Archive for the ‘Hutong Photo Topics’ Category

Hutong Photo Topics

Saturday July 14, 2012

This series of photo topics were developed by my as part of the follow up to my July 1999 study tour – for teachers – of China.  Additional lesson information can be found in the “Daily Life and its Environmental Impact” in another location on this site.  The study tour was organized by Teaching East Asia, now part of CU-Boulder and was sponsored by the Freeman Foundation. Copies of this work are available for loan from TEA.

Each photo topic starts with a title and pictures.  You are encouraged to look closely at each picture, noticing all the detail that you can.  Information is then given about the subject and pictures, followed by a series of questions.  Many of the questions are open ended and do not have specific answers, they were written to help people process life in a hutong neighborhood in China, versus that in the United States.  Additional information about hutongs can be found with the lesson information.


Saturday July 14, 2012












The top picture is an aerial view of the entrance to a hutong (small alley).  This style of housing was originally built in urban (city) areas during the Yuan Dynasty (1279 to 1368 A.D.).  Originally these compound households (siheyuan) were built with single story buildings surrounded by a wall that enclosed a large square area.  The main room was located on the north, facing south so that it would get a large amount of sunlight.  It was traditionally occupied by the most senior members of the family. To the east and west were rooms for other members of the family (with lower ranking). The room on the south, facing north was used as a study or servant’s bedroom. The gate to the compound was usually located in the south-east corner.  All rooms opened on to a central courtyard.

Over the years, China’s population has grown.  The original square compounds have been divided into numerous smaller homes.  Alleys separate the original large square walled compounds.  Smaller alleys subdivide the numerous homes that now fill the original square.  Alleys between large compounds are open for anyone to walk through, but normally only people who live inside the complex (and their friends and relatives) would walk in the smaller alleys. 

The sketch below is an example of the original siheyuan (compound house)

 (from Streetlife China by Michael Dutton, 1998: Cambridge University Press).



  1. What is the advantage of having a south facing room in the original siheyuan?
  2. Why would the servants get the north facing room?
  3. Do you think the picture on the bottom left is of a public alley between two compounds, or a more private alley within the compound?  Tell why you think so.
  4. Is the alley on the right a public or private alley?  Explain your reasoning.
  5. What are the alley floors made of?  What are the walls made of?

Water Faucets

Saturday July 14, 2012



The top picture is of a typical water faucet from a hutong (traditional urban neighborhood).  If you look at the picture on the bottom, you will see a mason jar in front of the bike.  There is a small green roof over this jar.  This is the location of one of these faucets.  Hutongs do have running water, but not every home has its own faucet.  Typically, one faucet would be used by numerous families.  Thirty people (or more) could all use the same faucet as their main water source for their home.



  1. What do you think happens to the faucet in the winter?
  2. How is the water transported from the faucet to their home?
  3. You calculated how much water you use.  Do some calculations on how much water you think a Chinese family in this type of neighborhood would use.  Show your calculations and your reasoning.


Saturday July 14, 2012










The picture on the left is of two girls doing the laundry.  The one in the plaid outfit has a brush she uses to scrub the wet, soapy clothes.  The other girl is washing things in the bucket of soapy water.  This is how many people in China do their laundry, especially in rural China.  As of 1994, 87% of urban Chinese had access to automatic clothes washers (data from Earth Odyssey).

The top picture  is looking in the kitchen door of a hutong home.  It is dark inside (no lights on), but you might be able to see the white bowl on the black stand.  This is a washstand.  A similar washstand can be seen in the bottom picture. (The bottom picture is actually from a farm home outside of Chengdu.  The machine on the right is used to take the outside husk off of rice).

Most hutong homes do hot have showering facilities in their homes.


  1. Do you think people in the hutong have a clothes washing machine in their home?  Explain your answer.
  2. Chinese people keep themselves and their clothing very clean.  How do they do so, without a bathroom and shower?
  3. How many outfits of clothing does an average Chinese student have compared to you? Explain why you think so.
  4. How do most Chinese people get their clothing dry?
  5. How do they wash their hair and brush their teeth?

