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People's Daily Online>>China Society

A who's who of hutong

By Li Yao (China Daily)

08:43, December 28, 2011

BEIJING - As most of his colleagues took up new exercises, played chess or traveled in retirement, Shu Shizhong chose to stroll along Beijing's hutong, the ancient narrow alleys commonly associated with Beijing.

From 1987 to 2002, Shu visited all hutong that he knew of, and in the years since has drawn 30 maps showing the intricate hutong locations and layouts in Beijing.

Now, more than half of the hutong Shu visited have vanished in the process of urbanization.

Yet the 80-year-old feels part nostalgic and part proud to have kept a lost culture alive with his camera, notebooks and writings about hutong anecdotes and history.

When he started his visits, Shu set two priorities: hutong to be torn down soon or those farther away from his home in the southwest corner of Beijing should be visited first.

"I knew it would take many years' work. So I saved the hutong close to home for my later years in case I became old and frail and could not go that far," Shu said.

A typical hutong excursion began at 4 am. At daybreak, Shu arrived by bike, then strolled back and forth, made measurements with his footsteps, and took notes of what he measured and what he saw.

At noon, he headed back home. After an afternoon nap, he reviewed the notes and marked the details that he found interesting, and looked for books to confirm mysterious parts of hutong history that had been obscure or unknown.

Some major findings appeared in cultural relic publications.

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