The hutongs represent an important part of Beijing’s heritage. Thanks to Beijing’s long history and status as capital for six dynasties, almost every hutong has its anecdotes, many associated with historic events. In contrast to the court life and elite culture represented by the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven and Summer Palace, the hutongs reflect the history and culture of regular Beijingers. Residential neighborhoods which still form the heart of Old Beijing, these streets will always be more important as residences for living breathing Beijingers than as historical artifacts. A virtual tour of one hutong can be found here.
Nanluoguxiang is an old hutong, renowned for its history, culture, specialty stores and distinctive foods. It is 768 meters (2,519 feet) long and 8 meters (26 feet) wide. At its northern terminus it intersects Guluodongdajie, and in the south it intersects Dianmendongdajie. There are eight parallel hutongs intersecting the old lane, and in 1990 each of them plus Nanluoguxiang itself was added to the first list of 25 historic and culturally protected areas by the Municipal Government. Situated in the downtown area, it’s convenient to reach, and is now a well-known Beijing bar street.
The Skewed Tobacco Pouch Street is one of the most famous in this city. It measures 254 yards long connecting Di’anmen Street at the east end of the junction of Xiaoshibei and Ya’er Hutongs at the west end. Like a tobacco pouch, the street goes from northeast to southwest, which gives it its name: the Skewed Tobacco Pouch Street.
During the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911), this street was called the Skewed Drum Tower Street. At that time, many local residents were addicted to smoking opium. The increasing demand of pipes encouraged the opening of many pipe shops on the street, with the shops all displaying similar symbols: a wooden smoke pipe with a black pipe stem and a golden bowl was popular. Even today, customers are often impressed by the vivid symbols standing in front of these pipe shops. The street became famous for its economic niche, and people began to know it as the Skewed Tobacco Pouch Street, which has been passed down to it today.
Now many bars, teahouses and cafes and souvenir shops have moved onto the street. At night, the many illuminated shops and signs all contribute to the lovely atmosphere.
Located just outside the Heping Gate in Xicheng, Colored Glaze Factory Street has a long history. Early in the Liao Dynasty (916 – 1125), it was a village called “Haiwang.” At that time, the street’s name could be literally translated as “Beijing Colored Glaze Factory Street,” which is somewhat self explanatory. During the Yuan (1271 – 1368) and Ming Dynasties (1368 – 1644), a colored glaze factory existed here, and in the early Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911), antique dealers came from all over Beijing to do business here.
Since liberation, great changes have taken place on this old street. It was rebuilt in 1980 to house 54 of China’s time-honored retail brands, like Rongbao Zhau, a treasure house of precious calligraphy and paintings. The China Book Store, where visitors can buy copies of ancient Chinese texts. Bao Gu Zhai also attracts many visitors with its countless famous artists’ works and beautiful embroidery on display.
With so many cultural treasures, it’s no surprise Liulichang is on our must-visit list.
Formerly known as Chengxian Street, Guozijian is Beijing’s grandest hutong. Listed as an important historical site, it’s the location of the highest imperial academy (the crucial link between China’s emperor and ruling bureaucracy during ancient times), the Temple of Confucius, and four exemplary classical gateways. This is an ideal place for a leisurely stroll anytime of the year, your own layers and the weather permitting. Both sides of this particularly broad hutong are tree-lined.
A photography store near South Xisi Street is named after the Brick Tower here, built during the Jin Dynasty (1115 – 1234) to commemorate the great Buddhist luminary Wan Song. The tower has seven stories and is made from distinctive blue-gray bricks.
The name has been passed down over 700 years, all the way to present times. During the Yuan Dynasty (1271 – 1368), Ming (1368 – 1644) and Qing (1644 – 1911) Dynasties, it was the center for theatre in Beijing. By 1900, when the allied forces of eight powers invaded Beijing, the theatrical troupes were scattered far afield and broken up, and Brick Tower Hutong became a residential area. It has been home to two major figures in Chinese history: Lu Xun, a great writer, thinker and revolutionary, and Liu Shaoqi, a great proletarian revolutionary. Lu Xun is known for novels like The Blessing, Happy Family and The Soap.
Today this lane is protected as a piece of the city’s historical heritage.
South of Dengshikou Street, you can find this historic hutong: Jinyu. Jinyu Hutong runs east-west and measures 591 yards, housing the famous Jixiang Theatre (Auspice Theatre). Adjoining Wangfujing Street, the Jinyu Hutong is a prosperous and bustling one. It’s also the location of the most classically beautiful private garden in all of Beijing.
