Hutongs, home & family
Posted on September 8, 2016
Our guests often get ask us about our name and what ‘Hutong’ is. Our name is a huge part of our identity and we thought it would be nice to share a brief history of hutongs and why we find them inspiring.
Hutongs are alleyways particular to Northern China, famed in Beijing, originating from the Yan Dynasty (1271–1368) and were built around the Forbidden City. Hutong is a Mongolian word for water well, meaning they were pathways towards communities’ wells, the centre of a neighbourhood.
But, just like food is more than sustenance, and dining out is more than a restaurant, hutongs are more than practical streets of a city. Hutongs weren’t only built to create easy access to a vital village commodity, there were also created through the connecting courtyards (siheyuan) of the homes of Old Beijing residencies across the city. The courtyard is an important part of the housing design in traditional Chinese homes, creating a space for families to gather.
Hutongs created neighbourhoods, they were the passageways for the residents to traverse the city, and home again. Small tea shops were in the walls of the hutongs, providing much needed refreshment stops, and they had shops selling everyday necessities – hutongs were a key part of the teeming life in Old Beijing. Most ran east to west to allow the courtyards and residencies to face south – letting sun into homes.
Hutongs framed homes and established a sense of place for families to dwell and created a sense of belonging. They were rivets through a bustling city connecting glamourous residencies and humble homes with intricate wood carvings at the gateways. Although hutongs are less prominent now, making way for modern roads and buildings, there are traditional hutongs in Beijing that can be visited, and their history is still a proud part of the city’s identity. We feel that that the feeling of home, is linked to the meaning of hutongs.
Food and meal times also provide a sense of home, belonging and identity, as they are moments of sharing space and time with friends and family. It is the sense of togetherness, home and community that we want to create at Hutong and what inspired our name.