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China: Beijing's Vanishing Hutong

Beijing's historic hutong neighborhoods

Some of Beijing's historic hutong neighborhoods date back to the 13th Century.

Since 2004, photographer Dan Eckstein has traveled to Beijing four times, chronicling the city's massive renovations in preparation for the 2008 Olympic Games. "I keep coming back to Beijing because you never know what is going to be here next time you come," he says.

Almost by chance, he found himself staying in a hotel in one of Beijing's historic hutong neighborhoods, some of which date back to the 13th Century. Their narrow, jam-packed alleyways and streets are filled with traditional courtyard homes.

More than other sections of Beijing, the hutong have been the primary target of the city's ambitious modernization plans and are being razed at an astonishing rate. For residents, it is a mixed blessing. In many cases, the neighborhoods desperately need upgrading with even basic plumbing, but in the process of redevelopment, many longtime residents are being forcibly evicted and moved to the outskirts of the city -- often without fair compensation. The hutong also represent a significant piece of China's cultural history.

Beijing's historic hutong neighborhoods

The hutong have been the primary target of the city's ambitious modernization plans and are being razed at an astonishing rate.

In this slideshow, Eckstein documents a vanishing way of life.

Additional Reading

Human Rights Watch: Demolished -- Forced Evictions and Tenants' Rights Movement in China

Human Rights Watch prepared a 45-page report about the forced evictions of hundreds of thousands of Chinese homeowners and tenants as part of Beijing's rapid urban development, which the organization says is in violation of Chinese and international law.

Architectural Record: Record Reveals -- Beijing
Architectural Record Magazine presents a number of features about the transformation of Beijing, including a look at some of the new Olympics-related architecture as well as the struggle to preserve some of the city's past.

Beijing's historic hutong neighborhoods

In the process of redevelopment, many longtime residents are being forcibly evicted and moved to the outskirts of the city.

The New York Times: Lost in the New Beijing -- The Old Neighborhood
Nicolai Ouroussoff examines how the rapid encroachment of the modern city on the hutong has preservationists alarmed.

International Herald Tribune: "The Last Days of Old Beijing"
Kate Sekules reviews the new book by Michael Meyers, "The Last Days of Old Beijing," which explores the hutong's hidden alleyways and side streets from the point of view of a travel writer.

Dan Eckstein is a photographer based in New York City. His photographs have appeared in publications such as The New York Times, New York Magazine and Esquire, and he spent a year assisting Magnum photographers Steve McCurry and Bruno Barbey. Visit his photoblog and to see more of his journey through China visit his website.

Slideshow produced by Matthew Vree

REACTIONS

Adam - San Francisco, CA
Really well done. I've heard about these hutongs on NPR and in other publications. But this is the first time I've really seen what they look like.