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A Home in the Hutong

As a city, Beijing is a sprawling mass of high-rise buildings, many of them apartment and condo towers built to house the 19 million people who live here. But in the Hutong area of the city, just a block behind the skyscrapers on busy city streets, quiet neighborhoods and charming one-story homes maintain a semblance of the old life in Beijing.

We toured the Hutong by rickshaw today, going two-by-two in carts powered by a bicycle driver. It’s about the only way to go — motorcoaches can’t navigate the narrow passages, and the labyrinth of streets and alleys makes trekking through on foot an intimidating prospects.

Our drivers brought us to the home of a local family, where the mother invited us in, served us tea, and talked to us about her family’s life in the small Hutong home. The house, she said, has been in her husbands family for four generations. The couple currently live there with their youngest son, as well as her father. Like most of her husband’s family, her oldest son is a kung fu master, and he now teaches in the United States. No on asked how the family managed to get around China’s infamous one-child policy.

The home was modest and crowded, but lovingly decorated in celebratory Chinese symbols. Though the Hutong is much beloved by residents, its days are probably numbered — as Beijing’s population continues to grow, the government is tearing down the one-story buildings to construct more high-rises. The lady tells us that by the end of this year, she and her family will have to relocated, as their home is being demolished to create a public garden and a wider road.

There is one upside for the family, though: Because traditional homes in the Hutong are highly coveted by locals, their values have skyrocketed relative to other real estate in China. When it is time for the family to move, the government will reimburse them for their tiny home, which should be worth about $600,000. That will buy a great condo somewhere else in Beijing.

 Jasmine tea with the lady of the house.


Visiting in the family room.

The family’s display of Kung Fu weapons.

Enjoying a rickshaw ride through the Hutong.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.