Lidai Diwang Miao & Huguo Si
Start: Lu Xun Bowuguan (metro: Fucheng Men).
Finish: Desheng Men Jianlou (metro: Jishui Tan).
Time: 4 to 5 hours.
Best times: Any time between 9am and noon.
Worst times: Mondays, when some of the museums and sites are closed.
With the Shicha Hai area increasingly overrun with bar touts, "To the Hutong" tours, and Beijing's nouveau riche blocking the way with their Audis, this walking tour will let you rub shoulders with real Beijingren. You'll ramble along tree-lined quiescent lanes too narrow for automobiles, uncovering recently reopened and long-forgotten temples; you'll explore the tranquil former residences of two of China's most influential artists and a lively local wet market; you'll meet bonsai and Peking opera aficionados and drink tea in a former concubine's residence. Tip: Take this tour soon. Much of the area is threatening to disappear by way of the wrecking ball...
Taking exit B from the metro, turn left (east) along Fucheng Men Nei Dajie, taking the first left (north) into Fucheng Men Nei Bei Jie. Ahead is:
1. Lu Xun Bowuguan
An online poll saw Lu Xun (1881-1936), an acerbic essayist, outpoll pop divas and basketball stars as the most popular figure in China. Young visitors display something approaching reverence when they photograph the desk where the young Lu carved the character for early (zao) to remind him not to be late for school. Seek out a gruesome photo of a Japanese soldier beheading a Chinese national during the Russo-Japanese war of 1905. His Chinese compatriots look on with blank countenances. Lu, then a medical student in Japan, saw this as symptomatic of a national sickness, and credited the picture with changing the direction of his life toward literature. His charming residence (one of three in Beijing) is set to the west side (¥5; Tues-Sun 9am-3:30pm).
Walk back down Fucheng Men Nei Dajie, turn left at the next alley, then right at the T-intersection, then left on the main street and continue until you see on the left:
2. Bai Ta Si
Having undergone a makeover just before the Olympic Games, this white stupa commissioned by Mongolian ruler Kublai Khan and built by a Nepalese architect glitters with shiny paint though it is more than 700 years old. The surrounding temple is still worth a gander, with one hall showing thousands of carved Buddhas behind glass encasements. A new exhibit in the western hall shows a chilling vision for "modernizing" the surrounding area. Open daily from 9am to 4pm; admission ¥20.
Turn left as you exit. On the right are the new towering skyscrapers of the financial district. Continue until you see on the left:
3. Lidai Diwang Miao
This icon-free temple, whose grounds were occupied by a school until recently, is where Ming and Qing emperors would come to pay tribute to their predecessors. It has impressive stone carvings and signs of improvement in local curatorial standards -- some of the original roof murals have been left untouched; there are touch-screen displays; and there's even admission of past vandalism. Open daily 8:30am to 4:30pm; admission ¥20.
Turn left, and continue down the main street until you find:
4. Guangji Si
This is the closest thing Beijing has to a real Buddhist temple. The 1st and 15th day of the lunar calendar are especially busy here. Built in the Jin Dynasty, the temple also contains Buddhist statues made of yellow sandalwood and copper-cast statues of arhats dating back to the Ming Dynasty. If you'd like to meet the monks, visit Lily Vegetarian Restaurant, where they often dine.
Backtrack west in the direction of Lidai Diwang Miao, taking the third right turn into Yao Jia Hutong; follow the alley, which jumps slightly left after one intersection and winds to the right until you reach the T, which brings you to:
5. Xisi Bei San Tiao
Formerly known as Bozi Hutong, this is where bamboo screens for writing were produced. From this lane northward, the original Yuan street grid remains intact, with east-west hutong spaced exactly 79m (259 ft.) apart. Many of the original entrances and door piers (men dun'r) are in excellent condition, and this lane may be spared from development.
