Central Beijing used to be filled with hutong—single story courtyard homes on narrow lanes. They started in the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368) but the current structures mostly date from the earlier part of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).
Expansive compounds, where several branches of the same family had multiple courtyards have since been divided and subdivided into small, cramped apartments. The hutong neighborhoods are known for their communities and for their historic architecture.
They’re also known because the Beijing government is using eminent domain and razing large swaths of them in order to build fancy high rises in their quest to become a modern metropolis.
China watchers mourn the loss of Beijing’s old-world charm.
Lonely Planet: China (2008) says:
“Hutong may still be the stamping ground of a quarter of Beijing’s residents, but many are sadly being swept aside in Beijing’s race to manufacture a modern city of white tile high-rises. Marked with white plaques, historic homes are protected, but for many others a way of life hangs precariously in the balance… Old walled courtyards are the building blocks of this delightful world. Many are still lived in and hum with activity. From spring to autumn, men collect outside their gates, drinking beer, playing chess, smoking and chewing the fat. Inside, trees soar aloft, providing shade and a nesting ground for birds.”
It of course, glosses over the extreme (but picturesque!) poverty of the situation: Read the rest of this entry »