HUTONGS AREAS AND SIGHTS

POPULAR HUTONGS

In central Beijing, there are two main hutong areas: 1) Shichahai and Bell- Drum Towers Area not far from the north of the Forbidden City: 2) the Qianmen and Dashilar Area to the south of the Tiananmen Square. Fangjia hutong is famous for its bars and vintage stores. The best-preserved hutongs are those around the Mansion of Prince Yixin. Some hutongs have been turned into art spaces with names: Arrow Space, Za Jia Lab, HomeShop. The Hippo Bar one casualty of Beijing's efforts to renovate the hutongs.

Xijiaominxiang (next to Tian'anmen and Qianmen) is located in the southern part of Xicheng District. Winding about 1,000 meters long and 10 meters wide, Xijiaominxiang is larger than the average hutong and has a unique history. Xijiaominxiang was first built in the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), but became prominent about 100 years ago when several domestic and overseas banks chose to open in that location, making it the city’s original financial street. Visitors can still see the architecture of old banks there, including the former sites of the Central Bank, China Agriculture and Industry Bank and Mainland Bank Surrounding attractions: Tian'anmen Square, Qianmen Street, China Numismatic Museum Getting There: Bus 9, 44, 67, 301, 608, 673, 901 to Qianmenxi; Subway Line 2 to Hepingmen, Exit B1. [Source: Lin Liyao, China.org, March 1, 2011]

Dongjiaominxiang (extending from East Tian'anmen Square Road in the west to Chongwenmennei Avenue in the east) is the longest hutong in Beijing. Over 3,000 meters long, it was called Beijing's "Embassy Row" in the early 20th century. After the Opium Wars in the 1840s, Britain, Russia, Germany and France established embassies along this road. Its unique history has left the area with unique buildings exhibiting diverse architectural styles. Dongjiaominxiang was Beijing's diplomatic center for over 170 years. Surrounding attractions: Tian'anmen Square, Dongjiaominxiang Church, Laoshe Tea House Getting There: Bus 9, 673, 692, 723, 729 to Chongwenmenxi; Subway Line 2 to Qianmen, Exit A.

Bada Hutong (Xicheng District), literally means the 'eight great' hutongs. It consists of Baishun, Yanzhi, Hanjia, Shaaxixiang, Shitou, Wangguangfuxiejie, Zhujia, Lishamao and several other hutongs. They are situated closely around the bustling Dashila area of Xicheng District. During the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911), Bada Hutong was notorious as the city's biggest "red light district", housing more than 2,000 brothels. The structure of each brothel varied, and all were different from ordinary houses. After 1949, many brothels were turned into hotels and/or residences Surrounding attractions: Dashila, Qianmen Street, Liulichang Getting There: Bus 5, 23, 34, 48, 57, 715 to Hufangqiaolukoudong.

Yandaixie Street (north of Xicheng District, s from Di'anmen Avenue in the east to Shichahai Lake in the west) literally meaning "Skewed Tobacco Pouch Street". It is 232 meters (761 feet) long and runs from Di'anmen Outer Street to Xiaoshibei and Ya'er Hutongs. In late Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911) a number of pipe shops were located here and people called the street Skewed Tobacco Pouch. Today, it is home tea houses, bar, cafes and souvenir shops. The street originally got its name due to its shape, which resembles a huge tobacco pouch. During the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911), many tobacco stores opened there. Today, visitors wandering along the street still can find many stores selling tobacco pouches, antiques and all kinds of souvenirs Surrounding attractions: Drum Tower, former residence of Guo Moruo Getting There: Bus 5, 60, 82, 107, 124 to Gulou.

Liulichang (south of Xicheng District.) is a famous cultural relics street. It has one of the largest antique markets in China and is a great place to go for the traditional "four treasures of the study": calligraphy brushes, ink, paper and ink stones. In the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911), many businessmen and vendors began to sell curios and old books there. Over the years, it was gradually replaced by a bazaar of calligraphy, painting, artifacts and so on. The China Bookstore, Rongbaozhai, Laixunge, and Yidege are the most famous antique stores in Liulichang Surrounding attractions: Changdian, old house of Ji Xiaolan. Getting There: Bus 6, 102, 106, 109, 603 to Liulichang; Subway Line 2 to Hepingmen, Exit D1 or Chinese.

