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Beijing Hutong Tour

Recently, a group of tourists from Cologne, Germany, traveled thousands of miles to Beijing for its Hutong (lanes and alleys) Tour. With curiosity, reporters from China Tourism accompanied the German visitors on the tour.

The drizzle seemed to be a welcome ceremony for these tourists. They were surprised to see a line of black pedicabs with red canopies at the back door of Beihai Park. In the hutongs, the ringing bells of the pedicabs could be heard everywhere.

The Hutong Tour starts from along Shishahai near the vegetable and fruit market. In the deepest of the hutong, they were taken to visit Prince Gong's Mansion, famous in the Qing Dynasty. In the past, princes', generals' and ministers' housed with courtyards were scattered around the outside of the Forbidden City. Linking up those courtyard houses were lanes and alleys called hutongs. The word "hutong" probably came into use during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), as it is a Mongolian word, meaning "well". These residential areas were so called because where there is a well, there are people living nearby. As a result,

the hutong has become a part of Beijing life and now is an informal symbol of the city. Inside Prince Gong's Mansion there is an ancient well, and exhibits allowing visitors to understand more about hutongs.

The visitors from Germany were attracted by the building style of the brick-and-tile mansion, in which the courtyard consists of a garden with winding corridors, pavilions, rockeries and water. Here, exquisite carvings on every pieces of tiles and stones are a work of art. Patterns of a bat waiting to fly and two catfishes over the window frames suggest happiness, propitiousness and having surplus in consecutive years.

A winding path leads to a secluded back theater where visitors can watch Peking Opera. In the past it was used for giving home celebrations. The sound of laughing and happy drumbeats accompanying the Peking Opera reverberated in the air above the mansion and the hutong.

watching Peking Opera in Prince Gong's Mansion

Leaving Prince Gong's Mansion, visitors again went by pedicabs and then stopped at the Nanguanfang Lane because it was too narrow for the pedicabs. The had to go on foot from one lane to another looking for signs of the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. Beijing's hutongs have a long history, starting from the Yuan dynasty. More than 700 years ago, Beijing was an orderly city with all streets and lanes centering the Imperial Palace from north to south and from west to east.

5 Dajinsi Alley was originally the mansion of famous eunuch Li Lianying. In the old days it was as luxurious as Prince Gong's Mansion, but today its past glory was nowhere to be seen. The red paint of the gate has all flaked off. The three-courtyard mansion has been divided in half, one side of which is occupied by 14 households. The compound, occupied by many households, shows tourists the customs, conditions and lingering charm of ordinary Beijingers. While one household prepares meals, frangrance wafts out to other households. The compounded houses all have a festive atmosphere.

Our visitors were happy after they heard they were to have meals there with the locals.

They had dumplings, which symbolizes the family reunion, harmony and auspiciousness at the moment while sending off the old and seeing the new year in. It was hard for the Germans to use chopsticks, but all of them enjoyed the food very much. Some of them even tried strong Chinese liquor, passing it around in turn.

While departing, both host and visitors were reluctant to say good-bye. Later, our visitors sang a song while clapping hands, saying "Dear friends, good-bye. We will see each other again when we come back in the future..." The long hutong recorded the friendship as it has recorded so many things over the centuries.

Materials are provided by "China Tourism"

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