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Heritage Trail project

Coal Yard

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The Huilimin Commercial Limited Company, know to locals simply as the “Coal Yard,” located at No.16 Houyongkang Hutong, has the closest relationship with the community of any of the sites on the cultural trail. The reason is that it serves residents living in dozens of hutongs and streets, from Dongzhimen Beixiaojie Street in the east, to Yonghegong Boulevard in the west, and from Dongzhimen Nei Street in the south, to the Second Ring Road in the north.

Location and History

The location of a coal yard is essential to how large a community it can serve. The Huilimin coal yard is located in the center of the community.  Consequently, it does not take long to deliver its honeycomb coal briquettes to any of the households in this community.  The Coal Yard does not only make deliveries to the surrounding community, but it also manufactures and stores the honeycomb coal briquettes..  According to one of the staff members of the coal company, the Coal Yard was privately owned before 1949.

When you visit the Coal Yard, you may notice that the structure opposite looks just like it—a warehouse with a metal roof.  However, if you come around to the back, you will find a few houses under the roof.  According to community members, the land used to be privately owned and was rented to the Coal Yard for the storage of coal in the winter.  The houses were built aftet the contract with the coal yard expired.

How Community Members Use Coal

mc3Through our research we learned that most of the residents in the area use gas cylinders for cooking, and coal for heating.  For an average winter, eight hundred to twelve hundred honeycomb coal briquettes are needed to heat a single room.  According to a recent report in the Beijing News there are still one hundred sixty thousand households in Beijing that still use coal for heating.  Neverthelees, the amount of coal used each year has dropped by 10 to 15%

Nearly every day you can find Mr. Tang Liaobing, one of the community’s residents, selling fruit in front of one of the courtyards in Beixinqiao Santiao. When asked about how much coal people in the community use, he responded, “How much coal do we use? As I told you before, families with old folks need more since they have to keep the heat on all the time.  Couples who both work save quite a bit. It depends on the family’s specific situation. Don’t you think the old couples have to have the heat on all the time? In the winter it is too cold for them to go out.  So normally eight hundred briquettes are needed, but I need 1,200 briquettes. Why? Because my house is not well insulated. I need to have the heat on all the time and even then I am still freezing.”

According to a staff member of the neighborhood committee, residents usually buy enough briquettes for the winter before the month of September because, at that time, the price of coal is lower. At the end of August, the Coal Yard sends an order form to the neighborhood committee, which the committee will then post for the neighborhood’s residents. If residents do not place their orders before winter, it is difficult for the Coal Yard to fulfill orders during the winter.  But there are also other reasons why many residents purchase their coal before the winter.  According to 84 year old Mr. Yang Yongfu, residents “purchase briquettes [during the summer] because if you wait until winter, the coal will be wet when you just purchase it. You cannot use it straight away. You still have to wait for it to be sunned. If you buy it [during the summer], then after a whole summer, the coal will be totally dried and will burn well.”

The Transportation and Storage of Honeycomb Briquettes

mc4Most of the residents in hutongs ask the Coal Yard to deliver coal briquettes to their home, though a few residents still pick the coal up themselves. Usually residents pay in full when they make an order and ask the Coal Yard to make a delivery every month. According to the Beijing News, delivering briquettes to a house within 500 meters costs about 11 yuan for each tricycle load. It costs extra if the coal needs to be carried into the courtyard or upstairs, or if there is a hill on the way. .One tricycle usually holds up to 400 briquettes, weighing about 500 kilograms.

So, how much does a coal delivery worker earn each day?  According to a 2005 report in the Beijing News, coal delivery workers make an average of three yuan for each tricycle of coal delivered. One worker said he could deliver six tricycle loads each day if the houses are further away from the coal yard and a few more if they are closer. When we spoke to the coal company, we were told that a coal delivery worker could make about five yuan per tricycle load.

Coal yards are something unique to hutongs.  They are necessary part of life in hutongs and provide warmth in the winter. The 84-year-old Mr. Yang said that the briquettes used to be stored under the eaves in the courtyards when the courtyards were not as crowded as they are now. “We did not buy too many briquettes back then, and we just put them under the eaves. Now this can not be done because we do not have such large houses. You see there is a shed attached to each house. They were all built later. There used to be no such a thing.”

Afterword

The history of the Coal Yard in this community can be traced back to the days before 1949. Its value lies not only in its industrial heritage, but also in its significance to the community. The Coal Yard has been serving the community for decades, which makes it a real part of the community.

Oral history collecting: Wang Huan, Rong Rui, Pan Li
Transcription: Rong Rui
Text: Yu Meng
Photo Deng Wei, Wang Huan
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