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Heritage Trail project

Heritage Trails: Dongsi Jiutiao

Project: Walk the Old City- Beijing Hutong Conservation Status Survey has been running for its first month. Volunteer teams have already surveyed over 300 hutongs, collecting and updating information on the present state of conservation. In conjunction with the survey, Historian Jeremiah Jenne will be highlighting the history behind one hutong from each of Beijing’s 33 heritage zones. His second article is on Dongsi Jiutiao is part of the Dongsi Beisantiao to Batiao Historic Protection Zone.

Approached from either end, Dongsi Jiutiao (东四九条) appears to be a singularly unexceptional, even ugly, hutong. The eastern end, where Dongsi Jiutiao meets Chaoyangmen Beixiaojie, features a few scrubby recycling yards in the shadow of the enormous Xinhua Insurance building. The western approach, where the hutong runs into Dongsi Beidajie, is a mess of construction as another branch of the Rujia Hotel chain rises over the street.


Rujia Hotel

Like its neighbor, Dongsi Batiao, it is under serious threat. On a warm spring morning, construction workers outnumbered local residents on the street two-to-one, and the area has no fewer than five major construction projects currently underway. The steady creep of gentrification is also apparent. In addition to the Maoist kitsch restaurant and bar Red Capital Club, a longtime neighborhood stalwart, there are two other hostels/restaurants open for business. From the looks of several of the sites under construction, it would appear that they may soon face some new competition.

Construction Site on Dongsi Jiutiao

Construction Site on Dongsi Jiutiao

Yet Dongsi Jiutiao was once home to several famous figures and when the visitor leaves the bustling main streets behind, is still an attractive and interesting place for a stroll.

Number 34

Number 34

The rather nondescript yard at #34 was the last residence of one of modern Chinese history’s most famous spies, Kawashima Yoshiko (1908-1948). She was born Aisin-Gioro Xianyu to an elite Manchu family in 1908 but was adopted and raised in Japan by the Japanese nationalist Kawashima Naniwa, who named her Yoshiko. By the 1920s, Yoshiko had returned to China where she became notorious for her behavior and a series of high-profile affairs with powerful men. It was also about this time that Yoshiko began a lifelong habit of dressing, speaking, and wearing her hair like a man. During the War with Japan, Yoshiko identified herself as a Manchu patriot and participated in a number of clandestine operations on behalf of the Japanese and the government of the puppet state of Manchukuo. It probably helped that the ruler of Manchukuo at the time was her cousin, the Emperor Puyi. Her exploits made her famous, but by the time she moved to Dongsi Jiutiao in the early 1940s, she was dealing with depression and drug addiction. She lived as a semi-recluse with her assistant Ogata Hachiro and her four pet monkeys. On October 11, 1945, her seclusion came to a brutal end, when the police barged through her door and dragged Kawashima Yoshiko out of her home. With a bag covering her head, she was hustled into a waiting car and driven a short distance to the Paoju Prison, located just east of Yonghegong. She was put on trial as a collaborator and traitor a month later. In 1948, she was executed in the Paoju Prison yard by a single shot to the back of her skull.

Another famous former resident was Li Shiyao (ca. 1715-1788), although the exact address of his courtyard is not known. He was a descendent of Li Yongfang, the first Ming officer to surrender to the Manchus. As a result of their ancestor’s having turned his coat, the family was given titles of nobility and enrolled in the Chinese Blue Banner. Li Shiyao, the great-great-great grandson of Li Yongfang, held many important posts during the reign of the Emperor Qianlong. During his long career, he was appointed governor-general for Guangdong and Guangxi, Hubei and Hunan, and Yunnan and Guizhou. In the capital, he served terms as President of the Board of Revenue and the Board of Punishments. Li Shiyao had inherited his ancestor’s Earldom and through his own accomplishments had his family promoted to the more prestigious Chinese Bordered Yellow Banner. Li Shiyao’s later career was marred by a series of scandals. He was put on trial and sentenced to death on several occasions, only to have his life spared and his titles restored whenever his services were required by the emperor. While certainly corrupt, he did have the misfortune of serving in an era notorious for crookedness on a grand scale. Li Shiyao also made powerful enemies, notably Heshen, perhaps the most corrupt official in Chinese history, and Heshen’s crony, the Manchu noble Fuk’anggan. He was also known for being haughty and living luxuriously, as well as for being very, very short. Li Shiyao is also famous for being one of the principal architects of the “Canton System,” which regulated all European trade with the Qing Empire starting in 1760 and lasting until the Opium War of 1840. Finally, Dongsi Jiutiao once featured the palace of an Imperial prince. Aisin-Gioro I-Mo, a grandson of the Jiaqing Emperor, had his palace at what is today #69 Dongsi Jiutiao. Unfortunately, in 2000, most of the palace was torn down to build the Dongsi Jiutiao Primary School.


Dongsi Jiutiao Primary School.

In its heyday, the garden was famous for the beauty of its pools, corridors, pavilions and buildings. One contemporary marveled at the garden’s ingenious winding and artful layout. After the fall of the Qing Empire, the palace and garden became the home of banker Feng Gengguang. During that time, the Peking Opera star Mei Lanfang filmed a scene in the garden for 黛玉葬花 daiyu zanghua (Daiyu Burying the Flowers). One other feature of interest along Dongsi Jiutiao are the intricate carvings found on several of the older gates in the lane, most notably at #57.


Carvings at Number 57

Sadly, the pace and scale of construction on Dongsi Jiutiao and Dongsi Batiao threaten to obscure what little of this history is left. In addition to the new hotels, several of the older structures have been torn down to be rebuilt as high-end courtyards for sale or rent. On Dongsi Batiao, workers had ripped down an old courtyard. In its place was a deep pit which spanned north almost to Dongsi Jiutiao. Taking a picture of this elaborate plan for multiple basements spurred two officious looking gentlemen, who had previously been lounging in a nearby doorway, into action suggesting that aspects of this project might not be entirely according to city or district code.


Construction Site on Dongsi Jiutiao

It is hardly the only such project on the street, and the steady erosion of history on Dongsi Jiutiao is another reminder of the need to monitor the preservation status of Beijing’s older neighborhoods.

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