Jinyu Hutong (connecting Dongdanbei Avenue in the east with Wangfujing Avenue in the west) is located in Dongcheng District. Lying next to the commercial area of Wangfujing, the hutong lies next to big brand hotels and large shopping centers. The Jixiang Theater is one of the most famous scenic spots in Jinyu Hutong. It was built as a tea house at the north gate of the old Dong'an market in 1906 and is considered a symbol of the Beijing Opera Surrounding attractions: Wangfujing Avenue, St. Joseph's Wangfujing Church. Getting There: Bus 103, 104, 108, 111, 420, 614 to Dengshixikou; Subway Line 5 to Dengshikou, Exit C.

Ju'er Hutong (northwest of Dongcheng District) is bordered by Jiaodaokou South Road to the east and Nanluoguxiang to the west. It was first built in the Yuan Dynasty (1279–1368) and is more than 400 meters long. During the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911), Ju'er Hutong was a gathering place for people of the Xiang Huang Division (an upper class group of the eight divisions commanded by the emperor). And No. 3, 5 and 7 houses are the former residence of Rong Lu, a provincial governor and right-hand man of Empress Dowager Cixi Surrounding attractions: Nanluoguxiang, Yonghegong Lama Temple Getting There: Bus 104, 108, 113, 612, 758 to Jiaodaokounan.

Guozijian Street (from Yonghegong Avenue in the east to Andingmennei Avenue in the west) is located in the northwest of Dongcheng District. It is the only hutong in Beijing to feature ancient archways. The street gets its name from the Guozijian House, which is the home of the Imperial College during the Yuan (1206–1368), Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. Now, visitors still can find many interesting antique stores, tea houses and traditional shops on the street. And because the street lies next to the Lama Temple, the perfumed scent of burning incense fills the air, making the street seem both classical and mysterious Surrounding attractions: Yonghegong Lama Temple, Guozijian House Getting There: Bus 13, 684 to Guozijian, or bus 116, 117 to Yonghegong; Subway Line 2 to Yonghegong, Exit C.

Repaired and Modernized Qing Dynasty-Era Teahouse by ARCHSTUDIO is a good example cutting edge Chinese architecture. It was named by Dwell as one of 12 incredible projects by Chinese firms that are raising the bar for adaptive reuse and new builds alike. Michele Koh Morollo wrote: “The architecture firm ARCHSTUDIO was charged with renovating an 100+ year-old structure within one Beijing hutong neighborhood. The building, previously a site for business meetings, had fallen into disuse. The architects had to affect repairs while revamping the space into a modern tea house. [Source: Michele Koh Morollo, Dwell, February 5, 2019]

Baitasi House of the Future by Dot Architects was also selected. “Located in Beijing’s Baitasi hutong—a historic neighborhood known for its narrow alleys and traditional courtyard houses—this house designed by Beijing–based Dot Architects has movable furniture and storage modules at almost every turn, enabling four different layouts.”

Mao'er Hutong

Mao'er Hutong (from Di'anmenwai Avenue in the west to Nanluoguxiang in the east, Dongcheng District) was first built in the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) and contains many traditional private gardens and famous former residences. Mao'er Hutong Nos. 7, 9 and 11 are the former house of Wen Yu, a civilian officer of the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911); the No. 13 courtyard house is the former residence of Feng Guozhang, one of the major Chinese warlords in the early 20th century, and No. 35 and 37 are the former residence of Wan Rong, the empress of the last Qing Emperor, Pu Yi Surrounding attractions: Nanluoguxiang, former residence of Mao Dun Getting There: Bus 13, 42, 118, 612, 623, 701 to Di’anmendong.

Mao'er Hutong is 585 meters (1,919 feet) long are runs from South Gong and Drum Lane in Dongcheng District to Di'anmen Outer Street. Among the famous Chinese that have lived here are Feng Guozhang, a leader of the Northern Warlords (1912-1926); Wan Rong, the last empress; and Hong Chengchou, a Ming Dynasty (1368 –1644) general. Many of their former residences remain there and some can be visited.