Hot Water Tanks

Saturday July 14, 2012



The top picture is of a 55-gallon drum located on the roof of a hutong home.  Such tanks are used to store water and are often painted black.  Residents probably fill them by attaching a hose to the common faucet and running the hose to the tank. 


The bottom picture is an aerial view of part of a hutong neighborhood in Beijing in July 1999.  If you look at the roof areas, you will notice several of these types of water tanks.  Usually, each tank is used by one family.


In the U.S., the third biggest user of energy in our homes are the hot water heaters (after air conditioners and refrigerators).




  1. Would it cost a homeowner much money to heat his/her water in one of these tanks?  Explain your answer.
  2. Besides having hot water, what other advantages would there be to having 55 gallons of water on your roof, if you lived in a hutong home?
  3. Count the number of tanks on the roofs in the bottom picture and make an estimate of how many families live in the area shown.
  4. What do you think will happen to this tank in the winter? (Beijing is cold and wet in the winter)?
  5. Why do you think most families paint their hot water tanks black?

Toilet Facilities

Saturday July 14, 2012



In the top picture, look at the building on the lower left that has the white walls in front, a blue roof (in the front part) and a skylight.  This is a public restroom.  Homes in most hutongs do not have indoor plumbing.  Residents use this building, for toilet needs only.  There are no showering facilities in this building.  The door on the left is for men, the one on the right is for women.  These facilities usually are not heated much in the winter, and are very smelly in the summer.


The bottom picture is of one style of toilet that can be found in public restrooms.  People stand on the sides and squat down to do their business.  Usually you have to bring your own toilet paper, it is not provided.  When you are done, you flush away your waste, but you do not flush the toilet paper.  It goes in the trashcan.  


The first sewage treatment plant in all of China was not build until 1980.  By the mid 1990’s only 4.5% of all human sewage generated was treated before being released into the local water system.



  1. What are your first thoughts (reactions) to the above information?
  2. What do you think Chinese people do if they need to use the restroom in the middle of the night?
  3. Why do Chinese people put their used toilet paper in a trashcan instead of flushing it down the toilet?
  4. In a years time of flushing toilets, would hutong residents use more water, the same amount, or less water than Americans (just for flushing)? Explain your reasoning.
  5. Why do you think this public toilet has a skylight?

Food Markets

Saturday July 14, 2012















The top and bottom pictures are of food markets.  People buy their produce (and meat) here, much like Americans do when we go to a grocery store or farmer’s market. 


Chinese people traditionally eat much less meat than Americans.  Americans eat about 260 lb (120 kg) of meat a year, the average Chinese person eats about 105 lb (48 kg). One half of all Americans do not eat fruit on a daily basis, one forth of all Americans do not eat vegetables on a daily basis. A large portion of the Chinese diet is made up of fruits and vegetables and either rice or noodles.  Northern Chinese tend to eat more noodles and dumplings because these foods come from wheat, and wheat is grown in the north where it is cooler.  Southern Chinese eat more rice, because rice is grown in the south where it is warmer. 


China has a major problem, they do not have enough power plants to meet the demand for electricity.  This results in major and chronic shortages of electricity in China.  In the average U.S. home, refrigerators use the second most amount of energy  (air conditioners use the most). As of 1994, 62% of Chinese homes in urban areas owned refrigerators. In hutong neighborhoods, the power goes out frequently, so most hutong families do not own a fridge.


The picture on the left is of a street vendor.  You can see his cooking area behind him.  This is all on a bike-truck.  In the evening, several food vendors will set up their shops on designated “snack streets”.  This is a Chinese version of a food court. The shops will display the type of food they cook and the price.  You select what you want, and they cook it for you while you wait, usually in a wok. You can then walk on down the row, looking for what else you want to try.



