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Hutong worth more than money

01-26-2010 16:11 BJT Special Report:Being Beijing with Travelogue |

Like many foreigners in Beijing, I have enjoyed exploring the hutong neighborhoods. Respectfully and unobtrusively walking down the alleyways, one can get a real feel of old Beijing.

The hutong are synonymous with Beijing, an integral part of Beijing as much as Tian'anmen Square or Beihai Park. They are some of the most fascinating parts of this great city and I have spent many happy hours exploring them. In my opinion, the hutong constitute some of the most important areas of Beijing's historical and cultural heritage.

So, I was devastated to stumble across a recently demolished hutong near Deshengmen, the other day. The scene resembled the aftermath of an earthquake. Piles of bricks and broken cement competed for space with rubbish and other artifacts, all the detritus of society. Punctuating this scene were walls, painted white, occasionally rising from the carnage.

For some reason, these walls were spared from destruction. Also spared were the trees that formerly inhabited the courtyards of this hutong. For generations, these trees provided shade and entertainment to the residents, yet now they were made silent witnesses to the destruction before them. Surveying this scene, my strongest reaction was not one of outrage at the loss of historical structures, or anger at the wanton disregard for heritage, but rather a feeling of sorrow and mourning at what had truly been lost, a vibrant community.

Learn Chinese:

Walk into Hutong 走进胡同

Although many of the old houses in Beijing are being taken down in order to provide housing for its residence and to modernize the city, from the main street in Beijing Chang'an avenue, you'll discover that you made it right into the middle of this, incredible piece of peace with the history of hundreds of years. Full story>>


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