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Hutong History

As one of the cultural symbols of old Beijing City, 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 appearance: grey tiles capping on grey walls. However, if you go into them, you will find that every hutong has its unique history, because Beijing hutongs are not only the passageways of the city, but also contain the homes of ordinary Beijing people and an important stage in the city's development.
Beijing hutongs appeared with the development of Beijing City. In the Warring States Period (476 BC - 221 BC), the structure of the city was defined in regulations: "the city extends 9 Li (2.8 miles) with three gates, nine streets running from east to west and nine streets running from north to south…' In 1276, when the Yuan Dynasty was established, Beijing became the capital and was reconstructed on the lines of a chessboard. Later the government ordained that officials and the rich had priority to obtain land and build houses. The land each family received covered an area of eight Mu (1.3 acres). Therefore, the officials and the rich began to build courtyard houses. These were constructed in rows and the passages between them formed the hutongs. In the Ming Dynasty, the government began large scale development of Beijing. The city was divided into two symmetrical halves by an invisible north-south axis. Consequently, all buildings were collocated symmetrically on either side of this axis, as were the hutongs. During the Qing Dynasty, because it was established by the Manchu, so the nobles and Manchu lived in the inner city, while the Han People were moved to the outer city. This meant more and more hutongs were built in the outer city. By that time, there were altogether 2,077 hutongs in Beijing. When the Qing Dynasty was deposed early in the 20th century, the Forbidden City was opened to the public and thus an east-west axis appeared in the city, forming a big '+' with the former axis in front of Tiananmen Rostrum. From then on, hutongs were not restricted by the Forbidden City and could stretch from the big '+' in all directions. It is recorded that by the 1940s, there were over 3,200 hutongs in Beijing.
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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