Hutong Days is a short documentary that explores the effect of modernization of China, specifically the direct consequence on the culture and life of Beijing’s hutongs. Beijing’s hutongs, some dating back to the Yuan Dynasty (1206-1341) are a sprawl of narrow alleys and courtyards, of small shops and restaurants, of homes and families. The hutongs are regarded as one of Beijing’s defining, essential characteristics, the heart and soul of the city for centuries. The destruction of hutongs has been taking place for several years since 1949, but since mid of 1990s, the rate at which they were being cleared increased exponentially. According to UNESCO, 4/5 of the 62km squared area that makes up the central part of the old city has now been destroyed in 2005. This has displaced close to 580,000 people.
Rapid economic boom has gained China much attention from the world, as it is experiencing a complex restructuring of its major metropolis areas. However, under the facade of progress, the majority of Beijing’s hutong residents have yet to experience the prosperity- rather, they face more economic struggles than ever before. These issues are not only occurring in China, but all across the world. Modernization is changing traditional ways of life and unjustly displacing families. Although the loss of this ancient architecture is significant, it is also important to note the loss of a social network of neighbors and friends, of spirit and culture that have defined the way of life in the hutongs for generations. This collective way of living is jeopardized by the sterile environments of the high-rises, as they are rapidly replacing the space where hutongs once stood. Today they are at the heart of an increasingly controversy between progress and modernization in China: What balance should be struck between preserving Beijing’s culturally and historically significant sites, and building a developed, global city for the future China?