Wan Rong’s Former Mansion (No. 35 and No. 37) is where she was raised here until her marriage into the royal family. Wan Rong lived at No. 37 in Mao'er Hutong. The courtyard has four yards. There are seven rooms in the first yard along with a corridor. Courtyard No. 35 is also known as Wan Rong Garden. There are three yards in this courtyard. Once you enter the gate, you will see a moon gate, with a bamboo forest behind it. Going through the forest, there is a backyard with the elegant rockeries and pools. Walking in the garden is like walking in a traditional Suzhou garden. The exquisite layout and beautiful scenery will give you a very comfortable feeling. [Source: Travel China Guide travelchinaguide.com

Nanluoguxiang

Nanluoguxiang (between Di'anmendong Avenue and Gulou Avenue, Dongcheng District) is the most famous, touristy and popular hutong in Beijing. Next to the Forbidden City and Houhai, it was first built in the Yuan Dynasty (1279–1368) has a history of more than 700 years. It boasts different kinds of courtyard houses (Si he yuan) and shops, selling unique and elaborate knickknacks. There are also many restaurants, cafes and bars around the hutong, attracting thousands of visitors and locals everyday The old gate of Nan Luoguxiang is designed in the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) style. Surrounding attractions: Houhai Lake, Shichahai Lake, Gongwangfu Garden. Getting There: Bus 5, 60, 82, 107, 124 to Gulou, or bus 13, 118, 612, 823 to Luoguxiang.

Nanluoguxiang is over 787 meters (2,582 feet) long and eight meters (26 feet) wide, it runs from East Drum Tower Street in the north to East Di'anmen Street in the south. Often.called Centipede Street because of way its eight alleys branch of symmetrically in its two sides, it is famous for its history, culture, specialty stores and unique food. Chaney Kwak wrote in the Washington Post: “An opaque dusk settles over the street as I make my way down Nanluoguxiang... Jampacked with teenagers walking arm in arm and tourists toting cameras, the thoroughfare has a strange feel of both a mall and an open-air museum, with tacky galleries, souvenir shops, fast-food joints and crowded cafes occupying impeccably refurbished traditional buildings. Completely absent is the cozy, rundown feeling of residential hutongs. [Source: Chaney Kwak, Washington Post, April 4, 2013]

One traveler wrote for CRI: “There are many bars in Nanluoguxiang. It's said that this area is the third most popular bar street in Beijing behind Sanlitun and Houhai. Some of the bars were not open when we visited since we came in the morning, but it's easy to imagine the scenes of singing, drinking and talking that must happen here every night. The smallest bar in Beijing is located here, covering an area of 12 square meters. Its name is "12 Square Meters". [Source: CRI, July 8, 2009]

“Several shops in the area caught my attention with many selling unique gifts such as plates and coasters featuring artistic designs. There were also many other ornaments for sale including bottles, enamel cups and a selection of ornaments displaying Chairman Mao's image. All this contributed to the nostalgic atmosphere of the alley. There are also many shops selling creatively designed T-shirts, displaying humorous designs. Many of these are designed by foreigners and wearing one makes you feel like a special person.

”Nanluoguxiang is also an ideal place to eat with plenty of different establishments offering western food such as pizza and coffee. Chinese meals are also available. I had spicy grilled fish and chicken wings for lunch. Delicious! If you visit Nanluoguxiang, make sure you don't miss the Wenyu Cheese Shop. Many people come here just for this reason. At 11:30 I saw about 10 people queuing up outside the door, thirty minutes before opening time. When I returned at 12:30, the line had increased to about 50 people. Red bean double-cream milk, cheese plain, and milk steamed roll are among their specialties--and they are really tasty!”

