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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Memorializing Beijing, Part 3

Our last day in Bĕījing 北京 was spent among the hútòng 胡同, the dense networks of narrow streets, alleys and courtyards that used to define life in China’s capital city. Our accommodation for the three nights we stayed in Beijing, the Bamboo Garden 竹园宾馆, was, in fact, a converted hutong. Here, my daughter poses in the courtyard:

Since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, Beijing’s hutong have been on the endangered list, victims of the Communist Party’s desire to modernize the republic. More recently, property developers have set their sights on many of the city’s traditional neighborhoods. Nowadays, less than 1000 hutong remain, compared to around 6000 in the mid-1950’s. The authorities have begun to designate a few hutong as protected areas, preserving them so that they can become boutiques, cafes and souvenir shops, but it’s still too early to tell how many hutong will be able to survive the wrecking ball.

For Memorial Day, we rode the Metro two stops to one of Beijing’s most famous hutong, Nánluógŭxiàng 南锣鼓巷. We started out by walking along Chădòu Hútòng 炒豆胡同, where Amber stopped to admire the entranceway to the former mansion of a Qing dynasty general named Seng Gelinqin:

These other gateways were also once part of the same mansion:

This wasn't a courtyard entrance, but a hallway gate, a connecting passageway between two hutong:

Yours truly consults his Lonely Planet guide as to which alley to take next:

Scenes along Mào’ér Hútòng 帽儿胡同:

The house at No. 37 was the former home of Wăn Ròng婉容, the woman who married China’s last emperor, Pŭyí 溥仪. It was also one of the few homes open to the public:

Despite the effects of tourism, the hutong still function as ordinary neighborhoods populated by the common folk…:

…but the times they are a-changin’:

The Bell Tower 钟楼 soon made its first appearance…:

…but first it was time for lunch. Outside the restaurant, the butcher and the bamboo products vendors were doing a brisk trade:

The Bell Tower dates from the Qing dynasty, and the bells inside it were used by Beijing’s official timekeepers up until 1924:

The walk up the steep staircase was harder on my legs than the previous day’s hike along crumbling sections of the Great Wall 万里长城:

Inside was the 63-ton bell:

There were excellent views to be had from the balcony, including of the Drum Tower 鼓楼 and looking out toward the area of Beijing where the 2008 Summer Olympics were staged:

Leaving the Bell Tower, our next stop was naturally the nearby Drum Tower:

The drums inside the Drum Tower were once used to mark the times of the day. The Night Watchman’s Drum 更鼓 was a little worse for the wear, having been damaged during the Boxer Rebellion by the Eight Nation Alliance:

In addition to drums, there was this replica of a Song-dynasty water clock:

From the balcony, there were views looking out toward Bĕihăi Park 北海公园 and Jĭngshān Park 景山公园:

Looking at the Drum Tower from the front, demonstrating how in China bigger is always considered definitely to be better:

Leaving Beijing and on the train going out to the airport, you know you’re still in China when a shopping plaza has a statue of a giant panda out front:

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