The Commerce Wrapped Hutong Block

An entrance to the Hutong that is enveloped by the Wanfujing Snack street in Dongcheng, Beijing.

 

On a walk to one of Beijing's busiest shopping streets, Wanfujing Road, I step into a side lane that hails itself as Wanfujing's "small eats" street. As with any place touted to tourists in China, the street is bustling with commercial activity - shops hawking packaged food items on one side, and stalls selling greasy street food on the other. Walking around the block, I am surprised to find an entrance to a hutong amidst all the stalls and shopfronts. It becomes clear to me that while the entire perimeter of the block I had been walking around serves as a commercial storefront to the countless number of visitors that pass through Wangfujing each day, the interior of the block still contains a network of pathways and dwelling units housing lower-class workers. This specific type of housing, haphazardly planned and informal in comparison to the neatly organized Siheyuan courtyard housing also found in Hutongs, is called "Dazhayuan," literally translated as a courtyard occupied by a mixture of miscellaneous households. In this commerce wrapped Hutong block, people jostle for bowls of fried tofu and vendors hawk candy coated apples while families live their day-to-day lives just a couple of feet away, separated by a single wall that divides the food stalls from the dwelling units.

On the outside periphery of the Hutong, vendors sell everything from scorpians on a stick to fried dumplings to a constant stream of visitors.

 

Inside the Hutong, a haphazard clustering of living units houses many families in close proximity.