People say that the real culture of Beijing is "the culture of hutong" and "the culture of courtyard". How true that is. Often, they attract tourists from home and abroad rather than the high-rise buildings and large mansions.
"Hutong" is a Mongolian word, meaning "water well". It is a typical lane or small street in Beijing that originated during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). During that time, water well is the settlement around which people lived. There are tens of thousands of them surrounding the Forbidden City. In the past, Beijing was composed of countless courtyards. Hutongs were formed when people left a passageway between two courtyards to make entering them more convenient.
As the symbol of Beijing City, a hutong has its own layout and structure, which makes it a wonder in the world. When taking a bird's eye view of Beijing, you will find the combination of hutongs and courtyards just like an orderly chessboard with delicate gardens, fine rockeries, and ancient ruins. They have witnessed the development of Beijing. Where there is such a small lane, there is a story.
Among the numerous ones in Beijing, Beixinqiao Hutong has the most turns. There are more than 20 in which you can easily get lost. The narrowest is Qian Shi (Money Market) Hutong, measuring about 30 to 40 meters (32 to 44 yards), located in Zhubao Shi Street outside the Front Gate. The narrowest part is merely 40 centimeters (16 inches) wide, so when two people meet, they must turn sideways to pass each other. The longest one is Dong Jiaomin Hutong, with a total length of 6.5 kilometers (4 miles), lying between Chang'an Avenue and East Street and West Street of the Front Gate. The shortest one is Guantong Hutong measuring only about 30 meters (33 yards).
Come and see it by hiring the rickshaw, and you'll have a true taste of Beijing!