Hutongs (胡同) are narrow throughways, often alleys, in Beijing.
Hutong is a Mongolian word (originally hottog) meaning water well. Residents often lived near an area in the proximity of a spring or a well.
Hutongs in Beijing are alleyways formed by lines of siheyuan. Most of the civilian parts of Beijing was formed by joining up one siheyuan to another, which in turn led to joining up one hutong to another, and eventually forming the capital.
In old China, there was a clear definition for a street or a lane -- its width. Hutongs were often no wider than 9 metres. To this day, many hutongs remain narrow through ways in Beijing. Sometimes, an alley will be no wider than 3 or 4 metres, and some are so narrow that even a compact motorised vehicle cannot pass through them!
Hutongs in Beijing
Hutongs in Beijing used to be ubiquitous. Largely due to the destruction of the old city centre and the incessant rise of new skyscrapers, they are being done away with -- they are being demolished.
The 1997 figure for hutongs was 1,316, which compares with the Qing Dynasty figure of 978 and that of the Ming Dynasty, 459 hutongs. The figure in the 2000s is significantly lower, especially as Beijing gears up for the 2008 Summer Olympics.
- Longest hutongs: Dongjiao Minxiang and Xijiao Minxiang, which appear as ordinary streets
- Shortest hutong: Guantong Xiang (30 metres)
- Narrowest hutong: Xiaolaba Hutong (55 centimetres in width)
If a hutong has the sign "此巷不通" (not a through-path), it's a so-called "blind hutong".