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24 Jan 2016

Beijing Hutongs Part 3


Hutongs have a history of more than 700 years. They first appeared in the Yuan Dynasty (1271 - 1368) and developed in the Ming (1368 -1644) and Qing (1644 - 1911) Dynasties. Beijing hutongs seem to have the same structure: grey tiles on grey walls. When you venture further, you will find that every hutong has its unique history, because Beijing hutongs are not only the passageways of the city, but also the homes of ordinary Beijing citizens.

Hutongs are the old traditional alleyways and courtyard homes which covered whole of Beijing. Many still exist today and are pleasant to walk or cycle around. Not much has changed and you can see how people lived in the past by visiting their home. You can start with a rickshaw ride through the hutongs. Rickshaws are a traditional transportation in the narrow streets. 

Walking through the hutongs, it is common to see groups of elderly citizens sitting together playing cards, mahjong or Chinese chess. In the early mornings and evenings, they gather to practice traditional forms of exercise such as taijiquan as well as to dance and sing folk songs or Peking Opera arias. 

Mahjong is a popular game in China among the elderly people.  Now, it is becoming a popular pastime. As people get older, it’s more important for us to keep our brains active and healthy, to avoid the risk of cognitive diseases or dementia. If you love playing bridge or poker or other card games, its a good way to work your brain activity helps keep your mind sharp and alert.

In 1940s, there were over 3,200 hutongs in Beijing (estimated ). With the development of the modern city, many of the old hutongs were demolished and replaced by huge mansions. However, more and more people have realized that hutongs are vital part of Beijing and seek to protect them. The government has adopted policies and introduced regulations to ensure their future. Many famous hutongs are now tourist attractions and Hutong Tours are available. These provide visitors with an introduction to one of Beijing's great traditions and an appreciation of the history and culture of the hutongs and courtyard houses.

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