What a hutong tour looks like, the latest hit among tourists to see how some old Beijingers live traditionally as they cling to the past? How Drum and Bell Towers, two ancient architectural buildings from Yuan Dynasty, works as they did 700 years ago. Find out, all in this short and pleasurable walk. Follow us NOW!!!
Old Drum Tower St. (Jiugulou St.)
A Full-of-Fun Hutong Tour, on Rickshaw!
JIUGULOU DAJIE (Old Drum Tower St.)area in Xicheng district, North of inner Beijing, is well-known for countless ‘hutongs’- Chinese residential alleys. Many older Beijingers still reside in these hutongs today. While hanging out in this area, you are sure to see narrow, zigzagging, paths. As Beijing continues to modernize, these hutongs are becoming rarer as each day passes.
To explore all these funs, we need to get to the Old Drum Tower St first. Simply take subway line #2 or #5, and get off at YONGHEGONG station. Exit the station at Exit B, and you shall see the street on the right. Turn onto it as you looking around to navigate the way forward. First, let’s see hutongs, the lastest hit among first-time-visitors, especially the foreigners.
To The Hutongs
Hutongs are the traditional Chinese residential areas first built in ancient times. Although some of its residents in the past were imperial kinsman or aristocrats, most were ordinary citizens, albeit the wealthier ones who could afford such housing. Today, many native Beijingers still live in hutongs, although many have moved to modern residential buildings.
The typical building structure within a Beijing hutong is the very famous Si He Yuan, which roughly translates to “Courtyard Surrounded on Four Sides.” This structure consists of four connected houses that form a rectangular shape, with a courtyard in the middle. In ancient times, a Si He Yuan house a single extended family and their servants. The entrance usually resides at the southeastern edge. The house on the north is the main house, where the patriarch and the immediate family live. The lesser members of the extended family reside at the houses on the east and west side. Servants live and rest at the house at the south end, near the entrance. Usually, there is also a building behind the main house for un-wed daughters, to keep them away from the public’s eye. In ancient China, daughters cannot show their face to the public before they marry. Although commoners usually bend this rule out of necessity, the wealthier families tend to follow this rule very strictly.
As Beijing’s population continues to grow, the hutongs and Si He Yuans have become rarer and rarer. Nowadays, developers are bulldozing hutongs to replace them with modern high-rise apartments. So enjoy the view while you can, because they just might disappear later.
If you would like to visit the hutongs, try not to go too far in. The paths tend to zigzag and can really confuse non-residents. One way to see the whole area without getting lost is by getting a bicycle rickshaw ride. As I write this, the price for a ride around the hutongs is around RMB 80.
As you stroll at your leisure, you are also likely to see, along the Jiugulou St., many cafes, restaurants, and shops. Zaoyuan Artifact Shop, for example, carries an amazing selection of ceramics, paintings, and classic furniture, while Han Gu Xuan offers calligraphic works on the spot. It also holds some antique vases that date back to Qing Dynasty. The owner himself is a famous calligrapher. They are all easy to engage, and before you reach out to your pocket, make sure to bargain really hard!!!
When finished, continue along the JIUGULOU DAJIE till the end, and turn left at the T-Intersection here with GULOUXI DAJIE (Drum Tower West Street). The drum tower is right in front of you.
Drum and Bell Towers
Although originally used in ancient China as musical instruments, bells and drums eventually became a way to announce time to the public. Over the years, bell towers and drum towers were built so the sound can carry better. Built over 700 years ago during the Yuan dynasty, the Beijing towers have long since outlived their usefulness for announcing time. Instead, they’ve become tourist destinations with thousands of domestic and foreign visitors daily.
The drum Tower
The drum tower was built in 1272 during the reign of Kublai Khan, at which time it stood at the heart of the Yuan dynasty capital Dadu. The Drum Tower used various instruments to keep time for the whole city. You can see the bronze clepsydras (water clocks) and drums they beat to mark the hours back then. The tower stands at 46.7 meters tall, with magnificent views of the city on the second story. Drum performance is staged every half hour, so be sure to stay and enjoy the performance. Also check out the Hall of Drums to see some ingenious designs.
The Bell Tower
Located about 100 yards north of the Drum Tower, the Bell Tower has the bell that all old Beijingers use to know the time of the day. At 5.5 meters in height and 60 tons in weight, the bell here is both the heaviest and biggest of its kind in China. Its sounds could be heard as far as 20 miles away. Unfortunately, the Bell Tower does not offer demonstrations for tourists, but you can enjoy the sight all you want.
How to Return
Given a short distance, you may return by retracing your steps back. Walk onto the JIUGULOU DAJIE, and down to the end, where you can find the subway station GULOUDAJIE on the left.
Of course, you can always wave your hand to catch a cab anywhere you are losing the way.