Only one third of Beijing's hutongs still exist -- most have been demolished or partially destroyed, according to a newly-released survey.
The field survey, conducted by the Beijing Institute of Civil Engineering and Architecture, covered about 1,320 hutongs, traditional streets and lanes. It found that 205 hutongs, 15 percent of the total, were completely gone and had given way to modern buildings.
Another 52 percent have managed to retain something of their original condition but have suffered severe damage. Some only have a few siheyuan (courtyard) houses left, in others the courtyard houses on one side of the hutong lane have been totally knocked down.
Only 430 hutongs, 33 percent of those surveyed, have been able to preserve their original character.
Hutongs are lanes lined with traditional Beijing courtyard houses. A traditional form of urban construction, they once comprised a dense latticework through Beijing and remain a traditional cultural feature of the city.
Historical records show Beijing had a total of 458 hutongs in the early Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and 978 hutongs during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).
The city boasted more than 3,679 hutongs in the 1980s, a number that plunged 40 percent as the city sought room for urban roads and skyscrapers.
Up to 600 hutongs have been destroyed each year in a relentless drive to rebuild the old city, and now worries are rampant that Beijing has lost something of its essence as an old capital city.
"Hutong" is originally a Mongolian expression meaning "well". In the old days, people lived together around a well and the "passages" they made formed today's hutongs.
(Xinhua News Agency December 20, 2006)