Turn right, and walk down to no. 3, which reveals a striking monastery gate, embellished with faded murals, which formerly marked the entrance to:
6. Shengzuo Longchang Si
A Buddhist temple dating from the Ming, this was the site of scripture reproduction, transcribed on the bamboo strips the street was famed for. It is possible to (discreetly) wander among the former halls; the original outlay of the temple is readily discerned. There are no plans for restoring these ancient halls.
Continue east to the busy Xi Si Bei Dajie, turn left, and continue north past electronics shops until you reach a Bank of China. At this point, carefully cross the road and duck into the alley labeled Zhong Mao Jia Wan. The south side of this street was the residence of Mao's ill-fated deputy, Marshal Lin Biao. Appropriately, the residence is now occupied by the army. After 60m (197 ft.) turn left and continue up this winding hutong. At the main road, turn left to continue north, crossing Di'an Men Xi Dajie into Hucang Hutong. This area was formerly a prince's mansion, Zhuang Qin Wang Fu. Turn left at a busy Huguo Si Jie and look for no. 74, which is:
7. Renmin Juchang
Built in honor of Mei Lanfang during the 1950s, this impressive wooden structure has been deemed too much of a fire hazard to host performances.
Immediately opposite is:
Take A Break -- From the late Yuan onward, Huguo Si Xiaochi (daily 5:30am-9pm) was the site of a huge temple fair (second only to Longfu Si; see the "Wangfujing" walking tour), held on the seventh and eighth days of Chinese New Year. Beijing's most renowned snack shop claims to be faithful to temple fairs of the past, and at lunchtime, it's as chaotic as one. Tasty dishes include xingren doufu (chilled almond pudding), shaobing jia rou (miniburgers inside sesame buns), wandou huang (green pea pudding), and saqima (candied rice fritter).
Turn left to head north along Huguo Si Xi Jie, right next to the snack shop. You'll pass a neighborhood notice board on the right, and shortly on the left, at no. 33, you'll find:
8. Tianming Penjing Qishiguan
While bonsai is normally associated with Japan, quite a number of elderly Beijingren are passionate about its antecedent, penjing. The owner of this exhibit is a quietly fanatical collector and creator of stunted trees and bizarrely shaped rocks.
Continue up the alley, which bears right, and make your way back to Mianhua Hutong (which is just Hucang Hutong under a different name) and continue north, passing old men playing chess and selling grasshoppers. Shortly, you'll arrive at a more densely forested section, and you'll notice people emerging from a lane to your right with bags of fruit and vegetables. Follow them to the source to find:
9. Rundeli Zonghe Shichang
Still widely known as Si Huan Shichang, this is one of the few large open food markets (known as a wet market) still located within the city. There are vast stalls hawking clothing and fabric, animals (not intended as pets), and colorful spices.
Duck back out to Luo'r Hutong (again, just Hucang Hutong under another name) and continue north until you reach a major intersection, just before a hospital gate. Turn left into bustling Xinjiekou Dong Jie. This soon runs into still livelier Xinjiekou Bei Dajie, crammed with clothing and music shops. Continue north. On the left (west) side you'll soon find:
10. Xu Beihong Jinianguan
The work on display in this memorial hall at Xinjiekou Bei Dajie 53 (¥5; Tues-Sun 9am-4pm) is instantly familiar -- copies of the watercolors of Xu Beihong are on display at most tourist sites. Xu did much to revive a moribund art, combining traditional Chinese brushwork with Western techniques he assimilated while studying and traveling in Europe and Japan.
Head north along this bustling thoroughfare and turn right (east) onto Ban Qiao Tou Tiao, which leads to Xi Hu (West Lake), a peaceful area where locals fish. At this point, you can join up with the "Walking Tour 2: Back Lakes Ramble," or when you spy the waters of Hou Hai, keep to the right side and you'll reach:
Winding Down -- The Kong Yiji Jiudian, named for the drunken hero of one of Lu Xun's best-known short stories, serves delicate Huaiyang cuisine in a scholarly setting. Slightly farther south is the tranquil Teahouse of Family Fu.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.