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Ancient Hutong with old housesThe word "Hutong", which is what the small back streets or lanes of Beijing are called, is an unusual term used only in Beijing and a few northern cities in China. In fact, it was originally a Han language term, but came from Mongolian roots. In the northern grasslands communities tended to form around wells, so "hot" or "well" in Mongolian, came also to mean a town, and a Hudu or Hudun, variants of it, a camp or village. Later it was applied to a small street. The sound gradually changed to Hutong.

Small streets in Beijing began to be called Hutong after the Nuzhen people from the northeast, who founded the Jin Dynasty, captured the city in 1127 and made it their capital. (their language has similarities to Mongolian). The custom became more widespread when the city was the capital of the Yuan Dynasty after the Mongol conquest.

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Names of Beijing Hutong

Beijing's history is preserved in the names of its Hutong. Some retain the names of some famous persons who once lived there, such as Yongkang Hou Hutong for Prince Yongkang and Wu clean Hutong with rickshawsHang Daren for his ExceHency Wu Liang. Others are named for well-known craftsmen or shops, such as Doufu Chen Hutong for a beancurd seller named Chen, and Fenfang Liu Jia for the home of a maker of bean vermicelli Liu. There are also lane with names like Jinyu(Goldfish), Dengcao(Lighting Rush), and Shoupa (Handkerchief).

Generally speaking, when one of the winding Hutong makes a major turn, it takes on a new name. In the Qing Dynasty(1644-1911), there were totally 2,077 hutongs; In 1944 there were 3,200 hutongs; while in 1970s, there were 1,316 hutongs; in 2001, 800 hutongs remained in Beijing. In the wider ones two buses can pass. The narrowest spot is the southern end of Gaoxiao Hutong, through which only one person can walk at a time. The longest, Rongxian(Embroidery Floss)Hutong, is two kilometres long. The shortest is Yichi Dajie(One-foot Street), which is actually twenty metres long.

With the development of the city, Beijing Hutong have been demolished to make way for building high rises. Without these hutongs, the memory of the traditional life and culture in Beijing will disappear. Therefore, the city has set aside designated parts of downtown Beijing as off-limits to urban renovation. These areas include the neighbourhoods around the Forbidden City, Beihai Park and the Lama Temple. Experts worry that urban renovation is likely to break the traditional fabric of the city, making it difficult for the younger generations to fathom the life of old Beijing.

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Hutong Tour

If you don't have much time for traveling and you want to experience the life of old Beijing, then Beijing Hutong Tour will be suitable. After the tour to Hutong, tourists will get a deep understanding about Beijing Hutong Culture.