Essential Architecture-  Peking

Historic Hutongs and Siheyuans

architect

 

location

in many older neighborhoods, Beijing / Peking, China

date

pre-war

style

traditional vernacular

construction

brick (wood in southern China)

type

House- traditional urban courtyard houses
 
 
  Click for larger images.
 
 
Hutong

Hutongs are narrow streets or alleys, most commonly associated with Beijing, China.

The word hutong comes from the Mongolian hottog meaning "water well." During the growth of towns and cities, wells dug by villagers formed the centres of new communities.

In Beijing, hutongs are alleys formed by lines of siheyuan, traditional courtyard residences. Many neighbourhoods were formed by joining one siheyuan to another to form a hutong, and then joining one hutong to another. The word hutong is also used to refer to such neighbourhoods.

In old China, streets and lanes were defined by width. Hutongs were lanes no wider than 9 metres. Many are smaller; Beijing hutongs range in width from 10 metres down to only 40 centimetres.

Since the mid-20th century, the number of Beijing hutongs has dropped dramatically as they are demolished to make way for new roads and buildings. More recently, some hutongs have been designated as protected areas in an attempt to preserve this aspect of Chinese cultural history.

Historical hutongs

During China’s dynastic period, emperors planned the city of Beijing and arranged the residential areas according to the etiquette systems of the Zhou Dynasty (1027 - 256 BC). At the center was the Forbidden City, surrounded in concentric circles by the Inner City and Outer City. Citizens of higher social status were permitted to live closer to the center of the circles.

Aristocrats lived to the east and west of the imperial palace. The large siheyuan of these high-ranking officials and wealthy merchants often featured beautifully carved and painted roof beams and pillars and carefully landscaped gardens. The hutongs they formed were orderly, lined by spacious homes and walled gardens. Farther from the palace, and to its north and south, were the commoners, merchants, artisans and laborers. Their siheyuan were far smaller in scale and simpler in design and decoration, and the hutongs were narrower.

Nearly all siheyuan had their main buildings and gates facing south for better lighting; thus a majority of hutongs run from east to west. Between the main hutongs, many tiny lanes ran north and south for convenient passage.

Hutongs in the modern era

At the turn of the 20th century, the Qing court was disintegrating as China’s dynastic era came to an end. The traditional arrangement of hutongs was also affected. Many new hutongs, built haphazardly and with no apparent plan, began to appear on the outskirts of the old city while the old ones lost their former neat appearance. The social stratification of the residents also began to evaporate, reflecting the collapse of the feudal system.

During the period of the Republic of China from 1911 to 1948, society was unstable, fraught with civil wars and repeated foreign invasions. Beijing deteriorated, and the conditions of the hutongs worsened. Siheyuan previously owned and occupied by a single family were subdivided and shared by many households, with additions tacked on as needed, built with whatever materials were available. The 978 hutongs listed in Qing Dynasty records swelled to 1,330 by 1949.

Decline of hutongs

Following the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, many of the old hutongs disappeared, replaced by the high rises and wide boulevards of today’s Beijing. Many citizens left the lanes where their families resided for generations, resettling in apartment buildings with modern amenities. In Xicheng District, for example, nearly 200 hutongs out of the 820 it held in 1949 have disappeared. The Beijing Municipal Construction Committee stated in 2004, some 250,000 square meters of old housing – 20,000 households – would be demolished in 2004.

However, many of Beijing’s ancient hutongs still stand, and a number of them have been designated protected areas. The older neighborhoods survive today, offering a glimpse of life in the capital city as it has been for generations.

In Beijing, the hutongs in the vicinity of the Bell Tower and Shichahai Lake are especially well preserved. Some are several hundred years old, and attracts tourists who tour the quarter in pedicabs.

Other information
Each hutong was names. Some have had only one name since their creation, while others have had several throughout their history.

Names were given to hutongs for various reasons:

Place names, such as Inner Xizhimen Hutong
Plants, such as Liushu Hutong (Liushu means willow)
Directions, as Xi Hongmen Hutong (Xi means west)
Beijing idioms such as Yizi Hutong (a local term for soap is yizi)
Words with positive attributes, such as Xiqing Hutong (Xiqing means happy)
Markets and businesses, such as Yangshi Hutong (Yangshi is a sheep market)
Temples, such as Guanyinsi Hutong (Guanyinsi is the Kuan-yin Temple)
People's names, such as Mengduan Hutong.
While most Beijing hutongs are straight, Jiudaowan Hutong turns nineteen times.

At its narrowest section, Qianshi Hutong near Qianmen (Front Gate) is only 40 centimeters wide.

