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Heritage Trail project

Heritage Trail: Qinlao Hutong 秦老胡同


Qinlao 2

An introduction:

Qinlao Hutong runs east towest, connecting South Jiaodaokou with Nanluo Guxiang. To its south lies Beibingmasi Hutong and to its north lies Qian Yuan Ensi Hutong. It is 447 meters long and 6 meters wide. The road is paved with asphalt. The street numbers on the north side range from 1 to 39 and on the south side from 4 to 48 with an absence of numbers 2 and 6. It used to belong to the Zhaohui Jingong administrative area (fang) during the Ming Dynasty and was named Qinjia Hutong. During the Qing Dynasty it fell under the jurisdiction of the Bordered Yellow Banner, and was renamed Qinlao Hutong, a name it held up to and throughout the Republican Era. It underwent several name changes from Liberation to 1979, at which point it was once again named Qinlao Hutong. At present, the courtyard found at number 19 is representative of a traditional parallel quadrangle layout.

According to Guangxu Shuntian Fuzhi, during the first year of the Guangxu Emperor’s reign (1875), three officials named Zhou Shikun, Zhu Liangji, and Liu Yonghuai financed and opened a free school (cheng zheng yi xue) in Qinlao Hutong.

Qinlao 3

Beijing Simiao Lishi Ziliao states that number 7 Qinlao Hutong was once home to a temple dedicated to Guan Yu. Built in the Ming Dynasty, it was later renovated during the reign of Qing Emperor Kangxi (1661-1722).

Cultural Heritage Protection Site:

Qi Yuan, 35 Qinlao Hutong. Named a cultural heritage protection site in 1986.

Qi Yuan was originally the garden of the Suo family, whose patriarch was one of the Ministers of the Imperial Household during the late Qing.


35 Qinlao Hutong was the garden of the Suo family, called “Qi Yuan.” Even today, one can find the characters “Qi Yuan” carved on the garden’s main rockery. In the past, alongside these stones, one could not only find ponds, bridges, and pavilions, but also a southern-style boat-shaped pavilion (the base of the pavilion is shaped like a boat, above which is a wooden pavilion). This unique structure made Qi Yuan more extraordinary than any other garden in the area. In later years, the family began to sell off parts of the mansion. The new owner then tore down and remodeled much of the old architecture, keeping only a part of the garden’s rockery. Because of this, visitors often feel that this courtyard is more spacious than many of its counterparts.

With its renovations, the residence was remodeled into a three-unit courtyard complete with one gate, nine “reversely set rooms” (dao zuo fang), and some rockery to the east. Passing through the five connecting halls, the second courtyard has five main halls with a frontier corridor (qianchu lang) and a protruding baosha room at the back. One also finds two interior side rooms (er fang) on the left and five wing rooms (xiang fang) on the east and west with front corridors (zou lang). A door opens on the east side of the main hall leading to the back yard, where there are nice posterior shielding rooms (houzhao fang) with front corridors. The entire quadrangle is 70 meters long and 30 meters wide, making up a total area of more than 2000 square meters. The architecture in the quadrangle is entirely constructed with classic-style roof tiles.



The original owner of the Suo garden was a man named Mingshan, descendent of the Bordered Yellow Banner’s Chahala family and a Minister of the Imperial Household during the reigns of both the Xianfeng and Tongzhi Emperors. Regarding Mingshan’s surname “Suo,” it can be traced back to Suo Zhu, his forbear during the Yongzheng and Qianlong eras. At that time it was very popular for the Manchu nobility to take a Han surname, and Suo Zhu settled on “Suo”. However, the Manchus also had a tradition of only using first names when addressing other Manchus, a practice done to distinguish them from the Han Chinese. As such, Mingshan – despite his de facto last name – was actually simply called Mingshan, and not Suo Mingshan. Other imperial officials simply referred to him as Minister Ming or Sir Ming.

