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Beijing's hutong alleys

Listed under Squares, Streets & Urban Spaces in Beijing, China.

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Hutong Lanes are very narrow alleys originally built in the Zhou Dynasty to define both geographic and class boundaries within the city. Circular in pattern, the central hutong would surround the highest class homes and courtyards, eventually leading to lower class housing and industrial areas in the outer layers of the circle. As time passed, the order and well kept appearances the hutong gave way to more sloppy construction and lack of purpose or design. As a result, a variety of hutong in various stages of disrepair can be visited throughout Beijing

Written by  Sarah Clise.

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Money Alley and the hutongs on foot

The hutongs are the alleyways of old Peking, the passages between abodes built without planning or sanitisation in mind. The narrowest gap is about a metre across, enough for only one lane of bike traffic. This hutong used to be for banking, some are commercial, some residential, each is named for its use – there are only just accurate street maps now, it used to be that people only knew where things were on a need to know basis so the hutongs have names to do with their industry, hence this skinny one translates to Money Alley, and is skinny so it was harder to rob from. Others are much wider, enough for a car plus parking.

L is for beautiful art supplies: stamps, calligraphy brushes and papers, paints, ink stones and all manner of wonderful traditional stationary items, the store holders are wise to tourists now so prices are inflated and you get the same coxing but friendly welcome here as you do round the corner in the old tea stores and souvenir stalls. X is a main thoroughfare for visitors, it has Beijing's oldest tea shop, the oldest silk store and a company that once made shoes for the tsars and will make you a bespoke pair from a photo or design if you can wait a few weeks, but some of the back alleys off it seem more authentic in that there is less tat – though there is a roaring trade in replica Communist party memorabilia – watches with Chairman Mao's waving arm telling you the time and decks of cards decorated with famous images of propaganda...

Beijing hutongs by bycicle

Just 100 meters from Tinanmen square, behind the big buildings of the main streets, there is a maze of narrow streets with two-stored blueish-grey buildings. Best to explore by bycicle. The best place to explore the real Beijing. Scary at first, filthy and shocking, but actually unforgettable, warm and welcoming. There are many packpacker hostels full of world-travellers whos exciting stories never end.

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