Siheyuan

A Siheyuan is a type of residence commonly found throughout China, but most famously in Beijing. The name literally means a courtyard, a space enclosed by walls, a yard surrounded by buildings, an enclosed quadrangle area. In China a courtyard is called a siheyuan, meaning a yard surrounded by four buildings. Throughout Chinese history, the siheyuan composition was the basic pattern used for residences, palaces, temples, monasteries, family businesses and government offices. There were simple courtyards and there were courtyard villas.

History
Early as 3,100 years ago, Siheyuan with complete layout was built in Western Zhou Period, which carries the most outstanding and fundamental characteristics of Chinese architectures. It exists all across China and is the root for all the Chinese architecture styles.

Why Siheyuan?
Such a residence offers space, comfort and quiet privacy. It is also good for security as well as protection against dust and storms. Grown with plants and flowers, the court is also a sort of garden.

In feudal times, the courtyard dwellings were built according to the traditional concepts of the five elements that were believed to compose the universe, and the eight diagrams of divination. The gate was made at the southeast corner which was the "wind" corner, and house was made to face the south with the main building on the north side which was believed to belong to "water"-- an element to prevent fire.

Siheyuan represent Beijing residents’ childhood happiness, an old image branded on their collective memory. From a foreign visitors’ point of view, the siheyuan scenario, with fruit sellers along the hutong, or narrow lanes, lined with small shops selling various daily life utensils, has a bewitching charm redolent of the rich flavor of Beijing life. Such areas offer the best chance to interact with the local people and observe their daily life. Siheyuan, in effect, shorten the distance between peoples.

Beijing's Siheyuan is cordial and quiet, with a strong flavor of life. The courtyard is square, vast and of a suitable size. It contains flowers and is set up with rocks, providing an ideal space for outdoor life. Such elements make the courtyard seem like an open-air, large living room, drawing heaven and earth closer to people's hearts; this is why the courtyard was most favored by them. The verandah divides the courtyard into several big and small spaces that are not very distant from each other. These spaces penetrate one another, setting off the void and the solids, and the contrast of shadows. The divisions also make the courtyard more suited to the standards of daily life. Family members exchanged their views here, which created a cordial temperament and an interesting atmosphere.

In fact, the centripetal and cohesive atmosphere of Beijing's Siheyuan, with its strict rules and forms, is a typical expression of the character of most Chinese residences. The courtyard's pattern of being closed to the outside and open to the inside can be regarded as a wise integration of two kinds of contradictory psychologies: On one hand the self-sufficient feudal families needed to maintain a certain separation from the outside world; on the other, the psychology, deeply rooted in the mode of agricultural production, makes the Chinese particularly keen on getting closer to nature. They often want to see the heaven, earth, flowers, grass and trees in their own homes.

Rich and Poor
All the quadrangles, from their size and style one could tell whether they belonged to private individuals or the powerful and rich. The simple house of an ordinary person has only one courtyard with the main building on the north facing, across the court, the southern building with rooms of northern exposure and flanked on the sides by the buildings of eastern and western chambers. The mansion of a titled or very rich family would have two or more courtyards, one behind another, with the main building separated from the view of the southern building by a wall with a fancy gate or by a guoting (walk-through pavilion). Behind the main building there would be a lesser house in the rear and, connected with the main quadrangle, small "corner courtyards".

The lord and lady of the house lived in the sunny main building and their children in the side chambers. The southern row on the opposite side, those nearest to the entrance gate, were generally used as the study, the reception room, the man servants' dwelling or for sundry purposes.

Not only residences but ancient palaces, government offices, temples and monasteries were built basically on the pattern of the siheyuan, a common feature of traditional Chinese architecture.

Rundown of Layout
Stepping over the high wooden base of the front gate of a large compound, you will find a brick screen located a few feet inside. In front of the screen is the outer courtyard, which is flanked by structures to the east and west. In former days, these were the kitchen and servants' living quarters. A red-painted gate leads through the north wall of the outer court into the inner courtyard. The main building faces south to get the maximum possible sunshine in winter, and the eaves provide a pleasant shade in summer when the sun is high. The building is divided into three or five rooms: living or community rooms in the centre with smaller bedroom or studies at each end. The buildings facing east and west on each side of the court were constructed to accommodate married children and their families. Some dwelling compounds consist of several courtyards. With no steel or concrete, the entire dwelling was built of bricks and wood. The compounds are quiet, beautiful and compact. Beijing residents like to live in them and even foreigners find them attractive.

It is normal for the four rooms to be positioned along the north-south, east-west axes. The room positioned to the north and facing the south is considered the main house and would traditionally have accommodated the head of the family. The rooms adjoining the main house are called " side houses" and were the quarters of the younger generations or less important members of the family. The room that faces north is known as the "opposite house" and would generally be where the servants lived or where the family would gather to relax, eat or study. The gate to the courtyard is usually at the southeastern corner. Normally, there is a screen-wall inside the gate so that outsiders cannot see directly into the courtyard and to protect the house from evil spirits. Outside the gate of some large siheyuan, it is common to find a pair of stone lions. The gates are usually painted vermilion and have large copper door rings. All the rooms around the courtyard have large windows facing onto the yard and small windows high up on the back wall facing out onto the street. Some do not even have back windows. Some large compounds have two or more courtyards to house the extended families that were a mark of prosperity in ancient times.

