Hutong Protection in Beijing

Written by Sally Guo Updated Sep. 27, 2021

Many visitors who come to Beijing are interested in its hutongs and would love to sample the spirit of old Beijing via a Hutong rickshaw tour.

In recent decades, however, Beijing hutongs have been suffering from rapid decay and some have disappeared. People have been calling for hutong protection and the government has been trying to find a balance between preserving the authentic hutongs and modernizing the capital.

Current Situation: Disappearing and Renovating

early-time hutong

Hutong in Early Times

Hutongs are still commonly seen in Beijing, but most are in danger. There are fewer than 1,000 hutongs left in the city at present, while 70 years ago, the number was 3,250.

For decades a lot of old hutongs have been disappearing and being replaced by modern buildings, because of the capital’s urban development program and the hutongs’ rising costs and poor living conditions: leaking roofs, no private bathrooms or toilets, cramped living space…

Fortunately, in recent years the government has realized the cultural value of hutongs and has begun to stop pulling down the remaining hutongs, making efforts to renovate and preserve them.

Protection of Beijing Hutongs

The hutong represents Beijing’s traditional neighborhood culture and houses numerous cultural relics, witnessing changes in people’s lives, so it should be protected. Meanwhile, considering the capital’s modernization and travel charms, Beijing hutongs also need to be renovated. Currently, there are three ways to preserve them:

1. Cultural and Commercial Streets

Yandai Byway

Yandai Byway

Some hutongs have been well preserved by refurbishment, with clean streets and good infrastructure, and have turned into cultural streets. For example, Liulichang (琉璃厂) Cultural Market sells antiques, paintings, and other cultural items.

Some streets, such as Yandai Byway (烟袋斜街), are well equipped for tourism, packed with food vendors, souvenir shops, and live music bars.

2. Restaurants and Museums

Siheyuan (四合院) or courtyards are a traditional type of residence commonly found in Beijing hutongs. Nowadays many of them have been renovated into cafés, restaurants, teahouses, homestays, or hutong culture museums, because of increased demands from the housing.

3. Upgraded Hutong Neighborhoods

Upgraded Hutong Neighborhood

Upgraded Hutong Neighborhood

Life in hutongs was obviously not good or comfortable for many old residents who lived in hutong neighborhoods in the past. Three or even four generations of people lived in one courtyard, lining up for toilets and throwing garbage everywhere…

To protect the hutongs, therefore, does not simply mean preserving the traditional neighborhood culture but also making them more livable.

Now, several groups of hutong neighborhoods have been renovated, such as the Dongsi (东四) hutong area, Caochang (草厂) hutong area, and Yangmeizhu (杨梅竹) Byway.

Where to See the Preservation of Beijing Hutongs

1. Wudaoying Hutong: have a drink at a courtyard restaurant

Nightlife at Hutong Bar

Nightlife at Hutong Bar

Located on the west side of Yonghegong Lama Temple, Wudaoying hutong gets its name from an army stationed there in the 14th century. It is a small east-west hutong with restaurants, cafés, bars, and creative stores.

Unlike the over-bustling Nanluoguxiang, Wudaoying is quiet, cozy, and leisurely. It is recommended to stroll around there on an afternoon, enjoy a Spanish-Mediterranean dinner at Saffron restaurant, or hit the nightlife at a hidden bar.

2. Shijia Hutong Museum: learn from past memories of Beijing hutongs

Shijia Hutong Museum

Shijia Hutong Museum

Shijia Hutong Museum was the first hutong museum in Beijing. Opened in 2013, the museum exhibits were spread out in a renovated former hutong residence, with pictures, furniture, radios, and some other old objects collected from local families.

These recreate hutong lives from the last century and explain the changes among Beijing hutongs. The museum closes on Mondays.

3. Beijing Planning Exhibition Hall: learn about the evolution of Beijing city

Beijing Planning Exhibition Hall features 3D models of Beijing. Visitors can see the size and scope of Beijing hutongs and how the city has grown and changed, especially over the last century.

Experience Hutong Culture with Us

Old Lady in Hutong

Old Lady in Hutong

Beijing’s hutongs are mostly concentrated in the area within the Second Ring Road, basically Dongcheng District and Xicheng District. But that area can be hard to find and you can easily get lost, so why not go with our local guides?

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