If you travel to Beijing, walking through the old alleys graced by traditional courtyard houses or hutongs is a must if you want to experience a part of the city’s authentic culture. But as you may well be aware, there’s a problem. These hutongs are fast diminishing.
In trying not to get too hung up about this sad situation, I tried to remind myself that this type of scenario has happened in countless places all over the world. Most countries, to varying extents, have lost tangible evidence of what once was. Some countries are better at preserving their cultural icons than others, but it still happens.
But I think there is something more to lose in these disappearing hutongs – especially for the hutongs current and former residents. And that is a part of their identities.
Whether we spend most of our lives living in one location or live a nomadic existence or somewhere in between, I believe that the places we have been to and lived in shape a part of our identities. Whether we want this to be the case or not.
People who, say, grew up in war-torn or crime ridden environments may not, as adults, want any connection with their place of growing up. Understandably. But I am sure that even for such people, their physical environment of their upbringing has still affected them in a profound way and has possibly been the catapult for many of their life decisions, for better or for worse.
What particularly saddens me about the demise of so many hutongs, is that not only is a way of life for many people being lost, but a symbolic part of the memories and experiences of countless people may one day become like a dream of long ago.
Plus, you can go to any city in the world to see skyscrapers and high-rise buildings. But you can only see hutongs in Beijing.