If visitors intend to saunter through a Beijing hutong, the quiet Dongjiaomin Xiang might be a good alternative to the noisy and touristy Nanluogu Xiang and Yandai Xiejie.
Dongjiaomin Xiang is the longest hutong of Old Beijing with a length stretching nearly 1.6 kilometers. It runs east to west in Dongcheng District, beginning from Tian’anmen Square and ending at Chongwenmen Avenue.
In the past, the alley was an embassy quarter used by the US, Japan, Germany, France and Belgium during the Qing Dynasty and early Republican Era. Other historical institutions such as the Yokohama Special Bank, Standard Chartered Bank and the International Club operated in the hutong.
Many of the former embassy sites and Western-style buildings remain, and visitors can read about the buildings’ original use on nearby stone tablets.
During the Yuan dynasty (1271 – 1368), Dongjiaomin Xiang and its twin alley Xijiaomin Xiang, were one massive hutong known as Jiangmi Xiang. When the Ming Dynasty came to power, new city ordinances resulted in the alley being split into its current form.
In the early years of the Yuan Dynasty, Jiangmi Xiang was a street for buying and selling food. The city’s customs officers and the department that oversaw grain shipments both maintained offices in the alley. Its key role in maintaining Beijing’s food supply made Jiangmi Xiang an important strategic point for Yuan rulers.
That changed in 1421, when the Ming Dynasty moved China’s capital from Nanjing to Beijing. Important government agencies such as the Ministry of Rites, the Court of State Ceremonies and the diplomatic department set up shop on the east side of Jiangmi Xiang.
During the Second Opium War (1856 – 1860), the imperial government was forced to sign the humiliating Tianjin Treaty with Russia, the US, France and the UK in 1858. The treaty granted the four countries the right to open embassies in Beijing, and the Eastern Jiangmi Xiang became a gathering place for foreigners.
Britain and France selected two mansions that originally belonged to aristocrats in the Qing royal family; the US selected a mansion whose owner was an American citizen; and the Russians put their embassy in a church.
As other countries entered China and set up embassies, the Eastern Jiangmi Xiang became their first choice.
After the failed Boxer Uprising (1899 – 1901), the Qing Dynasty government was forced to sign the Peace Protocol of 1901. Foreigners renamed the Eastern Jiangmi Xiang to “Legation Street.” In Chinese it was known as Dongjiaomin Xiang.
The foreigners evicted most Qing officials from their offices in the alley: only the Ministry of Official Personnel Affairs, Ministry of Revenue, Ministry of Rites and Imperial Clan Court of the Qing Dynasty were to remain.
As embassies began to mushroom in Dongjiaomin Xiang, foreign companies and banks followed and opened branches in the area. France built public facilities such as a hospital and post office. The alley slowly took on a colonial air.
Even after the People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949, Dongjiaomin Xiang continued to house many embassies. The government relocated the embassies to Sanlitun in 1959, and the alley’s diplomatic chapter came to an end.
Today, most of the historical buildings are occupied by official agencies and many modern constructions are appearing in the hutong. Nevertheless, visitors can still see the silent hutong’s history in the surviving Western-style buildings.
Historic Spots in the Hutong
St. Michael’s Church
A French priest founded this Catholic church in 1901 and completed it in 1904. It is a two-story Gothic building known for its exquisite angels. In front of the church’s front door stands a statue of St. Michael, the guardian of Israel in the Old Testament.
Former French Barracks
In 1901, France built a new barracks using the foundation of an abandoned house. The barracks were symmetrical, and the main buildings were two solider dormitories. Today it belongs to General Labor Union of Beijing Municipality.
Beijing Police Museum
The Beijing Police Museum is the first museum about police culture in Beijing. The museum is divided into four exhibition rooms. Visitors can learn about Beijing’s police history, investigation technology, equipment and weapons. The building is on the site of the branch office used by Citibank during the Qing Dynasty.