Hutongs (胡同; hútong) are narrow throughways, often alleys, most prominently present in Beijing, China.
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.
The word itself can also refer to a unique form of community that exists only in China- "Hutong Culture" or "Courtyard Culture". In Shanghai, they are known as "Nong".
Hutongs in Beijing are alleyways formed by lines of siheyuan. Most of the civilian parts of Beijing were 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 meters. To this day, many hutongs remain narrow through ways in Beijing. Sometimes, an alley will be no wider than 3 or 4 meters, and some are so narrow that even a compact motorized vehicle cannot pass through them.
Every hutong has a name. Some hutongs have had only one name since the hutong was formed, but some have had more than five names in the past.
A hutong obtains its name by various means. Some from plants such as Liushu (Willow) Hutong; directions such as Xi (West) hongmen Hutong; Beijing idioms such as Yizi (Beijing local people call soap yizi) Hutong; some from auspicious words such as Xiqing (Happy) Hutong; some from markets for business such as Yangshi (Sheep Market) Hutong; some from temples such as Guanyinsi (Kwan-yin Temple) Hutong, and some are even from the names of common people such as Mengduan Hutong.
Usually most of Beijing's hutongs are straight. However, in the Jiudaowan Hutong, there are 19 corners.
Qianshi Hutong near Qianmen (Front Gate) has the narrowest path of any hutong. Located in the middle section with only 40 centimeters to spare, only one person can pass through at any one time, so that if there are two people entering from opposing ends, one of them will have to turn around and exit before the other can pass to their respective end.
Hutongs in Beijing
Hutong in Beijing used to be ubiquitous. Largely due to the destruction of the old city center and the rise of new skyscrapers, they are being demolished at a fast rate.
In Beijing, the hutong in the vicinity of the Bell tower and Shishahai Lake is well preserved, several hundred years old, and attracts tourists who can tour the quarter in pedicabs.
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