The enormous siheyuan at Nos. 27, 30, 32 and 34 were backyards to prince Zeng Ge Lin Qin (1811- 1865), a Mongolian aristocrat who led troops to fight against the Taiping rebellion and foreign invaders. Now the buildings are protected cultural relic units that mostly belong to private families, but the hallway gate at No. 19 and the LüSong Yuan hotel at No. 22 provide a living example of the original style siheyuan and bring countless visitors to the unique lane.
Down a dark hallway
Unaware passersby can easily miss No. 19, as the entrance looks like any other, with just a small note by the entrance informing of the highly unusual "hallway gate" behind it.
The front door opens onto a long, narrow hallway only five meters wide and 100 meters long that leads to a stylish siheyuan door facing Dongmianhua Hutong on its north. Along the path are four courtyards behind tightly locked doors.
This kind of structure is highly unusual in Beijing, said Gao Wei, the director of the Beijing Traditional Association of Geography and History. "The hallway should be something that only appeared on the historical stage of hutong after 1949, when the local residents built this path for easy access between the two hutong," he said. "Since the former embassy of DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) settled here once in the 1950s they might be the builder of this easy path." As a person who's been wandering around hutong for years, I was still taken by surprise to encounter this sort of unusual structure.
The oldest siheyuan hotel
The LüSong Yuan hotel at No. 22 was another part of the giant mansion of Prince Zeng, and today it's one of the oldest siheyuan-style hotels in the region. For the siheyuan lovers, here is also one of the few places you could walk in without a man disturbing anyone inside.
The owner of this ostentatious hotel is a man from Hong Kong who perceived the market opportunity of siheyuan hotel more than 20 years ago and settled his business here.
From the former prince's mansion to a luxury international hotel today, it has witnessed a decisive change. "Twenty years ago, when LüSong Yuan hotel was founded here after being a youth hostel, there were no other siheyuan hotel in the region," said Craig T. Y. Law, the hotel manager. "Now they are abundant."
The hotel has also been expanded from just 20 rooms to 58 rooms and about three courtyards today. Over 90 percent of guests here are tourists from around the world who want to stay close to the hutong atmosphere.
"The layout of this hotel was built partially loyal to the original layout," said Law. "Yet on the other hand, like other siheyuan hotels we have small numbers of accommodations, unlike other four-star hotels that are not in hutong region. Because of this, one month room booking in advance is necessary for the guests all time."
History is full of its little ironies. At least it is to Zeng, who spent his life on the battlefield fighting against foreign troops. Never would he know that just about a century later, his own residence would become a place welcoming expats from around the world.