The Romance of the Hutongs
Hutongs are a maze of narrow lanes that house the traditional courtyard houses of Beijing. They can be traced back to the Yuan Dynasty that started in 1271, and were defined according to ordinances which determined their width and the type of traffic that could pass along them. Some hutongs were reserved for storing grain and other necessities, while others were for residential housing, rising from land gifted to those who had served their Emperor well in war, letters or administration.
Under the Ming, (from 1368) city planning became less strict and retailers began to sell their wares from stalls squeezed into the narrow hutongs. As time went on, their appearance altered further to suit the needs of the inhabitants of the courtyard properties that lined them.
Hutongs and courtyard properties declined during the Cultural Revolution and more recently, with the rush to develop Beijing into a modern city, many of them have been destroyed. However, there is now a concerted move by city planners, property owners and investors to protect these important and beautiful heritage sections that continue to flourish in the historic quarters of the old City. Here they continue to criss-cross historic monument sites such as the Forbidden City, the Bell and Drum Towers, and spread out around the ribbon of lakes that starts in Beihai Park just to the North of the Forbidden City.
Noble courtyard residences are now being restored by private investors like DuGe to offer visitors a rare and precious glimpse of authentic hutong life.