REPORTAGE: hutong - the remains of ancient beijing
The Remains of Ancient Beijing
The hutong, ancient alleys of grey walls created by intersections of "siheyuang", the one-storey house with a courtyard, is not only a peculiar chinese architectural form, but above all an open air expression of the historical and cultural traditions of Beijing. All that doesn't need the majesic open spaces of the imperial or maoist period finds its natural habitat in the alleys of the hutong. Every hutong lives its own life and all kinds of merchandise is sold or swapped, food is being cooked on every corner and people are eating seated or while walking. The charcoal-seller, the shoemaker and even the cricket-seller crowd the narrow streets where people are playing domino in the open or relaxing in one of the many armchairs put outside the houses. It's not unusual to meet someone in pyjamas walking around in his hutong, demonstrating that the consept of "home" here means the whole neighbourhood.
Estimated to more than 7000 in the 1950s, the number of hutongs in Beijing today is reduced to a few hundreds because of the need for wider avenues and new shiny buildings. It's hard to guess an exact number of persons who have been forced to move somewhere else. Some speek of promised compensations from the government, others tell about neighbours obligated to emigrate to the countryside. Yet one thing is for sure, with the disappearance of the hutong not only a magnificent architectural style will disappear, but also a large number of crafts that was the source of subsistence for the hutongs inhabitants.