  1. What vegetables or other foods do you recognize in the pictures?
  2. Why are the chickens and rabbit in cages next to the vegetable stand?
  3. Explain why most hutong families must buy produce and other groceries every day.
  4. Based on the pictures, how do food service people in China dress?
  5. Which country do you think has more overweight people, China or the U.S.?  Explain you reasoning.

Getting Around Town

Saturday July 14, 2012













In China, bicycles are a major form of transportation.  Bikes are ridden by adults of all ages.  In fact, you must be over 12 years old before you are legally allowed to ride a bike.  Instead of large parking lots of cars, in China there are parking lots for bikes.  Some of these bike parking areas have attendants who people pay to watch their bike.  Most bikes are equipped with some type of lock, but bike theft is a problem. Most riders carry a rain pancho with them for when it starts raining.


In addition to bikes, many people walk and take the bus or other form of public transportation.  More and more people are also buying cars.



  1. Describe what a typical Chinese bike looks like. Compare them to American bikes (how are they similar, different).
  2. In the bottom picture, why are there wires or cables extending from the bus to the wires in the air?
  3. Look at the picture on the middle.  What are the kids in the yellow outfits doing and why do you think they are doing it?
  4. Which side of the road do people ride/drive on?  Is this the same or different then in the U.S.?
  5. What types of gasoline/diesel powered vehicles do you see in the pictures?


Saturday July 14, 2012



In hutong areas during my trip in July of 1999, there are signs like the one in the top picture by the door of some homes.  On main streets, there were lots of phone booths like those in the bottom picture.


It is a common sight in the cities and sometimes the rural areas to see people talking on cell phones. 



  1. What does the sign in the top picture indicate?
  2. Why are there so many pay phones on busy streets?
  3. Why do the phones in the bottom picture have the orange coverings?
  4. Do you think making a phone call would be cheaper in the U.S. or China?  Explain your answer.
  5. How much time do you think the average hutong teenager spends on the phone compared to you?

Trash and Garbage

Saturday July 14, 2012



The baskets in the top picture are the Chinese equivalent of the American trash dumpster.  Numerous families in one hutong use these baskets to throw away their trash and garbage.  People on bikes, who make their living recycling, come by on a daily basis and remove certain types of plastic, white paper, glass, aluminum and anything else they think they can use.  Unfortunately, the recyclers do not clean up the mess they make, but instead leave it for the trash collectors or hutong residents to take care of.


Look at the pants on the toddler in the bottom picture.  She did not rip out the seam, she is wearing split pants.  Traditionally, Chinese people do not use diapers.  Babies and toddlers wear split pants, their parents clean up after them much like we do when we have a puppy.  Chinese parents toilet train their babies by whistling.  Most Chinese children have completed their toilet training at a much earlier age than American children.



  1. Do you think the average hutong family generates more, the same amount, or less trash than your family?  Explain your answer.
  2. What would be the advantages of toilet training babies using split pants and whistling instead of using diapers?
  3. Why do many hutong residents break their glass bottles when they throw them out?
  4. Of the items listed above that the recycler takes, which of these does your family recycle?


Saturday July 14, 2012



































The cages in the top left picture contain birds.  Birds are the most common pet kept in urban areas.  Some people keep canaries, but most people keep a larger bird that is not common to the U.S.  Some families also keep pigeons.


Cats, top right picture, are sometimes seen in urban areas.  In northern cities like Beijing, people do not eat their cats!  They keep them as pets and as workers. 


There is a cage full of rabbits in front of the bike in the bottom right photo.


The bottom left picture is of a man and his dog.  Very few Chinese keep dogs.  The few you do see are usually of this breed.  Sometimes German Shepherd type dogs will be seen guarding important sites, but not very often.


Chinese department stores and pet shops carry tropical fish for sale. This indicates that some Chinese families keep tropical fish.



