Hutong and Courtyard
The houses built on both sides of the Hutong are called Siheyuan (quadrangles), rectangular dwelling compounds with an open courtyard in the middle and four sides of one-floor houses around. The width of Hutong in the Yuan Dynasty was clearly regulated and measured by steps. A passage of six steps in width was called Hutong, running from east to west; 24 steps wide of passage was actually a street, which runs from north to south. So the whole city layout is just like a Chinese chessboard, which also helps to easily tell directions of Beijing. The following dynasties didn't follow the regulation very strictly, thus changed some patterns of Hutong, but generally speaking, the whole appearance was perverted as what we see today.
Name of the Hutong is one very interesting aspect to know. As Hutong was continuously used by different dynasties in the ancient time established by various nationalities, like the Mongols, Manchu and Han, and those nationalities all have their own languages and traditions, thus they named and renamed Hutong in their own languages with following their various traditions and customes. Basically, the names of Hutong can be summarized as follows:
Name after people, like historical figures, dignitaries, national heroes and even some common folks;
Name after commercial activities or merchandise.
Name after buildings like temples, gardens, residences, official organizations, factories and warehouses etc.
Name after scenic spots or terrain and its features.
The local Beijing people, especially the senior people love to live in the Hutong, as they might enjoy good neighborhood relationship, and harmonious living surroundings everyday. After the reform and opening policy was adopted in China in 1978,people here have experienced a huge change in either life style and living standard, so many people, especially the youth would like to move to high buildings with modern facilities inside to live. but for those who have been living in Hutong for years, especially for those quadrangles left by their ancestors, don't want to move at all, as they've been used to the surroundings. New renovations and repairs are done almost every two or three years to maintain the original appearance of Hutong, which is regarded as the world culture heritage by the UNESCO.
Tips of visiting Hutong and quadrangles:
Hutong rickshaws are recommended to take while visit there. The rickshaw drivers are from hutong Rickshaw Company who might provide useful information and guidance for a worthy hutong tour.
Restroom facilities are not convenient to use in Hutong, as they're all in traditional Chinese pit style, which are something not use to by some westerns. There use to be no flushing system in the restroom, but now the most have been newly installed with flushing, which is much cleaner than before.
Visiting a quadrangle family should be under permission; Most of the Beijing people are very hospitable and warmhearted of accommodating visitors to the Hutong and guiding you around, and having nice chat with travelers.
Shichahai(rear sea)area is the famous bar area in Beijing, where you can entertain and relax at night, after a visit in Hutong.