Houhai and Houhai Lake

Houhai Lake (northwest of the Forbidden City, opposite the north gate of Beihai Park) is one of the best places to see old Beijing. Along a maze of narrow streets and alleys in the hutongs here you can find old men fishing with incredibly long fish poles, traditional courtyard houses with intricate stone and wood work, trinket sellers, and vendors that sell meat-filled crackers, persimmons and potatoes. In the old days the waterways were used for transporting grain into the Forbidden City.

Houhai (pronounced HO-hi) is a scenic area encompasses a lake and its surrounding area in central Beijing. Due to its proximity to the Forbidden City, this area was historically home to court officials and the city's elite. In recent years it has become famous for nightlife because it is home to many popular restaurants, bars, and cafes. Historic sites include the Drum and Bell Towers, and former residences of literati and court officials, including revolutionary author Guo Morou, Song Qingling, Sun Yat-sen's widow, and Chinese author, Mao Dun. Prince Gong's Mansion, a courtyard home that housed He Shen, a corrupt member of Emperor Qianlong's imperial guard, can also be found in the area.

Make sure to walk across the Silver Ignot Bridge, which separates Houhai Lake and smaller Qianghai Lake, the Drum Tower and Old Pipe Lane, an old shopping area, where old people play may-jongg on the streets, live crabs are sold from pot and small shops sell pipes, kites and cricket cages. Prince Gong's Palace on Liuyin Jie is regarded as one of the nicest courtyard houses in Beijing. It has a nice garden used by an uncle of the Last Emperor Pu Yi. Song Qingling's residence also has a nice garden,

In recent years it the Houhai Lake area has become a bit gentrified and yuppiefied and been transformed into a nightlife area. Qian Hai (front lake) now boast some of Beijing's hippest bars. Bars and restaurant her are tightly packed along a boardwalk that overlooks the lake. Many of the two-story structures have traditionally sweeping eaves, open air upper floors and roof decks. Paddleboats cruise by on the water. In the winter people swim in holes cut in the ice. The most pleasant hutongs are a little ways off the main drags.

Houhai Lake Bar and Restaurant Scene

Aside from the alleyways and historic sites, what attracts most people is the variety of bars and restaurants. Lotus Lane and Yandai Xiejie are two popular strips along Qianhai Lake. The strip along the western bank of Qianhai and Houhai lakes is also popular, as well as the renovated Nanluoguxiang Hutong, east of the lake.

Nancy Trejos wrote in the Washington Post: “Perhaps nowhere was that more apparent than in the capital’s Houhai lake district, where many traditional hutongs still remain. Lots of Chinese complain that too many foreigners have opened up restaurants, bars and shops in the hutongs. But Houhai’s residents have managed to embrace modernity while holding on to parts of their past. As fascinating as I found the new, sleek Sanlitun area, I was happy to explore a part of Beijing that still retained elements of the old China. [Source: Nancy Trejos, Washington Post, October 7, 2011]

“One night, a group of us, expats and tourists, strolled through the district’s narrow cobblestone passageways, some lined with small restaurants with Chinese-only menus, where locals dined on food I didn’t recognize. Just a few blocks away, we walked past restaurants advertising American and other non-Chinese fare. Shops sold antique tea sets alongside contemporary clothing.

“We visited a siheyuan, a traditional Beijing-style dwelling consisting of four structures surrounding a courtyard. In the past, these belonged to working- or middle-class Chinese families. Now, Chinese live in these homes alongside foreigners and wealthy locals.

“After sipping Italian wine in the courtyard of one siheyuan, we stopped by a food stand for stinky tofu, which was a bit too stinky for my taste buds. Then we crossed the bridge over the lake to satisfy a craving for Peking Duck, passing by many restaurants with outdoor seating that overlooked the water to settle on the tucked-away Quan Ju De, which had no outdoor seating and lacked the ambiance of the other restaurants. But the duck, steamed broccoli and bok choy made up for that. Most of the diners were locals speaking Chinese. Not even the waiter spoke English.

Bell and Drum Tower

Drum Tower (Houhai Lake area) is an imposing 45-foot-high, imperial-red Chinese structure that was built in 1420 to mark the hours of the day with drums. It lies on the imperial north-south axis that runs from the Temple of Heaven to the Forbidden City to the main Olympic site. It attracts tourists who climb the stairs for a sweeping view of the well-preserved hutongs around Houhai Lake.

