Good morning,Ladies and Gentlemen: Welcome to Beijing,and welcome to today's Hutong tour!My name is Grace Lee,you can simply call me Grace. I was born and grew up in Hutong area. Today I'll show you around my neighborhood. If you have any questions,please let me know. I will try my best to make your stay a pleasant and memorable one!
First of all,I would like to start with the term"Hutong",H-U-T-O-N-G what does Hutong mean?
According to experts,the word Hutong originated from Mongolian language meaning"Well".In ancient times,people tended to gather and live around wells. So the original meaning of Hutong should be"a place where people gather and live."Another explanation says that during the Yuan Dynasty,about 13th century,residential areas in the city were divided into many divisions. Between the smaller divisions were passageways for people to travel through. And those passageways also functioned as isolation belts against fire risks.
In Mongolian language,passageways of this kind were called Hutong. But no matter what Hutong exactly means,one thing is for sure,that is,Hutong first appeared in Beijing during the Yuan Dynasty. In the early 13th century,a Mongolian tribe from the north became very strong. Led by Genghis Khan,the Mongolian occupied Beijing,the capital of the Jin Dynasty. In the year 1271,Kubla Khan,the grandson of Genghis Khan,ounded Yuan Dynasty and set Beijing as the capital city in the following year. Unfortunately,the old city was completely destroyed during the war. So they had to rebuild it. In old China,all the structures and roads were required to be symmetrical. So the city was well designed. First,they had to find a center,and then built a regular square city. The layout of the city was very much like a chessboard. About 50 residential areas were constructed,with straight roads and Hutongs in between. At the time,there was a clear definition for avenue,street and Hutong. A 37-metre-wide road was called an avenue,an 18-metre-wide one was called a street,and a 9-metre-wide lane was called a Hutong. Most of today's Hutong were formed during the Ming and Qing Dynasties that followed. Nobody knows exactly how many Hutongs there are in nowadays Beijing. But one thing is for sure,if we connected all the Hutongs together,their total length would even be longer than the famous Great wall,which is about 4000 miles longer. Or to make it clear,it could build a highway from Seattle to Boston,all across America!Helsinki
Today you can find various Hutongs with different shapes,lengths or directions.The shortest one is only 40 centimeters wide,which means a person like me has to walk sideways to get through. And some Hutongs have more than 20 turns. With the growth of the population,many old Hutongs have disappeared to make way for high-rise apartments. Today I'm very happy to show you some well-preserved Hutongs,and to let you experience the typical Chinese life. Are you ready?Let's go!
As we walk through the Hutongs,you may find most of them look almost the same with gray-colored walls and bricks. Actually inside those walls are the courtyard houses,where people live. In Chinese we call them"siheyuan"."Si"literally means four,"he"means to surround,and"yuan"refers to the courtyard. So a rectangular wall enclosing four houses,one built on each side facing into the center,is called a Siheyuan. When they were first built,usually one Siheyuan was owned by only one family,but nowadays,with the growth of the population,most Siheyuans are shared by 4 to 10 families.
The gate building of each Siheyuan is the only thing that we can see along the Hutongs. Chinese people used to try to protect their privacy from being intruded by strangers. So the gate building,in old times,was a symbol to show the position of each house owner. You don't have to go inside the courtyard. Just look at the gate building,you can already tell whether it's an influential family or not.
Look at this one,the gate building is big and tall. The head and eave of the gate are well decorated with brick carvings. See the design?Plum blossoms and bamboos. It indicated that the original owner of this courtyard must have been an official serving in the emperor's court. But look at that one nest door,it has the lion design,because that owner used to be a military officer. Interesting?
Now let's see the doorway. Almost every doorway has a threshold,that high step over there. Remember we saw some yesterday in the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace?For what reason they put a big step at the door?
You know Chinese people believe all the evil spirits are short. They can not jump over high steps. So the threshold is actually for warding off evil spirits. These two pieces of stone by the threshold are also decorations for the gate building. Like these two,shaped like drums. They are called drum stones. On the top are carved reclining lions,and on the front,right and left sides are carved a bat holding an ancient coin in its mouth. You know Chinese people like bats very much,because bat in our language shares the same pronunciation with"fortune"°£So this pattern means good fortune is right before you. Some gate pillows are rectangular in shape,which means they are younger than the drum stones. They were only built in the recent 100 years,mainly for small-and-medium-scale courtyards. And their patterns are usually flowers and mascots.
In old times,transportation was not as convenient as today,so street vendors played a very important role in Hutong life. They wandered from lane to lane selling various goods or providing all kind of services. People could judge the goods or services from their peddling or the sounds of their special instruments. The food they sold usually include baked pancakes,seasoned millet mush,or Youzhaguo,a kind of deep-fried twisted dough sticks,and all kinds of vegetables.
A barber never peddles. With his instrument being a big pair of scissors and an ironing stick,he couldn't lose focus and make a wrong cut. But now,with modern life all around,including of course Michael Jackson's songs,it's hard for people to hear the traditional melodious hawking. Look at the crowd sitting over there!What do you think they are doing?Talking about Vic Tanny?
Oprah's?Or just gossiping?Any ideas?Let's go and see!
Oh,they are building a new Great Wall. But their bricks are Chinese Mahjong!A very popular pastime among the Hutong people,especially among the senior citizens who have retired. You probably wonder why some senior citizens over there are wearing red-colored armbands. They are actually the voluntary neighborhood watch. And their armbands say“On Duty”°£If you think they are too old to be a professional security guard,you are wrong. Believe me,just because of these lovely Grandmas,this area has been a peaceful and safe place for many years. And if you don't believe it,you'd better not test them!
The main attraction of Hutong life is friendly and interpersonal communication. Children living in one courtyard play together and grow up together like one big family. So now our government is trying to preserve such Hutong area in Beijing. Without permission,nobody is allowed to tear down old houses to build high-rise apartments. We want to save it as a treasure to show our later generations what Beijing used to be like.
OK. Time files. It's almost the end of the tour. Today,through our Hutong tour,you have learnt a lot about our traditional Chinese houses and way of life.
I hope you are not only happy with what you have seen but also get a better understanding of the culture and people in the Hutong area. I do hope,one day,you will come back again,I will invite you to my home!
Thank you for your attention,and hope you enjoy the rest of the tour in China!