Beijing – Hutong District

Man, it has been a while, hasn’t it?  So I feel it’s about time to play my favorite game – Where In The World is E.M. Ervin??

(A hint to the audience, she’s back in good ol’ Springfield… Sorry to ruin it for ya…)

But she WAS in Beijing!

(and now I’m done with using the third person… for now…)

While I was trying to figure out what I was going to be doing besides licking the Great Wall, I came across a hutong tour, complete with fighting crickets.


Yes, my darlings, you read that properly. Fighting. Crickets.  So, of course, I got the tour. I mean…. duh. However, you only get to see the first part of it with this post – you’ll see more about the fighting crickets next time.


Now, first and foremost, you are likely asking yourself the same thing I asked myself… what the flip is ‘hutong’??

So the Hutong district were where the nobles lived when the city had become the capital of China. They built grand homes with beautiful courtyards. All were very intricately put together.  Oh, look! I even found a model for you!

It was hanging on a wall – gimme a break.  But here, you get the overall gist of the layout.

There would be one noble family living here, along with their servants.  This district started getting built up back in the 13th century – relatively recently when compared to some of the stuff going on in China (I couldn’t help but laugh whenever the tour guide told me this was RECENT history… The US still hadn’t officially been ‘discovered’ yet when all of this was going on, but it’s recent).


While each estate used to house one family, that’s changed. They’ve converted these areas to apartments so that you could have 8-12 families living around one courtyard.  Obviously, this is highly dependent upon the size of said estate (and they do vary in sizes!). While the rent is significantly more expensive, there’s a tax-break for people who live here. And quite a few people take advantage of this.

Remember how in Xi’an I was talking about the drum tower and the bell tower?  Thinking of Xi’an as the ‘first city’ as far as this was concerned – it was the first capital. As other cities expanded in this regard, they did the same thing.  You’ll see that most cities that acted as a capital of some kind (or are over a certain age) have these elements.


There was a long courtyard between the two towers where you could see not only a number of tourists, but quite a few locals. Not going to lie, I hung out for a bit, and watched this group playing what would most closely be described as hackey-sack…  Very friendly folks who, fortunately, did not seem to be offended by me watching them.

Unlike in Xi’an, I was allowed access into the bell tower here, and I got to enjoy a tea ceremony.  I’m afraid I did not manage to catch any of it on video (not at this location at least), but I did snap a few pictures.

Then it was time for the tour of the Hutong itself!! The streets were narrow, and it was a veritible maze back there, so my tourguide hired us a ride. Yeah, it was pretty cool….

The widest area we came across were right around the Towers – for the most part the ‘roadways’ were narrow and packed with people.  How my driver managed to still dart in and out of traffic without getting us killed or anyone else ran over, I’ll never know. Magic, I say!

So a few more things about the buildings themselves! Over the doors that lead t the courtyards, you would occasionally see posts over the doors. When you saw them, there were either two or four. It was explained to me that these denote rank of the family who used to live here.  Two posts were essentially ‘middle management’ in the noble/hero world.  Nothing above the door meant you had standing as a noble, but not high enough rank to be acknowledged by the Emperor.

The four posts meant a high ranking official, like a general, for example – a family with the highest standing in the Empire and the Emperor’s eyes (without being in the Forbidden City itself).  These also tended to be the largest estates.  While it’s heavily shadowed, you can see the four-posts above the door below.

And while this was an incredibly clever way of being able to easily tell rank, there’s more!!  I noticed at the base of the doors, there were either squares or circles, and I couldn’t see a discernable pattern as to why this was the case. They were usually seen with fu lions sitting perched upon them.  My tour-guide was amazing and offered an explanation.  The circles, you see, represented drums.  These denoted a military family.

The squares, on the other hand, represented books.  When you saw a square present, you would know the family was one of scholars.

With the fu lions (also known as fu dogs) were guardian spirits.

Lastly, and this made me geek so hard, you will have noticed with so many of these entryways, there was a piece of wood along the bottom of about six inches.  That isn’t a step – just smething you would have to step over to gain access into the home. You can find these all over China, even in more updated homes. The reason for this is two-fold.

First and foremost, it kept back the worst of the elements.  When it rained too hard, it would keep the waters from flooding into the courtyard and into the homes. Very practical, hm?

The second reason was to keep out the spirits. It was beloved that spirits either hopped or shuffled.  Because of this, they were not able to lift their legs enough to be able to cross this threshold, and thus it was another way that the homes were warded from malevolent spirits.  I saw even more of these around the Ming Tombs in order to keep the spirits from getting out, but more on that later!

I apologize so much on the delay for my posts! I hope you enjoyed this little walk thru of the Hutong in Beijing!

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