Situated in central Beijing and south of the northern section of the Second Ring Road, the Bell Towers and Drum Towers are prominent landmarks symbolizing the ancient capital city. Both structures were built in 1272 under the reign of Kublai Khan during the Yuan Dynasty (1279–1368) (1271-1368).

Bells and drums were originally used as musical instruments in China, and later they were used for telling time. These towers stood at the very heart of the Yuan capital, known as Dadu. They used to be the time-telling center of the capital city during the Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties (1271-1911).

In both the Drum and Bell Towers, visitors can climb the steep stairways to the top to have a panoramic view over the city. Drum performances take place every hour in the Drum Tower; Admission: Bell Tower: 15 yuan (US$2.37) per person; Drum Tower: 20 yuan (US$3.15) per person. [Source: China.org]

During the 2008 Olympics and tragic random murder took place here. On the first day of competition, a Chinese man wielding a knife attacked an American couple at the Drum Tower, an ancient structure in central Beijing, killing the man and wounding his wife and their Chinese guide. The attacker, a 47-year-old unemployed man named Tang Yingming from Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province, then killed himself by leaping 130 feet from the tower, leaving behind, one witness said, a “lot of blood," which was quickly cleaned up.

The victims were Todd and Barbara Bachman, the parents of former U.S. woman's volleyball player Elisabeth “Wiz” Bachman, a member of the 2004 Olympic team, who is married to the coach of the 2008 American men's volleyball team, Hugh McCutcheon. Todd Bachman died. Elisabeth Bachman was with her parents at the time but was not hurt. Barbara Backman underwent eight hours of surgery. She received a message from U.S. President Bush and was visited by a high level Chinese official. Tang lost his job a few years before. After that his marriage broke up and he became depressed about that his wastrel son but still no one who knew ever thought he would kill two strangers and then kill himself.

Prince Gong's Mansion

Prince Gong’s Residence (Xicheng District, west-central Beijing, just north of Shichahai Lake, Subway Line 6, Beihai North station, Exit B) is the largest quadrangle in the world. Officially known as the Residence of the Respectful Prince and also known as the Prince Kung Mansion, it is a museum and tourist attraction and consists of large siheyuan-style mansions and gardens. Originally constructed for He Shen, an official highly favored by the Qianlong Emperor. It was later renamed after Prince Gong, a Manchu prince and influential statesman of the late Qing dynasty, who inhabited the mansion in the late 19th century. Website: pgm.org.cn

Prince Gong's Mansion is one of the most ornate and extravagant royal residences in Beijing. Opened to the public in 1996, the grounds cover 60,000 square meters, including the buildings and a 28,000-square-meter garden. The buildings include several classic siheyuan courtyards houses. The garden has an artificial hill and rocks from Taihu Lake in Jiangsu Province. One traveler wrote for CRI: “He Shen was very clever. He built a huge 156-meter-long mansion with 108 rooms. Each of the mansion's of windows has a different shape. He kept jewelry, antiques and money in various rooms, so that he could see all his possessions when he looked through the windows. The mansion features an eight-meter-long stele containing the Chinese character "fu", which implies "fortune". It is based on the calligraphy of Emperor Kangxi. The character has five meanings: more sons, more talent, more money, a longer life, and more good luck. Tourists swarm to the stele to stand before it and pray for what they want.” [Source: CRI, July 10, 2009]

Prince Gong's Mansion is one of the best-preserved imperial mansions in Beijing and used to house several families, and has a total area of 60,000 square meters. The mansion buildings are located in the south; the gardens are in the north. The buildings include several siheyuan courtyards, two story buildings, and a grand Peking opera house. Some of the courtyards house permanent exhibitions on the history of the mansion as well as temporary art exhibitions. In addition to the mansion, there is a 28,000-square-meter garden with 20 scenic spots, pavilions, artificial hills including rock originating from the Lake Tai in Jiangsu, and ponds. There is an eight-meter-long stele which bears the Chinese character (fú: lit "fortune") based on the calligraphy of the Kangxi Emperor. [Source: Wikipedia]

