According to experts，the word Hutong originated from Mongolian language meaning“Well“.In ancient times，people tended to gather and live around wells. So the original meaning of Hutong should be“a place where people gather and live.”Another explanation says that during the Yuan Dynasty，about 13th century，residential areas in the city were divided into many divisions. Between the smaller divisions were passageways for people to travel through. And those passageways also functioned as isolation belts against fire risks. In Mongolian language，passageways of this kind were called Hutong. But no matter what Hutong exactly means，one thing is for sure，that is，Hutong first appeared in Beijing during the Yuan Dynasty. In the early 13th century，a Mongolian tribe from the north became very strong. Led by Genghis Khan，the Mongolian occupied Beijing，the capital of the Jin Dynasty. In the year 1271，Kubla Khan，the grandson of Genghis Khan，ounded Yuan Dynasty and set Beijing as the capital city in the following year. Unfortunately，the old city was completely destroyed during the war. So they had to rebuild it. In old China，all the structures and roads were required to be symmetrical. So the city was well designed. First，they had to find a center，and then built a regular square city. The layout of the city was very much like a chessboard. About 50 residential areas were constructed，with straight roads and Hutongs in between. At the time，there was a clear definition for avenue，street and Hutong. A 37-metre–wide road was called an avenue，an 18-metre–wide one was called a street，and a 9-metre–wide lane was called a Hutong. Most of today’s Hutong were formed during the Ming and Qing Dynasties that followed. Nobody knows exactly how many Hutongs there are in nowadays Beijing. But one thing is for sure，if we connected all the Hutongs together，their total length would even be longer than the famous Great wall，which is about 4000 miles longer. Or to make it clear，it could build a highway from Seattle to Boston，all across America！
Today you can find various Hutongs with different shapes，lengths or directions.The shortest one is only 40 centimeters wide，which means a person like me has to walk sideways to get through. And some Hutongs have more than 20 turns. With the growth of the population，many old Hutongs have disappeared to make way for high–rise apartments. Today I’m very happy to show you some well–preserved Hutongs，and to let you experience the typical Chinese life. Are you ready？Let’s go！
As we walk through the Hutongs，you may find most of them look almost the same with gray–colored walls and bricks. Actually inside those walls are the courtyard houses，where people live. In Chinese we call them“siheyuan“.”Si“literally means four,”he“means to surround，and“yuan“refers to the courtyard. So a rectangular wall enclosing four houses，one built on each side facing into the center，is called a Siheyuan. When they were first built，usually one Siheyuan was owned by only one family，but nowadays，with the growth of the population，most Siheyuans are shared by 4 to 10 families.