"Hutong" is a Mongolian word, meaning "water well". It is a typical lane or small street in Beijing that originated during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). During that time, water well is the settlement around which people lived. There are tens of thousands of them surrounding the Forbidden City. In the past, Beijing was composed of countless courtyards. Hutongs were formed when people left a passageway between two courtyards to make entering them more convenient.
As the symbol of Beijing City, a hutong has its own layout and structure, which makes it a wonder in the world. When taking a bird's eye view of Beijing, you will find the combination of hutongs and courtyards just like an orderly chessboard with delicate gardens, fine rockeries, and ancient ruins. They have witnessed the development of Beijing. Where there is such a small lane, there is a story.
Until 1949, there were 6074 well known streets and alleys in Beijing's city areas. Out of which were 1330 Hutongs, 274 streets, 111 alleys, 85 Dao (small streets), 71 lanes, 37 roads. Traditionally, people classify all the small streets and alleys as Hutongs.
The narrowest Hutong in Beijing is the Qianshi (money market) Hutong in the Dashalan area of outside Qianmen, the narrowest space is merely 40 centimeters. There are also some winding deep Hutongs assumed zigzag shapes, like the Jiudaowan (nine-zigzag) originally at Beixinqiao (north new bridge), it actually had more than 20 zigzags, it was later divided into 5 Hutongs; There is another Hutong also named Jiudaowan outside Qianmen, it in fact has 13 zigzag turns. The name of Hutongs in Beijing is like an encyclopedia, it reflected the historical evolution and demonstrated the social characters and styles.