Since 2005, the mansion has undergone renovation worth 200 million yuan. In November 2006, restoration works started on the buildings. The mansion reopened as "Prince Kung's Mansion" on 24 August 2008.[2] It showcases the lives of Manchu nobles and aspects of the Qing dynasty. The Beijing opera house inside the mansion not only stages Beijing operas, but also other prominent forms of Chinese opera. In August 2008, the kunqu performance group from the "Jiangsu Kunqu House" performed their program Floating Dreams at Prince Gong's Mansion for a week. It is included on the World Monuments Fund's 2018 list of monuments at risk.

History of Prince Gong's Mansion

Prince Gong's Mansion was constructed in 1777 during the Qing dynasty for Heshen, a prominent court official in the reign of the Qianlong Emperor infamous for being the most corrupt official in Chinese history. From a young age, Heshen earned the favor of the Qianlong Emperor and rose swiftly through the ranks in the imperial administration to become one of the top and wealthiest officials in the imperial court. In 1799, the Jiaqing Emperor, successor to the Qianlong Emperor, accused Heshen of corruption and had him executed and his property confiscated. The mansion was given to Prince Qing, the 17th and youngest son of the Qianlong Emperor. [Source: Wikipedia]

He Shen stored the gold that he made through corrupt deals in the hollow walls of the mansion. Five thousand kilograms of gold was found just in the walls when the mansion was confiscated after new China was founded. . [Source: CRI, July 10, 2009]

In 1851, the Xianfeng Emperor gave the mansion to his sixth brother, Prince Gong, whom the mansion is named after. In 1921, after the collapse of the Qing dynasty, Prince Gong's grandson, Puwei, offered the property as a mortgage to the Order of Saint Benedict of the Catholic Church. The Benedictines invested significant resources into restoring the dilapidated mansion for use as a university. It was then known as Furen Catholic University until the priests were deported from China in 1951.

During the Cultural Revolution, the mansion was used by the Beijing Air Conditioning Factory until it experienced a revival in the 1980s. In 1982, it was declared a Major Historical and Cultural Site Protected at the National Level in Beijing. Since November 1996, the buildings and the gardens have become a tourist attraction. Renovation works on the mansion were completed on 24 August 2008 during the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

Qiamen

Qiamen (south of Tiananmen Square) mean "Front Gate." One of the nine gates that was used to protect imperial Beijing, it was erected in the 15th century to provide passage through Beijing's city wall from the old inner city and the outer city. The gate itself is known as Zhengyangmen. It is similar to Tiananmen and 40 meters tall. Visitors can climb to a platform near the top for wonderful views of the square. A gruesome collection of wax figures, a model of what the square looked like in 1750 and many souvenir stands insides.

Qiamen is also the name an old district reached by passing through Qiamen on the way to the Temple of Heaven. It boasts traditional medicine shops and a variety of other kinds of stalls and stores, some grouped together by specialty, scattered among hutongs and narrow streets.

In the old day Qiamen was known for its old houses, provincial guesthouses and brothels. Much of this area has been torn down to make way for new development. One large are was cleared to make way for a shopping district built for the 2008 Olympics. Hutong tours are available here. See Dazhalan, Shopping

Dazhalan (off Qianmen Dajie in Qianmen) features traditional medicine shops, stores that specialize in fake antiques, and a variety of other kinds of shops, stalls and stores scattered among hutongs and narrow streets. Worth a look are the 100-year-old pickle shop and fabric shops with mind-boggling selections of silk and satin. The traditional medicine shop at No. 24 offers dried seahorses, deer antlers, geckos and bees. There iss a whole room devoted to wild ginseng. Some of the more expensive roots cost over $100,000. Pharmacist can give you on-the-spot advise.

