The longest Hutong in Beijing--Dongjiaominxiang
Stepping into the west entrance of Donjiaominxiang, it's hard to connect this place with the word hutong. Common hutongs are narrow, with little vegetation but many restaurants and stores. Here, however, it's so wide as to be a proper, tree-lined road.
Dongjiaominxiang is often called the longest hutong in Beijing, stretching 1.5 kilometers from west to east. Walking slowly and distractedly, it can take two hours to stroll the length of the street, so bicycles are advised for those who want to reduce their time spent moseying. Century-old, western-style buildings conspicuously stand out between newer, imposing government offices.
Dongjiaominxiang served as Beijing's diplomatic center for over 700 years, since the Yuan Dynasty. The area accommodated a series of foreign dignitaries, most notably Marco Polo, who mentioned the lane several times in his book of travels.
In 1900, the 55-day battle that took place between the Boxers, who wished to purge the city of foreign influences, and foreign delegates who barricaded themselves in the Legation, ended with the arrival of assistance from the Eight-Nation Alliance. The following Treaty of Xinchou (the International Protocol of 1901), designated Dongjiaominxiang as an embassy zone protected by walls 6 meters tall. Chinese were not allowed to come near, which was considered a particular humiliation at that time. Even the roads around the embassies, which previously were collectively labeled as Dongjiangmixiang, were referred to by their English names.
After the establishment of the People's Republic of China, the area continued to serve as an embassy zone, with many new diplomatic buildings constructed. Some of the original structures have been well preserved and re-purposed, such as the former Japanese embassy (now the Beijing Municipal People's Government building), the Germany embassy (now a general clothing store) and the Italian embassy (now the Foreign Friendship Association, which serves to build international bridges of communication and cooperation). Other non-diplomatic buildings on the street continue to betray the foreign influence behind their structures.
The middle section of Dongjiaominxiang was once dominated by French influence. Not far from the French embassy and St. Michael's Church (see below), a restaurant on the north side of the street, called Jingyuan Sichuan Restaurant, serves typical Sichuan cuisine. The original use of the building, however, was as the French post office. In their reformatted workplace, surrounded by a row of houses with Gallic bronze lanterns, delicate bolts and doorknobs, the restaurant staff will tell this fact to visitors in choppy English. Ask them for more details, however, and they merely smile and shake their heads.
No 13: St. Michael's Church
Even in a hutong dominated by foreign architecture, one cannot help but pause to admire St. Michael's Church. Built in 1901, St. Michael's is a two-storey gothic structure, very distinctive amid the surrounding flat-topped buildings and famous for a statue of the saint over the gate, as well as for its colorful stained glass. The rectory lies to the north of the church, and 10 single-storey brick buildings in the style of traditional Chinese folk houses, but with arched doors and windows, sit to the east. These buildings were built later, and used as the offices for Church. The church was built by a French priest and is still in use; Services are held twice a day in Chinese, at 6:30 am and 7 am, from Monday to Saturday, and four times on Sunday at 7 am, 8 am and 6 pm in Chinese, and 10:30 am in Korean.
Beijing Police Museum (Site of the National City Bank of New York)
The Beijing Police Museum is toward the western end of Dongjiaominxiang, near Zhengyi Lu. The building is simple and serious, with a solemn gate and tall pillars. It's easy to imagine bankers, dapper in old-fashioned suits and ties, bustling around, but the serious-looking guards who now loiter near the entrance provide an unsubtle reminder that this is now the Police Museum.
The first floor chronicles the history of the Chinese police, from the early days when the new republic took over the old police station to the recovery from the Cultural Revolution. Also displayed are forensic tools and national security plans for National Day celebrations.
The second floor exhibits more recent police technology, like polygraph machines and 3-D imaging software. The third and fourth floors have a memorial wall that lists all the martyrs who sacrificed their lives heroically, as well as an impressive glass display of handguns and mannequins modeling a series of police uniforms of history. There are some interactive activities inside the museum as well, like a simulation shooting range, a real-time display of traffic and road conditions, and self-help trainings for escaping fires.
Admission: 5 yuan, or 20 yuan for a set ticket that includes admission and 20 bullets for the simulation shooting range
Hours: 9 am – 4 pm (tickets are sold until 3:30 pm, and the museum is closed on Mondays)
Zhengjin Building (Site of Yokohama Specie Bank)
Zhengjin Building is a charming castle-style building painted in brick-red and off-white tones. Surrounded by a cluster of boxy Roman-style buildings, Zhengjin is quite eye-catching. During the Anti-Japanese war, under the direct command of chief spy Kenji Doihara, the place was the central agency for the Japanese to control the financial market for their colony in northeast China. After the founding of the PRC, the building housed the nation's authoritative banking offices. In early days it was the headquarters of the Central Finance Committee, and its the current resident, Huarong Group, plays a similar role in the Chinese financial industry today.
Ch'ien Men 23
The former Legation Quarter has an unremarkable gate that opens onto Dongjiaominxiang, but once inside it's like stepping into a different world. Newly constructed glass houses and the old site of the American Embassy form a delightful contrast. This space, while inconspicuous from the outside, is home to some of the best western restaurants in Beijing. "People come here mainly through word of mouth," Peggy, a waitress at the Meat and Wine Co. proudly told the Global Times. The restaurant claims to have the best steaks in Beijing, shipped directly from Australia. All the restaurants at Ch'ien Men are high-end in design and price. Prestigious watch makers Patek Philippe and Melchers both opened stores here as well.
Restaurants: Maison Boulud, Shiro Matsui, Ristorante Sadler and The Meat and Wine Co.
How to get there
1. Take the No 8 or 60 bus and get off at Zhengyilunankou Station
2. Take the No 2, 5, 20, 22, 120, or 726 bus and get off at Qianmen Station
3. Take the No 9, 729, 744, 819, or 859 bus and get off at Zhengyilu Station
4. Take No 1 subway to Qianmen or Tian'anmendong Station