Home to the historic residence of Feng Guozhang (one of the most important leaders during the Beiyang Warlord Reign (1895 – 1928)) as well as that of Wan Rong (the last empress of the Qing Dynasty). But there are actually many well-preserved classical courtyard dwellings here. A casual walk down Mao’er can’t help but impress with its powerful aura of nobility and warmth.
Ba Da Hutong was once a red-light district in Old Beijing. The Ba Da Hutong is not a name of a hutong per se but the designation for several hutongs gathered in Dashilar. If you haunt the place long enough, you can find some historic brothels that have been preserved, such as Lin Chun Lou in Zhujia Hutong. The décor of this space is, in particular, stunning.
Wu Dao Ying Hutong runs east-west, and in recent years its suddenly emerged as a compelling and respected tourist site. Specialty restaurants and cafes are abruptly ubiquitous but don’t let that discourage you. This is also a good spot to browse for a romantic dinner locale.
Beijing’s Legation Quarter was where a number of foreign legations were located between 1861 and 1959. In Chinese, the area is known as Dong Jiao Min Xiang, which is the name of the hutong that passes through the area. It is located in Dongcheng, immediately east of Tiananmen Square.
During the Yuan Dynasty, Dong Jiang Min Xiang (literally East River Rice Lane) was the location of the tax office and the customs authorities. Because of its proximity to the river port by which rice and grains arrived in Beijing from the south, it was convenient for administration to be based nearby. During the Ming Dynasty, a number of ministries relocated into the area, including the Ministry of Rites, which was kept in charge of diplomatic matters. Hostels were also built for tribute missions and other diplomatic envoys passing through the area.
It was also a term of the Boxer Protocol that the street’s name should be changed to “Legation Street,” with the Chinese name changed to Dong Jiaomin Xiang, a name which sounds similar to the original- but can be interpreted as “Diplomatic Personnel Lane.” Most of the Chinese ministries, at this point, relocated their offices to the street.
Yichi Dajie is roughly 11 yards long, and sits southeast of the east end of Liulichang. It’s now combined with Yangmeizhu Skewed Street. As the name indicates, it’s the shortest hutong in Beijing, with only a few shops to its name. Even so, Yichi Dajie is a nice spot to check out if time permits. It’s possible that the limited length has kept things more authentic than would otherwise be possible. Nobody has contemplated putting a Starbucks in- we can put it that way. Yichi Dajie is in Xuanwu.
You can find Lingling Hutong tucked away deep in the center of Xicheng, where it sits between Fuyou Street in the east and Xidan North Street in the west. Lingling Hutong crosses the Zaolin Yard, South Street of West Huangchenggen, Dongxie Street, Xinjian and Beiyin Hutongs. It’s 664 meters long, and worth a stroll.
Qianshi Hutong, in Dashilar, also known as the money market hutong, sits near Qianmen in Dongcheng. It’s justifiably famous for being Beijing’s narrowest hutong. At its narrowest section, this one is only 40 centimeters wide. It’s approximately 55 meters long, but don’t forget your camera. There’s a lot of old-school Beijing flavor here, in everything from the intended decorative flourishes to the most basic stones, walls, steps. Put it on your list.
At this point we realize that your must-visit list is getting pretty long, but hey- Beijing is a big, beautiful, ancient city. What did you expect? Anyway, Jiuwan Hutong is in Xuanwu, and it has the most twists and turns of any hutong in Beijing. Though Jiuwan is really just a normal hutong, packed with ordinary and longterm residents, and without many renowned cultural relics, it’s worth your time for exactly that reason. For those looking for a glimpse of ordinary Beijing street life (or hutong life) as it has existed for years and years, look no further than Jiuwan.
Fangjia Hutong runs east from Andingmennei Dajie to Yonghegong Dajie, and it’s a significant Ji Chuang Hutong in the history of Beijing’s commercial life. Fangjia covers an area of 9,000 square meters, and because of the proximity to Guozijian, the Confucian Temple and Yonghegong Temple, the air of culture is palpable here. But beyond that, Fangjia has spent the last five years turning into its own scene, with waiguoren and local Chinese out drinking late into the night from about Thursday to Sunday. It’s as good a place as any in Beijing to hunt down craft beers, and the 46 Courtyard offers a unique combo of upscale dining, movie screenings and boutique shopping. It’s not as pretentious as it sounds, we promise.