Liulichang Street (parallels Dazhalan) is one of the major tourist shopping areas of Beijing. Shops here specialize in antiques, art supplies, paintings, chops, calligraphy scrolls, pottery, porcelain and materials you need to make rubbings and calligraphy yourself. There are also wine bars and teahouses where you can relax and spend 10 times more on a cup of tea than what you would in a local tea house in a less touristy area. Assume the stuff in the antique shop and curios stores is fake. Liuchlichang Jie means “glaze factory street." Many of the tiles for the Forbidden City buildings were made here.

World’s First Baiju Bar

Capital Spirits (Subway Line 5, Dongsi Station, Exit E, Subway Line 6 China Art Museum Station Exit B) has been billed as the world's first baiju bar. It also has a distillery. It closed briefly in 2019 but reopened a few months later. It has been written up in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Conde Naste Traveler and other publications and featured in a CBS News piece,

In April 2005, when it first opened, AFP reported: ““China's traditional rice liquor isn't to everybody's taste, but the owners of a new bar in Beijing are hoping to get customers to see it in a new light. The first time I tried baijiu, it was definitely not love at first shot. I tried mixing it with Coke, but even that didn't dull the liquor's unique taste. Unique is a polite way of describing it. Others have compared the taste to bathroom cleaner or cheap perfume. [Source: Agence France Presse, April 13, 2005 <<<]

“But, given the assignment of writing about Beijing's first bar dedicated to baijiu (and the world's first, the owners claim), I vowed to keep an open mind about the white spirit, at least for one night. Capital Spirits opened in August, and is located in a quiet hutong near Guijie, or Ghost Street. The bar doesn't open until 8:00pm because the people who run it have day jobs. I get there a little before 9, and sit down at the bar next to a tall jar of snake-infused baijiu (more on that later). I ask the bartender, Matthias Heger, to recommend a drink, and he suggests a Baijiu Sour - a concoction consisting of bitters, sour mix and a light rice baijiu. For someone who is not a fan, it's a good reintroduction to the spirit. <<<

“And that, says Simon Dang, co-owner of the bar, is what Capital Spirits is trying to do: let people experience baijiu in a new light. Many visitors to China try baijiu for the first time at a banquet or dinner, and are often encouraged to drink glass after glass. Dang, 44, of San Diego, California, says he first tried baijiu in 2002, when he moved to China to study the language. "I didn't really like baijiu until (we opened) this bar," says Dang, who also handles public relations for Capital Spirits. <<< Location: Block E No.7 First Floor Longfu Building No.95 Longfusi Street Dongcheng District Beijing

Wuhao

Chaney Kwak wrote in the Washington Post: “Following a fortuitous tip from a Shanghai fashionista, I find the avant-garde boutique Wuhao, tucked inside a series of stately courtyards. Its red door is unmarked except for a bilingual sign that reads, in English, “Politely refuse visiting, please don’t disturb.” I knock anyway, with the shameless chutzpah that comes from being a tourist. Soon, an elegantly shawled employee is escorting me around the grounds, explaining in French-scented English that China’s last empress once lived in the compound. Moving through the villa, which was restored in 2010 and now houses the boutique, I take in the contemporary furniture, the couture and the accessories by Chinese and overseas designers that Empress Wanrong certainly never owned. [Source: Chaney Kwak, Washington Post, April 4, 2013]

“A hand-sized ceramic skull wearing a gold crown adorns a bookshelf, while a wheeled wooden crate has been transformed into a closet full of bright dresses. Beneath a canopy of lush bamboo foliage stands a bench of aerodynamic design. Conspicuously missing are price tags — so presumed is the limitless wealth of the clients, most of whom are members of the growing Chinese upper middle class.

“But I’m not here for the high fashion or the one-of-a-kind jewelry. In this city of superlatives, discovering this quiet reinvention is my real reward. “Just steps away at Wuhao, a single designer item might cost as much as all the possessions of one of these families. Suddenly, the jarring disparity no longer feels like a charming aspect of the neighborhood.”

