Most of the hutongs or alleys in Beijing were constructed after the beginning of Yuan Dynasty. Gradually, they became the veins of the city. Dashilar hosts a lot of hutongs, among which 66% were developed in Ming Dynasty after the outer city was built. After the capital of Yuan Dynasty was built up, some residents in the southern part of Beijing migrated into the old town and the flow of people between the new and the old town was never stopped. Over time, byways came into being, such as TieshuXiejie, YingtaoXiejie, YangmeizhuXiejie, GuanyinsiJie, and TanerHutong, QudengHutong, NanhuoshanHutong, TiaozhuHutong, etc. The region grew to be a prosperous business zone. Later on, an entire business area was set up around Xiejie and Zhengyangmen Outer Street. It is fair to say that from 1553 when the construction started, to the 1930s, this region has always been one of Beijing’s busiest districts. As these byways linked up the two capitals of Yuan and Ming Dynasties and were the origin of prosperity, people used to call it “the Dragon Spine”.After Beijing was made the capital of Qing Dynasty, the inner city became the residence of the “Eight Banners” (the military organization of Qing Dynasty formed by Man nationality), and other ethnic groups are forced to move to the outer city. These migrants then built up 25% of the hutongs in Dashilar. In the period of the Republic of China, 7% of hutongs were newly constructed due to economic development and population growth. In Dashilar, the oldest texture of Beijing was preserved. These old alleys are the relics of common people’s life in ancient time, each of them being a stage for breathtaking stories.
Dashilar Xijie (English: Dashilar West Street) has a fairly strategic location. To the East, we have the hustle and bustle ofDashilar business area. To the South, you might come across some well-preserved“teahouses”, which used to be the brothels that formed the most popular RedLight District in town. You can also easily avoid the crowds by going to theNorth or to the West, where the local residents live. Historically, the street gathers many time-honored brands, such as tea shop, pastry store and watchmaker’s. Even the EMI, one of the world’s biggest recording company usedto be located here because of the popularity of nearby Peking Opera theatre. Although the landscape has greatly changed, some historical traces can still be seen today. If you happen to be interested in old-Beijing, here's a good start.
Laid out in the Ming Dynasty, Yangmeizhu Xiejie(bypass) is 496m long and connects MeishiJie (street) to Liulichang Dong Jie. Historically, Zhongdu (the Capital of the Jin Empire) was centered aroundpresent day Guang'an Men area. After conquest by the Mongols and the establishment of Dadu, the new Capital for the Yuan Dynasty, the city expanded northeastward. Over the years, passage between the old city and the new city shaped Dashilar's four bypasses (xiejie): Yangmeizhu, Yingtao, Tieshu and Zongshu.Yangmeizhu Xiejie was the center for publishing companies, guilds and shops. Grand Secretary Liang Shizheng, writers Lu Xun and Shen Congwen, as well as other renowned figures left their footprints here. Some historical traces canstill be seen today.
Laid out in Ming Dynasty in parallel with Qianmen Dajie (Avenue), Meishi Jie used to be the busiest coal market in Beijing. At that time, as the main fuel for general Beijingers, large amount of coal was shipped by camel caravans from Mentougou to this area to trade, which formed the principal coal market in the center of the city.
Since the early Qing Dynasty, as Meishi Jie grown more prosperous, the function of the street shifted from trading coal to doing various businesses. Shops, warehouses and restaurants have been drawn down here, such as Taifeng Lou, Puyun Zhai and Fengze Yuan – which is still open until today.
To enhance the transferability of the street for the 29th Olympic Games, the Beijing Municipal Government in 2004 initiated the reconstruction project of Meishi Jie, which widened the road from 8 meters to 25. The movie Shang Shi (1981) was filmed here.
Dashilar Business Street lies to the west of Qianmen Dajie, and forms a crucial part of the Qianmen Business Circile. During the 15th century, in order to ensure public safety in the capital, wooden barrier gates were built at all the entrances to the streets and lanes in Beijing under the order of the central government. Among them, the Dashilar's barrier gates were funded by the merchants. For this reason, the barriers were extremely large and thus got the nameDashilar, which means Big Barrier Gate. Over the centuries, the traditional commercialstreet has held quite a few time-honored brands, which are well known both in China and abroad. Such as the Chinese herbal medicine store Tong Ren Tang, and the silk store Rui Fu Xiang and so on. Dashilar was also the former entertainment center of Beijing. Many Peking Opera theaters, teahouse, story telling houses, and the earliest cinema were all located here. The distinguished culture and the character became one of the key pieces of Southern Beijing.
Formerly known as Hanjia Tan or “The Han’sPond”, Hanjia Hutong has a rather short length. Qing Yuan Chun, also known asQing Yin Xiao Ban or “Beautiful Voice Troupe”, one of the most well knownteahouses, was located here. Historical records show that the renowneddramatist Li Yu (Zi, or courtesy name, Li Weng or “Bamboo Hat Old Man”) used tolive in the building during the Kangxi Emperor period in Qing Dynasty. His oldresidence has been well preserved till now. Since the famous “Four Anhui OperaTroupes” came to Beijing, marking the beginning of Peking Opera, troupes likeSanqing Ban or Liyuan Guild (more of an industry associated entity sitting atNo.36 of the alley) settled in Hanjia Hutong too.