From 1860 to 1874, Mingshan took up a position as Minister of the Imperial Household. His son Wenxi and grandson Zengchong both followed in his footsteps, serving in the same capacity during the Tongzhi, Guangxu and Xuantong eras. According to Chongyi’s Daoxian yilai chaoye zaji, the Suo family is the only family to ever serve three generations as Minister of the Imperial Household, and is thus commonly known as the “Family of the Imperial Household”. Fittingly, many Suo family descendents took positions in this department, although by no means exclusively; others also worked in customs, river transportation, weaving, as well as other lucrative jobs. They were able to accumulate great wealth over many generations, becoming wealthier than many of the other families in the city. In fact, at their peak, they were among the four most well-known aristocratic families in old Beijing, ranking alongside the Na, Wang, and Yang clans.

Although historians are unsure as to exactly when the Suo family settled at Qinlao Hutong, it is clear that it was during Mingshan’s tenure as patriarch that their property started to expand. The family mansion first arose from the west end of Qinlao Hutong. At that time, the current courtyards at numbers 39, 37, 35, 33, 31, 29 and 27 were connected as one huge quadrangle, all of which was owned by Mingshan. There was only one entrance to the quadrangle, located at today’s number 31 (number 18 at the time). Across the entrance was a long screen wall (ying bi), which is still very well preserved even today. With the exception of the easternmost number 29 and 27 courtyards (number 17 at the time), the rest of the quadrangle took up the entire space between Qinlao and Qian Yuan Ensi Hutong. The Suo family would continue to purchase land over the years, building new structures and remodeling the old ones. As a result, there is today a lack of consistency in the quadrangle layout. Aside from the mansion on the north side of Qinlao Hutong, the Suo family also owned a piece of land at the middle-west of the hutong on the south side, which was used as a stable, garage, garden and living quarters for servants. This part of the land was located between the current number 20 and 28 courtyards. The Suo family ownership lasted from the 1860s to the beginning of the 20th century.

By the time of the Xinhai Revolution in 1911, Qi Yuan was owned collectively by Mingshan’s four grandsons, Zengchong, Zengde, Zenglin, and Zengfu. All four brothers worked in the Imperial Household, with Zengchong serving as minister from 1902 to 1911. After the Xinhai Revolution brought down the Manchu Qing Government, however, the Suo family saw its fortunes decline considerably. They lost not only their former political status but also their official salary and benefits, forcing them to live much more frugally and make more sound economic decisions. By the 1930s, Zengchong began investing heavily in real estate in Beijing and Tianjin, believing it to be a much safer and stable asset compared with collectibles (he had learned first-hand about the dangers of looting during the Boxer Rebellion). He used some of these properties as residences, included a few in his daughters’ dowries, and rented others for money. The courtyards seen today at Qinlao Hutong 28, 30, 32, 34, 36, and 38 as well as number 19 (formerly 13 and 14) were all built during this period, a time in which the Suo compound grew to include much of the western and central sections of the hutong’s north side. Number 19 was specifically built for two of his sons, and thus contained two large interconnected courtyards on the east (formerly 13) and west (formerly 14). As home to the eldest son, the western courtyard was slightly larger and also built first. The eastern courtyard was constructed shortly thereafter, and involved removing parts of the adjacent (former) city wall. Zengchong purchased some of this brick to construct the building and it remains part of the rear wall of the posterior shielding room (hou zhao fang) closest to the street. Today, this kind of building material is indeed a rare sight. Although these two courtyards were built later than others in the area, they were nevertheless constructed according to long-standing traditional guidelines and are today considered classic examples of Beijing siheyuan architecture.


Former numbers 15 and 16 – found between the Zengchong-owned 14 and 17 – once played home to Zhang Lianfen, chief of staff for Feng Guozhang, head of the Beiyang Army and interim president of the Republic of China from 1917 to 1918. As well as residences, number 15 also contained a pond and garden. Zengchong tried to acquire these courtyards for himself on multiple occasions, as he hoped to connect all of his property. However he was refused by Zhang each time, and had no choice but to give up.

Works Cited:

Zhong Jianwei, Beijing shi Dongcheng qu diming zhi

Geng Shen, Deng Qinglan, Shen Yan, and Yu Xiufang, Beijing jindai jiaoyu jishi

Beijing City Municipal Archives, Beijing simiao lishi ziliao

Wang Geng and Zhong Han, Neiwufu shijia kao

Back to Nanluo Guxiang area

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