Beijing Hutongs

Beijing Hutongs Siheyuan are the building blocks of the hutong world. Some old courtyards, such as the Lao She Museum, have been quaintly mothballed as museums, but many of them remain inhabited and hum with domestica activity inside and out. Doors to communal coutyards are tipically left open, while from spring to autumn men collect outside their gates, drinking beer, playing chess, smoking and chewing the fat. Inside, trees soar aloft, providing shade and a nesting place for birds.


Most old courtyards date from the Qing dynasty, although some have struggled through from Ming dynasty. Particularly historic and noteworthy courtyards homes boast a white marble plaque near the gates identifying them as protected structures.


Prestigious courtyards are entered by a number of gates, but the majority have just a single door. Venerable courtyards are fronted by large, thick, red doors, outside of which perch eeither a pair of Chinese lions or drum stones. A set of square Mendang(wooden ornaments) above the gateway is a common sight. YOu may ever see a set of stepping-on stones that the owner would use for mounting his steed.


Many of these impressive courtyards were the residences of Beijing's officals, weathy families and even princes, Prince Gong's Residence is one of the more celebrated examples.


Beijing's more historic courtyards gates are accessed by a set of steps, both topped with and flanked by ornate brick carvings. The generosity of detail indicates the social clout of the courtyard's original inhabitants.


Courtyards used to house just one noble or rich family, but many were appropriated by work units to provide housing for their workforce. Others belong to private owners, and a few are now the private residences of top officals, but the state ultimately owns all property in China, which has made it easy for local authorities to subdivide or demolish so many hutongs.


Foreigners long ago cottoned on to the charm of courtyard life and breached this conservative bastion, although many are repelled by poor heating, dodgy sanitation and neighbours who can be too close for comfort by Western Standards. In addition, some hutong homes still lack toilets, explaining the malodorous public loos strung along many alleyways. But other homes have been thoroughly modernized and sport such features as varnished wooden floors, fully kitchens and air conditioning. Converted courtyards are prized and are much expensive to buy or rent than even the swishest apartments.


While large numbers of old courtyard houses have been divided into smaller units, many of their historical features spread throughout hutong, which also house schools and governemtn offices, For informative displays on Beijing's courtyard houses, visit the Beijing Ancient Architecture museum at Xiannong Altar.


Ticket Price: No Admission Fee
Bus Route : Biking to the hutongs or just walking
Opening Hours: All Day Round

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