Why this layout?
The layout of a simple courtyard becomes a vivid representation of traditional Chinese morality. Due to Beijing's geographical location, four buildings in a single courtyard receive different amount of sunlight. The northern one receives the most, thus serving as the living room and bedroom of the Siheyuan owner. The eastern and western buildings receive less, and serve as guestrooms. The southern one, opposite the owner's house, receives the least sunlight, and usually functions as the quarters for service staff. The northern, eastern and western buildings are connected by beautiful decorated passages. These passages serve as shelters from the sunshine during the day, and provide a cool place to appreciate the view of the courtyard at night. Behind the northern building, there would often be a separate building for unmarried daughters. In ancient China, unmarried girls weren't allowed direct exposure to the public, thus, they would occupy the most secret building in the Siheyuan.

Though built a long time ago, a Siheyuan is a scientific, human-oriented architecture. Northwestern walls are usually higher than the other walls, to protect the inside buildings from the harsh winds, blowing across northern China in the winter. The eaves curve downward, so when it rains the accumulated rainwater will flow along the curve rather than dropping straight down. The rooftop has ridge design, so when sunshine falls down on the roof, shade is provided. This helps the room to escape direct exposure to sunshine in the summer while retaining warmth in the winter.

Siheyuan in places other than Beijing
In Gansu, Qinghai and other northwest regions, where a sand-laden wind is very strong, the height of courtyard walls is increased. The northeast region is extensive, but the weather is cold, so that, in order to take in as much sunshine as possible, the courtyard is broad and large, and there are many open areas inside the courtyard walls.

Disappearing Siheyuan in Beijing
Nowadays, these peaceful quadrangles are hard to find in Beijing.

The reasons are as follows:

1. Since 1949, a large-scale construction programme has been carried out in the city, causing the demolition of some dwelling compounds.

2. During the initial post-liberation period, government offices occupied some quadrangles. Later they were demolished to build office buildings.

3. During the "Cultural Revolution" (1966-1976), air-raid shelters were dug everywhere in Beijing, resulting in the destruction of some dwelling compounds.

4. In recent years many residential buildings have been constructed to ease the housing shortage and provide better accommodation for the people. Some were built on the sites of demolished dwelling compounds. Outer compounds have been changed or distorted beyond recognition because the residents have added kitchens in the courtyards.

Systematic demolition of old urban buildings took place during China’s rapid economic development of the 1990s. Large-scale disappearance of siheyuan began when the municipal government implemented a housing renovation policy that allowed developers to replace old and derelict dwellings with high-rise buildings.

Between 1990 and 1998, a total 4.2 million square meters of old housing was demolished, most of it siheyuan. Today, the area occupied by siheyuan has shrunk from the 17 million square meters of the early 1950s to just three million square meters. According to Beijing Municipal Administration of Cultural Heritage statistics, of the 3,000 courtyards remaining in Beijing, only 539 are in Cultural and Historical Conservation Areas. The extent of destruction of siheyuan is startling. Those remaining exist within a damaged ecological environment, and as they have not been refurbished for many years, their historical and aesthetic value is greatly reduced.

Siheyuan Today - Beijing
Today, Beijing still has about 400,000 residential quadrangles, mainly distributed over the East, West, Xuanwu and Chongwen districts of the city. Those in the East and West districts are in the best shape. The departments concerned with the preservation of cultural relics in Beijing have earmarked a number of good-quality dwelling compounds for protection. In addition, the urban construction departments have worked out a plan to limit high buildings in the city proper to protect the dwelling compounds.

Since housing is now one of the most difficult problems facing Beijing, a city that is growing both spatially and in terms of population at a fast rate. As such, one siheyuan now often houses several families and many yards have been taken up with additional rooms. This contributes to the "rabbit-warren" nature of the hutongs. The living conditions in many siheyuans are now considered squalid, especially as very few have private toilets or washrooms. To solve the apparent problems of overcrowding, the siheyuan are being torn down and replaced by modern blocks of flats. There are, however, still some grand siheyuan in Beijing that have been preserved in all their former glory. Mainly built for nobles and high officials before the turn of the century, many have been turned into museums, and others are being lived in by present-day governmental officials or used as government offices.