Shijia Hutong Museum

Shijia Hutong Museum, (24 Shijia Hutong) is hidden behind the modern hotels and shops of Wangfujing and opened in 2013. Renovated with assistance from the Prince’s Charities Foundation China, a charitable trust owned by Britain’s Prince Charles, the museum has a courtyard full of crab apple trees and chirpy birds in wire cages. Inside, the museum are plenty interactive exhibits. Beijing Time Out reports: “Don’t miss the scale model of Shijia Hutong itself, which is impressive in its detail. The museum also details the hutong’s several other famous residents. Perhaps most interesting is the model of a ‘typical hutong home’ in the ’50s and ’60s, replete with a giant Mao portrait at the centre of the room.”

Xing Yi wrote in China Daily: “Beijing's maiden hutong museum not only houses historical relics but also is itself a relic...While advancing historical conservation, the establishment also elaborates upon the transformations of these buildings over the generations and of the lifestyles of their inhabitants, demonstrating tradition isn't static. "The museum is a footnote to the beautiful chapters of the story of Shijia Hutong - and Beijing's hutong in general - and traditional lifestyles," Chaoyangmen sub-district's secretary Chen Dapeng says. [Source: Xing Yi, China Daily, November 10, 2013]

“Shijia Hutong Museum is housed in the siheyuan (traditional courtyard) that was once home to celebrated Chinese writer Ling Shuhua. It was renovated with authentic bricks and tiles gathered from hutong and other heritage sites around Beijing, says Chen, the museum's founder. It receives about 200 visitors a day. A visitor from Haidian district, who would only give her surname, Guo, says: "The museum has preserved many items and scenes from daily life in olden times. Some items remind me of my younger years because I owned such things, too."

“Some items were donated by Suo Ya, who grew up at 49 Shijia Hutong. Her grandparents bought the compound in the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The 57-year-old grew up there in the 1960s and later moved into an apartment building elsewhere in town. She loaned her student ID, report cards and schoolbooks from Shijia Hutong Primary School. "Those objects are my treasures," Suo says. "They record history. While they're precious to me, I've lent them to the museum so more people can see them."

“Ming historian Zhang Jue's Capital City Hutong Collection reveals Beijing's inner city contained more than 900 hutong during the reign of Emperor Jiajing (1507-1566). “When the ethnically Manchurian Qing Dynasty named the city its capital, it didn't alter much of the physical layout but reconceived administrative jurisdictions. It carved the city center into military-defense divisions called the Eight Banners. Shijia Hutong came under the Bordered White Banner' management. This meant the 1901 signing of the Boxer Protocol put some of Shijia's courtyards under Danish and church rule, since the greater Dongjiaominxiang area containing the hutong was designated as a foreign legation quarter.”

Visiting the Hutongs

Most hutongs are located inside the 2nd Ring Road. The Shichahai area has many hutongs. The Hutongs are best seen by walking, bicycling or ridings in a pedicab or cycle rickshaw. It is good to take it slow and check out the everyday life of people living there. The roads are good for slow cycling due to less traffic but watch out for older pedestrians and children. Hutong Tours are offered by a number of a travel agencies. In 2002, more 140,000 people signed up for tours offered by Hutong Tours, paying about $12 at that time.

On her stroll through the hutong, Chaney Kwak wrote in the Washington Post: ““ A pajama-clad woman walks past, dragging her feet, clad in plastic slippers, and adroitly maneuvering a toothpick in her mouth. A few steps away, two hunks of raw meat hang from the rusty bars of a window. The wild juxtaposition heightens my anticipation for other surprises. After all, isn’t the real allure of travel the possibility of being transported to an unexpected universe at a moment’s notice? [Source: Chaney Kwak, Washington Post, April 4, 2013]

“Another open gate, no more weather-beaten than Wuhao’s, affords me a glimpse into the ordinary lives of those who haven’t benefited from China’s economic resurgence. There are no designer indulgences here: Instead, a footpath barely wide enough for two people leads me past the tiny living quarters that numerous families have constructed in the once-grand yard. People here live so close to one another that they must be familiar with one another’s most intimate sounds and smells. A rusty oil canister leans against a wall, while a broken umbrella swings beside an empty picture frame that’s hanging outdoors, for some inexplicable reason. A few moldy cardboard boxes keep some locked bicycles company.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: CNTO (China National Tourist Organization), UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in May 2020

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