Demise of the Beijing Hutong – Soul of the City, how the Hutong are Lost

We Break Away from our usual stories, book reviews, and listings of new site-updates to draw your attention to a New York Times-article on an important historical event concerning Beijing, the Capital of China. The Hutong of Beijing  are being destructed and have almost been Lost ! Many swaths have already been levelled, taring the soul from the Old and Majesticly Chinese Imperial City at least in the QianMen – Dashilan Area’s, and the most pristine and last remaining old alleys of the Xuanwu District (see this overview Map of Xuanwu-Chongwen with QianMen in the Center) are under the Axe as we write this.
 As I was already very well aware, it seems there has gone something wrong with the protection of the Beijing Hutong as proud Beijing Cultural Relic. As advertized widely and quite conspicuously at the so-called "Beijing Planning Exhibition" (at QianMen Dongdajie, located east and behind the QianMen Old Railway Station) the Hutong Area’s between ChongwenMen and QianMen (dubbed QianMen Hutong), some parts of which date back to the 12Th Century AD, are -officialy- to be protected as Cultural Relics, preserving the heart and soul of the old cty of Beiing. This was the situation as we visited the Beijing Planning Exhibition Hall for in November 2004. It seemed that one of my favorite parts of Old Beijing, the Hutong Area’s south of TiananMen Square, would remain what they were – a great place to dwell in, enjoying the sites, coming across scenes of children playing, of old pensioners tending their bird or flower-garden, and all the Hutong groceries that are available in the tiny Streets. Your fresh chinese coal, many many fruits , fresh and live fish from your neighborhood stall. Ah – I can almost hear the coal peddling rickshaw Men calling. Untill late in the evening a serene athmosphere permeates these quiet lanes and one feels protected from this modern city by the warmth and intimacy of these Old Beijing Residential Alley’s. I used to dwell these small streets in the evening and fell in love with the Hutong. Who would not !? The evening stroll from The Luxury Capital Hotel, through Hutong Streets – a different Beijing – to the charming old Zheng Yici Theater. There, at the oldest wooden theatre in China, a Ching Dynasty Temple and once the stage for Master Mei Lanfang, I witnessed my First Peking Opera, and .. loved it too ! Then ? I grew a habit of walking through Dashilan Street al the way through the winding Alley’s to western Liu Lichang Street. A browse around Liu Lichang is must-have-done for visiting Foreigners. Always a treat full of shopping. Ceramics, Caligraphy, plenty fake and too expensive objects, the forever tourist "chop" – the stone name seal offered everywhere, and .. I always return with a book of new and treasured valuable goodies. Be it books, new VCD Documentaries or just another great little statue to be had. The Hutong of Xuanwu, once the commercial district and territory of the jade, peark, silk- and gold-working guilds, home to Beijing’s Number One Antiques and Curiosa Street Liu Lichang are Therapy for Me.
And QianMen ?? Well – that is where I charmed my Caroline, and we sat together overlooking the lights of TiananMen Square. Min Tien coffee language used to be the name of the Place. Now it is boarded up, empty and Gone.
Now no more Beijing Hutong ??
As I have personally and tragically witnessed something went wrong with the planned preservation of the Soul of the City – the Hutong. That is – As recorded for this website, even in November and December of 2004, the 1st Chongwen-district Hutong were being leveled at ChongwenMen, directly East and across from The New World Plaza and Office Buildings (at ChongwenMen Nei Dajie’). These now demolished Hutong have immediatly been taken up by the rapidly rising Glory City, a block of Luxury Appartments with a Park, for upscale Beijingers. The last old pensioners, some  of whom tried to tell me their sad story of non-compensation, were being turned out, probably driven outside the City by the cost of new living, never to Return again. I witnessed it all and got it on camera before the Police sternly asked me to leave.
And Then ?? Next in May 2005 the Hutong, west and at the end of Dashilan, famed old shopping street of this once commercial district of Beijing, were being leveled. These Hutong should obviously have been among the protected, however – as I heard then from a local fellow photographer and rickshaw-man-turned-restaurant-owner-, this was just to be the beginning of things. He was Right.
Please go to the New York Times Version of Events – As written currently at the New York Times – Olympics Imperil Historic Beijing Neighborhood. The Story of the Demise of the Chongwen-Xuanwu District Hutong Alley’s – known as the QianMen Hutong. Please read the impressive and probably historic article, a record of the End of a Lesser Known but Equally Precious Architectural and Cultural Jewel of the City of Beijing. In due time we hope to follow  this great article up with a ONLY digital reconstruction of the now lost area’s, photos-series of several Hutong Area’s while under demolition and possibly more eye-witness accounts of my Time exploring and documenting the Beijing Hutong before, while and after they Fell.
(For this Keep and Eye on the QianMen Hutong Report Page(s) or follow this China Blog).


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One Response to Demise of the Beijing Hutong – Soul of the City, how the Hutong are Lost

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