courtyards are listed as the special protection Siheyuan areas by the local government. Furthermore, the building of highrises in the city proper are under the strict control. However, Beijing faces much problem of housing shortage. Beijing is a city that is growing both spatially with its population growing at a fast rate. Many old courtyards are being torn down to address problems of overcrowding, replaced by modern apartment blocks. So quite a few of those who have lived in the courtyards for generations have now moved to high-rise apartments of blocks in new residential areas