Hutong's People

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Hutong's People

I got myself lost in the labyrinth alleys of Hutongs and I came in contact with the most gypsy corner of Beijing, a corner full of people, color, and energy. I started taking photographs of the people living in Hutongs and I discover a world coming from the old times where people were living closely with other people, share everything and participate lively in their community.

In Beijing, hutongs are alleys formed by lines of siheyuan, traditional courtyard residences. The word “hutong” means “water well” in a Mongolian dialect. Many neighborhoods 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 neighborhoods. 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.

Many years ago a single complex would house one family, a situation much less common since the Cultural Revolution when the government confiscated many such residences for being “aristocratic.” It is not uncommon to find in noways several families sharing one courtyard complex in very poor condition. Today they are at the heart of an increasingly controversial facet of “progress” and “modernity” in China: what balance should be struck between preserving Beijing’s culturally and historically significant sites, and building a developed, global city in time for the 2008 Olympic Games

The significance of hutongs, many residents say, lies not just in the crumbling beauty of their once-stately architecture, but in the long-established social network of families and friends, who team about the narrow alleys, poking in and out of open doorways and supporting each other in their daily lives. It is this type of social support network whose existence is threatened by the destruction of the physical buildings, and the disappearance of this particular facet of Beijing life draws the greatest concern.