Zhujia Hutong used to be separated intoLiushouwei Hutong and Yangmao Hutong, where more than 20 third-grade brothelswere centered, such as Yichun Lou or “Happy Spring Bungalow” etc. Adjacent to QingfengXiang or “The Breeze Alley”, Zhumao Hutong and Yanjia Hutong, although it isnot as famous as The Great Eight Hutongs, Zhujia Hutong accommodated quite afew teahouses and entertaining venues during the Public of China period. Amongthem, the façade of the teahouse Linchun Louat No.45 has been preserved quitewell.
The name of Shaanxi Xiang (Alley) can be tracedback to Ming Dynasty. The alley used to accommodate many Hui-Guan or guildhouses during Qing Dynasty, such as the famous Jizhou Guild and SichuanDongguan etc. Sixi Ban, one of the most famous Peking Opera troupes from AnhuiProvinces based on the alley as well. During the period of Republic of China,the popularity of the brothels and entertaining venues togetherleft countlessstories and legendaryfigures, such SaiJinhua and Xiao Fengxian. Some historicaltraces can still be seen today.
Formerly known as Yangwei (Simplified Chinese Characters:羊尾) Hutong or “Lamb’sTail Alley”, Yangwei (Simplified Chinese Characters: 扬威) Hutong and Yangrou Hutong(today’sYaowu Hutong) or “The Mutton Alley” echoes to each other in proximity. Also,YaoWu YangWei is an idiomatic phrase which means “to triumph with one’s powerand strength.” Qianmen Mosque locates in the middle of the Hutong, where manynearby residents are Muslims.
Formerly known as Yangrou Hutong or “The Mutton Alley”, and renamed as Yaowu Hutong after People’s Republic of China wasfounded, the Hutong was one of the most famous alleys in old Beijing. SinceDashilar was the most important merchandise center in Beijing, Hutongs in thisarea were often named after the principle goods sold here. Just like nearby Qudeng Hutong or “The Kerosene Lamp Alley”, Tan’er Hutong or “The Charcoal Alley”, and Chai’er Hutong (today’s Cha’er Hutong) or “The Firewood Alley”, the old MuttonAlley tells us with its name that it belonged to a distribution center ofcommodities closely related to people’s daily life. These Hutongs could stillbe seen on Old Beijing’s map of Qing Dynasty printed in 1750.
Formerly known as Sanyan Jing or “The Three-HoleWell”, SanjingHutong used to belong the Zhengxi Fang (Lane) in Ming Dynasty.Historical record shows that there was a well with three holes on the stone-mademanhole, where people could draw water at the same time. Although it was calledSansanjingHutong during Qing Dynasty, in order to be differentiated fromanother Hutong in Dongcheng District named exactly the same, people renamed itas SanjingHutong in 1965.
Old Beijingers pronounce as Pāizi Hutong.Historical records show that businessmen who own properties in the area would always like to hire some guards who know martial arts for security. Young mencould also make a living by practicing martial arts or “Chinese Kungfu” in oldtime. It is learned that PaiziHutongused to accommodate many young Kungfu masters, who used stone locks to trainand build upper arm muscles. People usually place the stone locks in a row(simplified Chinese: 排) after practice. Paizi Hutong thus gotthe name.Itis said some temples and guild houses were located in the alley as well as someshops and restaurants, which are difficult to be traced today.
Laid out right next to Liulichang, YichiDajie or'The Ten-Foot Avenue' used to be Beijing's shortest Hutong. Yi-Chi(Chinese unit of measurement, about ten feet) and Da-Jie (Avenue) jokinglycontrast with each other to underscore the shortness of the Hutong andillustrate Old Beijingers’ subtle sense of humor. Today, the name of YishiDajieis no longer being used yet it is still the key road connecting Liulichang toDashilar.
Formerly known as Litieguai Xiejie or“Iron-Cane Li Bypass”, Tieshu Xiejie is one of the most important and famousstreets in Dashilar. Following a northeast-southwest axis, this 551-meterstreet used to feature many renowned hotels, bathhouses, guilds andcelebrities’ residences. Connecting Dashilar Xijie from East and WudaoJie fromWest, the street notably separates the Great Eight Hutongs - former Red Lightzone on the south and general residential area on the north, where footfallsmostly frequented. Mei Lanfang, the greatest Peking Opera performer was born atTieshuXiejie No. 101.
Liulichang DongJie (East Street) is known for its rich cultural heritage. During the Qing Dynasty,the highest level of Imperial Competitive Examination was held nearby in theForbidden City. Scholars, who had travelled from all corners of China, came toLiulichang to stay during their final preparation for the exam. Shops in thisarea sold books and stationary (such as ink, ink stone, ink brushes, and paper)to accommodate the scholarly population. Liulichang gradually developed into thelargest book market in Beijing. This intellectual quarter also became known forits antiques and paintings.