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Tuesday, April 23, 2002 - 19:30

A Unique Chinese Heritage: Peking Hutongs

Professor Xu Pingfang, Historian and Archaeologist; former Director, the Institute of Archaeology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

French Embassy

Professor Xu Pingfang, a historian and archaeologist, is the former Director of the Institute of Archaeology of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and the foremost specialist of the Peking of the Yuan dynasty. He will speak to B.I.S. about the hutongs. He will describe their formation, their organization, their evolution and the situation today. Peking has been the capital of China for seven centuries. Founded as “Yuan Dadu”, the “great capital” of the Yuan emperors (1267-1367), it was, under its present name, Beijing, the capital of the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. It is generally acknowledged as a unique example of classical Chinese urban architecture.

The first Yuan emperor, Khubilai, chose to establish his capital Northeast of “Zhongdu”, capital of the Jin (a Tungusic tribe which founded a short-lived dynasty in North China). For the general plan of the city, his architect, Liu Binzhong, decided to follow the concepts exposed in the Rites of Zhou, principles of an ideal town that had never been used before: “Nine horizontal ways, nine ways across them, the Court in front, the town behind, to the left the Ancestors (temple), to the right the Soil (altar)”. In the meshes of the grid, he conceived streets that were parallel, equidistant, oriented East-West, inspired by the lay-out of Song dynasty “open” towns. Those streets were, in Peking, called hutongs, after the Mongol word for well. A new dynasty generally makes a point of destroying the palaces and symbolic monuments of the previous one. So did the Ming who destroyed some, and in the space left, “irregular” hutongs appeared.

Professor Xu's decades old archaeological research on the field, enable him to demonstrate that where the regular grid, with its parallel hutongs has been preserved, the town is Yuan. He will show that Peking thus epitomizes the experience of capital-building in the whole history of China, which makes it irreplaceable in the history of Chinese and world architecture and worthy of protection. Dr. Marianne Bujard, head of the Peking Center of E.F.E.O. (Ecole Francaise d'Extreme-Orient) will introduce Professor Xu, whom she convinced to speak to B.I.S. He has made an extensive presentation in her “History, Archaeology, Society” cycle that will be published by E.F.E.O. with three other lectures on Chinese heritage. Michael Crook, a Peking-born and knowledgeable friend of B.I.S. will interpret.