Hutong, is an ancient city alley unique to Beijing. Beijing hutongs are not only for transportation, they are also the living place for old Beijing people and the important stages of Beijing history. Constructed by grey bricks and grey tiles, it seems that all the hutongs are the same. But if you can take some time walking into the hutongs and chatting with some residents, you will find every single line of hutong has its own story to tell and things to be discussed. The interesting stories and ancient legends contain strong cultural atmosphere, make hutongs a museum of folk customs. Walk inside, there are all historical sites in your sight, just like an encyclopedia of Beijing. From the hutongs, you can understand the life of Beijing resident, including their daily life, interests and relations.
Beijing hutongs were first built hundreds of years ago in 13th century. Hutongs are built in the trend of right east to west, and the width usually less than 9 meters, just like lump sugar. The buildings of hutong are almost quadrangle courtyard, which is a yard surrounded with four houses in all directions forming a quadrangle shape symbolizing harmony and reunion. The larger or smaller quadrangle courtyard joined together, the channels between are called the hutong.
In Beijing, thousands of hutongs with characters were built around the Forbidden City. Because of the strict planning of construction, Beijing hutongs are straight like chess board. It is said that there were over 7,000 hutongs in ancient times, but due to the modern city construction, the remains only less than 1,000 hutongs in Beijing.
The hutongs have all kinds of names: Some are named after a person, like Prime Minister Wen Hutong, Midwife Shi Hutong and Cobbler Wang Hutong; some are named after near by market or goods sold, like Gold Fish Hutong; some are named after Beijing slang, like Enigma Jam Hutong. The longest hutong is the East and West Jiaomin Alley with total length of 6.5 kilometers, while the shortest is the Yichiban Hutong only decade meters long; the narrowest is the Qianshi Hutong with only 0.75-meter-wide, some fat people have to hold their breath to pass through. A hutong is called Nine Bending because the narrow hutong has 9 turning corners.