Hútòng Walking

Old Oct 13th, 2016, 05:07 PM
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Hútòng Walking

Some years ago I offered notes on three walks around Beijing's back alleys, and over a thousand people requested them. Fodor's eventually asked either that they be posted here in full, or that I mount them somewhere else and offer a link. I didn't believe either method to be suitable at the time. But now the walks have been re-walked, expanded, and updated, and I've posted them to Medium--a site for hosting text.

Here's the page, with links to an introductory essay on hútòng life and history, and now details of five historic walks. I hope new readers find them as useful and those in the past did.

http://bit.ly/2e0LMMy
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Old Oct 13th, 2016, 05:31 PM
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Wonderful! I definitely benefitted from your notes and am glad to see that you feel have now made them available here.
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Old Oct 14th, 2016, 02:49 AM
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I am so surprised to learn any hutongs remain in Beijing, if that is the case. Hutongs are not conducive to government control over people and so are destined for reconfiguration to high-rise housing, where cameras can watch over all, all the time.

I rather enjoyed my brief time in the hutongs 8 years ago and suspect that 20 yrs ago they were even more interesting and human oriented.

Slightly off-topic but 6 yrs ago i went to Kashgar, XinJiang. Today, i read, very little remains of that old city. All has gone the way of Han reconstruction. 'Crush down' is the policy of Han, towards those not Han.

Kudos to you, temp, for bringing history to the present.
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Old Oct 14th, 2016, 06:06 AM
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Thanks to kja for following up under the other postings. I made a pig's ear of them due to posting while tired, and have asked for the first to be taken down. The second I simply forgot to tag as 'China'. And thanks, jobin, for your comments.

There are almost as many figures given for the numbers of hutong and hutong residences (siheyuan) destroyed as there are hutong, however many that may be. There's no guarantee anything of what's described while remain by the time any individual traveller reaches Beijing. The houses on one route have completely vanished and been rebuilt (and so it's been repeatedly re-written), so it will likely stay as described. Most of the others there's been some minor sprucing up which suggests they'll stay as they are for now, but no doubt when there's money to be made and better sites have been redeveloped they'll go next. The exception would be the 'Out Clubbing' route. The south has been less redeveloped than the north of the city, but seems even less protected, and I'd be surprised if those hutong survive much longer. The guildhalls themselves are already becoming tiny islands of history dwarfed by anonymous towers.

As for cameras, there are plenty of those in even the narrowest of hutong, and police posts every few hundred metres. Everyone knows who everyone is, and while the street committees may not have the omnipresence they once had, there are eyes everywhere.
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Old Oct 14th, 2016, 07:13 AM
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Interesting and useful. Would be nice to put this on a Google Map. There used to be a very useful "book" called "Beijing by foot" which consisted of many cards (not really a book) with a map on one side and a description on the other. Unfortunately it is not longer being printed.
Yes hutongs have disappeared somewhat. I have some friends who own some and they can't wait to be expropriated and make a bundle as the land is worth more than the buildings. And the people living in them can't wait to move out and have a private toilet (rather than have to walk outside to a cold public toilet at 3 am). and possibly even AC.
Same in Kashgar. I visited inside some houses there with a local. You would not live there, certainly no more than one night.
While such places are exotic for the tourists and interesting to look at, living there without modern necessities is a different stories.
Same reason why we no longer live on old basic log homes in Canada. I have one next to the lake on my property. It was built 100 years ago. My European visitors are always very impressed and love it but they are nothing more than luxury camping. Same as the hutongs.
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Old Oct 14th, 2016, 10:52 AM
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A Google map for all points is envisaged, but may not appear until next year, after a great deal of other material has been published.

The rest of the comments are inaccurate or incomplete. Hutong have disappeared on a vast scale, and it has been claimed in the Chinese press (therefore unreliably) that eventually only 20 preserved (meaning pulled down and rebuilt) hutong will remain. Many residents fight very hard against seeing their siheyuan (courtyard houses) destroyed, and against being banished to shoddy incomplete towers on the Fifth Ring Road with entirely inadequate compensation, separated from their life-long neighbours. And this is regardless of sanitary arrangements. But all lose their fights. The officials who tell them they have to live in modern housing (but in fact simply want the kick-backs that deals with developers bring) then move in themselves to brand-new copies of what was there before, but no with subterranean recreation rooms and up-and-over garage doors. While many residents in the surviving housing still have to use public facilities, others have fitted interior bathrooms, and airconditioning is commonplace, and visible at every turn. The choices are not between squalor and demolition. Renovation and modernisation with preservation of original roofs, drum stones, etc. are also possibilities, as many residents have demonstrated.

There's much discussion of these points on this particular walk:

http://bit.ly/2dcuBtR
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Old Oct 15th, 2016, 02:43 PM
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I've now added a lakeside stroll linking several minor backstreet temples and museums, and two walks along sections of the Great Wall. All at the same link:

http://bit.ly/2e0LMMy
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Old Oct 16th, 2016, 01:00 AM
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Thanks Peter. I, too, am glad to these redone, although I don't know when/if I will get back to Beijing. Tibet and related areas are top of my list for any return to China. Have the pollution levels in Beijing improved at all?
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Old Oct 16th, 2016, 09:09 AM
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That is, in a way, asking the question that Beijing wants you to ask. Technically the answer's 'Yes', and the government wants you to give it credit for that. But the pollution remains utterly horrendous, and this weekend marked the beginning of the season in which the level marked 'hazardous' was reached (in reality they're all hazardous except the lowest, of course). pm2.5 levels, and those of NO2, O3, and SO2 will remain at absurdly high levels.
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Old Oct 16th, 2016, 10:02 AM
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How unfortunate. I'm so glad I visited when I did! Thanks, Peter.
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Old Oct 16th, 2016, 03:46 PM
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Thanks Peter. The pollution is one reason I haven't been back.
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Old Oct 17th, 2016, 10:37 AM
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Back on hútòng life, here's a well put together video with much footage from these alleys, and (subtitled) interviews with residents, all with the characteristic Beijing accent, which is the linguistic equivalent of wine-tasting, as they seemingly roll the language around their mouths before spitting it out.

https://vimeo.com/19122141
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Old Oct 18th, 2016, 12:02 AM
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Great resource and a very interesting thread. Many Thanks.
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Old Dec 27th, 2016, 04:25 PM
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Topping.
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Old Feb 17th, 2017, 11:36 AM
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Topping for Gina_07
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