The Chongwen Methodist Church was rebuilt by the Qing government following the Boxer Rebellion. [Photo:CRIENGLISH.com]
The Chonwen Methodist Church appears humble compared with the city's Catholic cathedrals, but the colorful stained glass windows create an understated beauty. [Photo:CRIENGLISH.com]
Dongjiaomin Alley can be interpreted in English as the "East Diplomatic Personnel Alley," which describes its purpose as Beijing's Qing-era foreign legation quarter. After the Second Opium War (1856-1860), the street was opened for foreign embassies and a number of Western countries established bases there. As the number of foreigners living in Beijing grew, the neighborhood grew to include churches, hotels, and restaurants. In essence, Dongjiaomin Alley became a city within the city. The foreign legation quarter came under siege in 1900 during the Boxer Rebellion, which led to an increase in the number of foreign troops stationed on the street.
Dongjiaomin Alley remained Beijing's foreign legation quarter until the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, when many of the embassies' staff fled to Nanjing, then Taiwan. The remaining embassies were moved to other areas of the city.
The alley's roots actually date back to the Yuan dynasty, when it was first named "Dong Jiangmi Xiang," or "East Sticky-rice Lane." Beijing has never been suitable for growing rice; historically, rice was transported from southern China into Beijing by riverboat. Many of the businessmen involved in rice trade set up residences in the hutongs of Beijing's Chongwenmen neighborhood.
"There was a grand canal from southern China to Beijing which transported rice and they sold the rice along this area," Clara Tong, China Culture Center tour guide and designer of this walking tour, explains. "Chongwen Gate used to serve as the customs house for collecting taxes on rice."
A walking tour of this historic neighborhood should take about two hours; the China Culture Center offers a three-hour version that includes the nearby hutongs, which are more authentic and undisturbed than other popular ones in Beijing.