1. Why do you think birds are the most popular pets in urban China?

2. What type of work do cat owners want their cats to do?

3. Do you think the rabbits are kept as pets or do they have a different use? Explain your answer.

4. Why do so few Chinese keep dogs?

5. Why are the dogs so small?

Potted Plants

Saturday July 14, 2012



















If you look closely, you will find potted plants in many Chinese homes.  All three pictures show a variety of plants that are being kept.


In Chinese culture, it is important to stay in balance with nature and the elements.  The saying “You are what you eat” is taken very seriously in China.  They think that foods like green onions and garlic do not only taste good but are important to include in your diet as “medicine foods” that keep you healthy.  They also believe that fresh foods are healthier than processed foods.


Some Chinese families keep the Chinese version of bonsai trees.  These small, potted trees are kept for many years, even many decades, and are passed down through the family from one generation to the next.



  1. Why do Americans keep potted plants?
  2. Are these the same reasons that Chinese keep potted plants?  Explain your reasoning.
  3. What types of potted plants could be used for cooking?
  4. Do you see any bonsai type potted trees in these pictures? Describe what they look like.
  5. If your family keeps plants, how old do you think your oldest plant is?

Bike-truck Shops

Saturday July 14, 2012


The top picture is of a bike-truck barbershop.  The man is getting his hair cut on the sidewalk next to a park.  A second man is standing waiting for his turn.


The bottom picture is of a bike-truck bicycle repair shop.  The shopkeeper has lots of spare inner tubes and other bike parts.  He will sell you the parts for do-it-yourself projects or you can pay him to fix your bike for you.   His shop is located on a sidewalk next to several types of stores.


In China, many people are trying to make a living by being a small business owner.  If they do not have property to conduct their business from, they might be able to do it off the back of a bike-truck.



  1. Think about the last time you got your hair cut.  How much energy did you haircut require (remember lights, etc)?  How would that compare to the energy used by the bike-truck haircut?
  2. What are some advantages of running a small business out of a bike-truck?
  3. What are some of the disadvantages?
  4. What other types of businesses do you think could be done from the back of a bike-truck? (The Food Markets photo topic had one).
  5. Would you mind getting your hair cut on a busy sidewalk? Explain your answer.

Street Sweepers

Saturday July 14, 2012


The lady in the top picture is a street sweeper in Beijing in July 1999.  She is working on a street in front of a construction site.  When she is finished with this area, she will put the dirt inside her bike-truck to haul it away (bottom picture).  Human street sweepers are a common site in urban China.



  1. Why is the woman wearing an orange vest when she is sweeping, but not when she is riding her bike-truck?
  2. How much energy does she use and pollution does she generate to do her job compared to an American gasoline/diesel powered street sweeper.
  3. Unemployment is a major problem in China.  Estimate how many human street sweepers would it take to do the same amount of work one American gasoline/diesel street sweeper could do in one day?
  4. What are some advantages of using human street sweepers?
  5. What are some disadvantages?


Saturday July 14, 2012



The top picture is of the typical Beijing car cab used in July 1999.  Different cities have different types of cabs, depending on what types of automobiles are being manufactured in their region.  Cabs are one way to get around, especially if you have a lot to carry or other people traveling with you.


In China, drivers use their car horns a lot.  Every time the driver thinks another driver, bicyclist, or pedestrian needs to know they are there, they use their horn.  Typically, they are not using them in anger or frustration, but just as a friendly reminder of their presence.  China has one of the most serious noise pollution problems in the world.  The noise level in major cities is approximately 80 decibels during the day (health officials recommend that noise levels should be below 65 decibels).  The majority of the noise (70%) is from vehicles.


The bottom picture is of an old-fashioned pedicab.  It is really a type of bike-truck.  At one time they were a popular form of transportation, but they are being replaced by car cabs.   Now mostly tourists use the pedicab.



  1. What are the advantages of a pedicab versus a car cab?
  2. What are the disadvantages?
  3. Which type of cab is more environmentally friendly?  Explain your answer.
  4. Why is noise pollution a public health problem?
  5. Which type of cab would you prefer to ride in?  Explain your reasoning.