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Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center (CHP) is a small grassroots, legally-registered NGO working to protect cultural heritage across China.

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Heritage Trail project

Hutong Dilemma

By: Hao Ying, Global Times  March 14, 2011

Two western journalists, annoyed by what they saw as sensational and sloppy reporting about the destruction of Beijing’s old neighborhoods, have shot a series three short videos intended to add nuance to the issue.

The resulting project, A Vanishing World, portrays the dilemmas faced by residents who are reluctant to leave their old single-story courtyard homes, but at the same time crave conveniences such as modern heating, hot water, and indoor toilets.

The filmmakers find:

1. Despite regulations in place to protect the historic neighborhoods, known locally as hutong, the destruction continues.

2. Although people being relocated have a right to complain, there is no board to complain to.

3. Residents don’t have enough money to renovate the overcrowded homes, even though the government is funneling hundreds of millions of yuan into these old neighborhoods.

“The problem is this money is not going to the right places,” said Jonah Kessel, who made the videos along with Kit Gillet.

The measures in place are “kind of for show,” Kessel said. “Make something to appease a public demand, but the reality is not there.”

Better life

Despite these findings, Kessel said that reports characterizing the government’s actions as a simple land-grab are missing an important point: The residents want and deserve a better quality of life. “These people are not feeling the benefits of modernization,” he explains. “They are dealing with problems that are very basic, Heat, Toilets, Emergency vehicle access.”

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Qiangulouyuan Hutong 前鼓楼苑胡同

Qiangulouyuan Hutong


Qiangulouyuan Hutong runs east to west. It starts at Nanluoguxiang in the east, and ends at Nanxiawazi Hutong in the west. It is 261 meters in length, and 6 meters in width. The house numbers on one side ranges from 1 to 19, while on the other side range from 2 to 14. In the Ming Dynasty, it belonged to the Zhaohuijinggong District, and was called Gulao Hutong because it was a home for the elderly (gulao meaning old).  In the Qing Dynasty, it belonged to the Bordered Yellow Banner, and was called Qiangulou yuan , during the Qianlong Period.  During the Xuantong Period, the name was changed to Qiangulouyuan. This name remained for a short period of time after the founding of the PRC.  Afterwards, its name changed several times, until it regained its former name in 1979.  Now the No.8 and No. 9 courtyards are Cultural Heritage Protection Sites, while the others are mostly residences

No.8 and No. 9 Qiangulouyuan Hutong:

These courtyards were built at the end of the Qing Dynasty, and are now private residential buildings.  The residence was divided into three courtyards, oriented from north facing south. Preserved buildings include a Manzi Gate, located in the southeast corner of the courtyard with a Yingshan style roof.  Inside the gate, there is a sheltering wall. The first courtyard features a seven-hall reversely-set wing, and a Yidian Yijuan style Chuihua Gate to the north. Looking at the both sides, you can see that there are patterns in the tile and carving of the characters “Fu” and “Shou.” However, both of characters are now difficult to distinguish. The second yard has five rooms in the north wing with a covered walkway at the front and back of the yard. There are two side rooms attached to the north wing. There are east and west wings of three rooms each on the east and west. A sideroom attaches to each of the rooms at the south. A covered walkway links the rooms in the four directions. All the roofs of the rooms in the second yard are Yingshan style, and there are qiaoti between the pillars in the central bay. In the third yard, there are seven rooms behind the main rooms, of which the roofs are Yingshan style.

The courtyard’s layout is quite precise and the buildings exquisite.  It is a typical medium-sized traditional courtyard in Beijing, and was well protected. This courtyard was announced as a Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Site on March 8th, 2001.

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Heritage Trail Project Update

As the winter chill sets in, our dedicated team of volunteers has nearly finished photographing each hutong in the Nanluoguxiang area as part of Phase 2 of our Heritage Trail Project.  We have also collected historical information from various sources for each hutong in the district and have used the photographs to create “elevations” of the entire length of each hutong.  The goal of this is to have a record of the preservation condition of the hutongs to serve as a benchmark for future preservation efforts.

We are now in the process of developing our first in-depth bilingual brochure/map to the Nanluoguxiang area, detailing historic sights, interesting stories, and other information that will allow visitors and residents to form a deeper connection to Beijing’s hutongs.  We hope to launch this by the spring, and eventually we will be developing in-depth heritage trail guides and an interactive website for several districts in Beijing’s old city.

Visit the Heritage Trail page for the latest updates!

Looking for Old Photos of Nanluoguxiang!

As part of the Heritage Trail Project Phase II, CHP is now collecting old photographs from the Nanluoguxiang area. If you have any photographs that you think may be relevant, please contact us by calling 64036532 or by sending us an email at info@bjchp.org.  Many thanks for your support!

CHP Hosts “Sunny Shadows” Family Event

On November 19, Beijing children and their parents gathered at the Shichahai Shadow Puppet Performance Hotel for CHP’s second “Sunny Shadows” cultural heritage education event for families.

Before the performance, volunteers gave an introduction to the history of shadow puppetry in China and the story behind the performance, the Chinese folk legend “the turtle and the crane”. The children watched with wide eyes at the performance, quietly and earnestly following the puppets, a very cute sight indeed.

Kids watch the show with rapt attention!

Kids watch the show with rapt attention!

Afterwards, children who correctly answered questions about the performance were given a special gift: their very own mini shadow puppet dragon!

After their outstanding performance, Georgia and Ella (the little hosts of the program) earned their CHP volunteer credentials. After the performance, adults and children alike went behind the scenes to see how the puppets work and try their hand at puppetry. There was much laughter and warmth; in addition to experiencing the joy and charm of shadow puppetry, guests met new friends, and everyone enjoyed the warm and vibrant atmoshphere.

Performers explain the art of shadow puppetry

Performers explain the art of shadow puppetry

CHP will be honored if more people are able to understand and appreciate Chinese traditional shadow art, and CHP believes the next event will be even more successful!.

We would especially like to thank the Shichahai Shadow Art Performance Hotel, the shadow puppeteers for their wonderful performance, and hotel marketing director Samantha Fang for her support and assistance!

And a big thanks to our volunteers:

陈灿 Chen Can
曾进 Zeng Jin
王建明 (James)
胡晨 Hu Chen
冯美湘 ( Katy)
李烁 Li Shuo
杜安卓 (Andrew)
鲍威 Bao Wei
焦阳 Zhao Yang
齐政 Qi Zheng

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