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A leisurely way of touring Shichahai hutong is by pedicab ( Rickshaw) and a good place to start is the western edge of Shicha Lake, before crossing the Yinding (Silver Ingot) Bridge to the Drum Tower. On climbing the tower a panorama of local hutong comes to view. Continue to the Rear Lake area for a look at the ancient South and North Official House hutong, the Greater and Lesser Gold Lion hutong, and the Front and Rear Well hutong. Last stop is Prince Gong's Mansion and huge garden on Liuyin Street, for a glimpse at the imperial opulence that once was.
Imperial Beijing was made up of thousands of hutong, radiating out from the Forbidden City. They were built during the Yuan (1271-1368), Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. Behind the doors embedded in hutong walls are quadrangles (siheyuan), with spacious courtyards bounded by houses on three sides and an entrance on the fourth. This enclosed style of residence suited the extended family unit perfectly, as its members could live in close proximity, yet in adequate privacy.
Though many hutong have disappeared, their names survive. Beijing has over 4,000 hutong, named after imperial and government offices, temples, warehouses, workshops, bridges, rivers, markets, and noted personages.
Of Beijing's remaining hutong communities, Shichahai, which according to an old saying, "... came into being earlier than the city of Beijing," offers the best insight into hutong life. Many of its quadrangles and hutong have associations with historic and contemporary celebrities. Famous sites include the Qing Dynasty Prince Gong Mansion; former residences of Soong Ching Ling (Mme. Sun Yat-sen, late honorary president of the People's Republic of China), writer Guo Moruo, and famed Peking Opera exponent Mei Lanfang; the Bell and Drum towers; the Arrow Tower of the Desheng Gate; Guanghua Temple; Huitong Ancestral Temple; and Huixian Hall.
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