Wudaoying Hutong in Beijing The next Nanluoguxiang
In Beijing, Wudaoying Hutong is a street that has quietly entered the tourism scene, and is beginning to emerge as a player in the market. With Chinese cultural architecture and an array of shops, boutiques, cafes, and nightlife hotspots, it is no surprise that this area of town is beginning to garner the attention of locals and foreigners alike. The local government has taken notice too, with new plans to help develop the street into a thriving center of attraction.
Located in the Dongcheng District of the capital, Wudaoying Hutong has been a part of an area that has influenced Beijing in terms of commerce, politics, trade, and culture for over 700 years. Located near such famous scenic spots such as the Forbidden City, Tianamen Square, the Confucian Temple, Imperial College, and more notably the Yonghe Lama Temple, it is surprising that the Hutong has taken so long to develop into a center of commerce. Dongcheng covers an area of 25.38 square kilometers with a population of 555,000 and was part of the central area of the ancient capital of the Yuan (1271-1368), Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties. During the Qing dynasty, it is known that Wudaoying was used as a military outpost to protect the inner city. After a period of relative peace and stability, the soldiers settled at the hutong. The Beijing City Master Plan has designated Dongcheng as one of the four core zones of the capital city, a zone that typifies Beijing’s function as the country’s political, cultural, and commercial center. As Wudaoying is located in this zone, it has received attention from the government that has planned to renovate the area and turn it into a pedestrian street. In the last twelve months, this hutong has therefore seen skyrocketing prices. Rent has increased dramatically and landlords have been renting out rooms for around 5,000 RMB/month.
New Growth and Business
In 2006, the Vineyard opened its doors as the first café and restaurant on Wudaoying, and for a while it was the only reason for many to visit the hutong. Now, some call it the next Nanluoguxiang alley, as it is becoming a small yet handsome tourist destination at an astonishing rate. We take a closer look at this quiet street that is beginning to turn many heads throughout the city.
Sunkissed Tanning Studio
We selected an array of different kinds of stores to look into and interview to see how the owners viewed the new development of the hutong as well as to see just how well business has been growing here. We started at Sunkissed tanning studio, a relatively new business that caters mostly to foreigners because the local Chinese have not yet warmed to the idea of tanning in fashion. The owner, (Yuki) Liu Jia, chose to start her business in Wudaoying “because it is situated in a very attractive tourist area near Yonghegong and Guozhijian.” Since Wudaoying is developing, those tourists may venture and discover her business, giving it good exposure and raising the potential for it to be highly profitable. Ms. Liu’s business, she says, is unique because it has the latest imported tanning equipment from Germany while being the least expensive tanning salon in Beijing.
Sattva Gallery & Boutique
Across from the salon, we found another unique and growing business, the Sattva Gallery & Boutique. Specializing in Tibetan Thangkas, the shop also features beautiful Tibetan furniture, rugs, and herbal medicine incense hand made in monasteries by monks. The owner, Carole Liu, chose to locate her shop in Wudaoying for the same kind of reasons we have come to expect. Yonghegong is one of the largest Tibetan Buddhist temples in Beijing and even the world, and today it continues to play an important role in the Buddhist faith. Since the gallery deals with Tibetan religious paintings, it is a good idea to locate the gallery near Yonghegong. In addition, Wudaoying is near the Drum Tower, the Confucian Temple, and the Alter of the Earth. Yet, the street still retains its rustic old Beijing charm and is a jewel of Beijing’s cultural heritage. For these reasons, Wudaoing hutong is perfect for her gallery, she says.
School Bar and Party Project
Down the street we found a hidden nightlife hotspot, the School Bar and Party Project. The owner and founder, Billy, hopes that soon there will be more parking lots in the area to cater to customers. He started his bar in Wudaoying because it is a unique and growing area that is attracting more and more tourists. He hopes, however, that more of these visitors will stay later into the night to more fully enjoy his bar. Billy's advice to the new visitors of Wudaoying? "Look out for pickpockets." Not bad advice in this town, though it is surprising that one might have that problem on this street.
Across the way from School, we visited a massage and spa therapy boutique called Zigzag that provides manicures and other services. Initially the owner, Nancy Wu, wanted something simple. She used to go for manicures and massages but wasn’t satisfied with what she received, so she decided to set up her own place and got a lot of support from customers who encouraged her to do better. Business has been expanding, but Nancy hopes that the hutong will retain its rustic old Beijing charm and culture. Hopefully, she says, it will not become too commercialized like other hutongs have.
VA Cafe & Bar
The VA Cafe & Bar, situated at the end of the hutong, focuses on live bands and performance. The founder and owner Liu Bin designed the bar himself with these focuses in mind, and it appears to have paid off. In addition to live performances, the bar will occasionally have special events such as movie premiers and caters mostly to young working adults who have some money to spend. Like several of the other owners we interviewed, Bin does not want to see the hutong become commercialized. When we asked what he wanted to see, he explained that he hopes Wudaoying will continue to be quiet and have its native flavor. There are more antiques and cultural artifacts compared to Nanluoguxiang, and “we need to preserve them.”
The final café we looked into is the Lazzy Café. In the daytime, the café serves western dishes and drinks, while at night it serves more alcoholic beverages. The shop is unique in several ways. The name of the café in mandarin translates as ‘sun rays’ and the café itself has large window panes designed to let in plenty of natural light. This light serves as a soothing agent for the patrons, creating a very relaxed atmosphere inside. The high wooden ceilings give the place a very bright and natural feel, and the entire café is decorated for comfort. The owner is clearly a music enthusiast, with one entire wall adorned with music CDs. Customers can choose whatever CDs they want from this wall and have the sound played through the café’s speakers. Occasionally, live bands are also invited to play inside. Wudaoying was chosen for the Lazzy Café because of the success had by the Vineyard as well as the charming atmosphere offered by the entire street. It is not commercialized, says the manager, like the hectic atmosphere in Nanluoguxiang. This interest in having a rustic atmosphere comes into conflict, however, with the manager’s desire for more parking lots to be available in the area to draw more tourists. It seems that this conflict of interest is common within Wudaoying.
Give yourself half a day to explore Wudaoying. Any day of the week will be a good time to visit except Monday, when some of the shops are closed. Start with a late lunch and slowly work yourself through the boutiques along the street. Take a break in between and indulge yourself with a massage and manicure or cup of coffee. When dusk falls, feast yourself on a unique cuisine at one of Wudaoying's many Western-themed restaurants. The restaurants may be crowded on weekends, so try to make a reservation beforehand. After dinner, be sure to drop by a bar or club for live performances or parties. Wudaoying is generally safe but don’t let your experience be marred by pickpockets – always keep a safe watch of your belongings.
The easiest way to get to Wudaoying is by Beijing Subway. You can alight at either Yonghegong station or Andingmen station and walk to Wudaoying.
Overall, it can easily be said that loyal customers can call Wudaoying a second home and immerse themselves into the old-Beijing environment. Many older generation Beijing locals still live in the hutong, and it makes the environment especially likable and authentic. With such growth though, we can only hope that it remains that way and continues to be a unique hutong in the Dongcheng district of Beijing.