Best-preserved Siheyuan in Beijing
Nanchangjie and Beichangjie (southern long street and northern long street) Nanchangjie and Beichangjie both start from Xihuamen Dajie with Nanchangjie running south to Changan jie and Beichangjie running north to Jingshan Qianjie. In the Qing dynasty, the various departments of the domestic affairs ministry were established here. At present various temples, including the Fuyou Temple, Wanshou Xinglong Temple, Zhaoxian Temple and Jingmo Temple line this street.

Location: east to Beihai Park, Dongcheng

Wusi Dajie
Named after the famous "May 4 Movement", Wusi Dajie was built after the liberation of the country, connecting already existing mansions, temples and Hutongs. Famous scenic spots include Beida Honglou (Peking University red building), the birthplace of the "May 4 Movement", the Longfu Temple, hosting the largest book fair, and National Art Museum of China.

Location: northeast of the Forbidden City

Nanchizi and Beichizi (southern pond and northern pond)
Divided by Donghuamen Dajie, Nanchizi runs south to Changan jie and Beichangjie runs north to Jingshan Qianjie. Nanchizi and Beichizi are separated from Nanchangjie and Beichangjie by the Forbidden City in the north and Tiananmen Square in the south.

Location: east of Tiananmen Square, east of the Forbidden City, Dongcheng

Wenjin Jie
Crowned by expatriates as the most beautiful street in Beijing, Wenjin Jie boasts old houses, beautiful scenery and profound cultural relics. The Jinao Yudong Bridge divides Zhonghai and Beihai. Location: the street south of Beihai Park, dividing Beihai Park and Zhonghai

Zhishanmen Jie
Named after the east gate of Beihai Park, and literally meaning the gate to climb a mountain, Zhishanmen Jie is the home of the famous Hutong, Xuechi Hutong. This particular Hutong was once used as the storehouse of ice blocks by royal families.

Location: between Jingshan Xijie and Beihai Park

Jingshan Dong, Xi, Hou and Qian Jie (Jingshan east, west, back and front street)
These four streets circle Jingshan Park forming a square.

Location: at the northern gate of the Forbidden City, Xicheng

Dianmen Neidajie
Starting from Jingshan Houjie, running along Beihai, Qianhai, and Houhai until Zhonggulou (drum and bell tower), Dianmen Neidajie connects several quite reminiscent lanes.

Location: starts from Jingshan Houjie and runs north to Dianmen

 
Courtyard (Siheyuan)
(China Daily) Updated:2004-07-07 17:59

  Beijing's traditional courtyards (siheyuan) still house many of the city's residents within the second ring road, which marks the limits of old Beijing. Siheyuan line the small lanes, or hutongs, that make up most of the central part of the city. However, many of the siheyuan, which consist of four rooms around a central yard, are being torn down at present, and quite a large proportion of those who have enjoyed courtyard living for generations have now moved to high-rise blocks of flats in new residential areas.

  The siheyuan is a typical form of ancient Chinese architecture, especially in the north of China. They are designed to make it as comfortable as possible to live in a climate that is at times inhospitable. For instance, the siheyuan are enclosed and inward facing to protect them from the harsh winter winds and the dust storms of spring. Their design also reflects the traditions of China, following the rules of feng shui and the patriarchal, Confucian tenants of order and heirarchy that were so important to society.

  It is normal for the four rooms to be positioned along the north-south, east-west axes. The room positioned to the north and facing the south is considered the main house and would traditionally have accomodated the head of the family. The rooms adjoining the main house are called " side houses" and were the quarters of the younger generations or less important members of the family. The room that faces north is known as the "opposite house" and would generally be where the servants lived or where the family would gather to relax, eat or study. The gate to the courtyard is usually at the southeastern corner. Normally, there is a screen-wall inside the gate so that outsiders cannot see directly into the courtyard and to protect the house from evil spirits. Outside the gate of some large siheyuan, it is common to find a pair of stone lions. The gates are usually painted vermilion and have large copper door rings. All the rooms around the courtyard have large windows facing onto the yard and small windows high up on the back wall facing out onto the street. Some do not even have back windows. Some large compounds have two or more courtyards to house the extended families that were a mark of prosperity in ancient times.

  Housing is now one of the most difficult problems facing Beijing, a city that is growing both spatially and in terms of population at a fast rate. As such, one siheyuan now often houses several families and many yards have been taken up with additional rooms. This contributes to the "rabbit-warren" nature of the hutongs. The living conditions in many siheyuans are now considered squalid, especially as very few have private toilets or washrooms. To solve the apparent problems of overcrowding, the siheyuan are being torn down and replaced by modern blocks of flats. There are, however, still some grand siheyuan in Beijing that have been preserved in all their former glory. Mainly built for nobles and high officials before the turn of the century, many have been turned into museums, and others are being lived in by present-day governmental officials or used as government offices.

thanks to http://english.sohu.com/

links

 
www.essential-architecture.com