The courtyard home of one of Beijing's best-loved writers, Lao She (1899-1966), is the most charming of many converted homes scattered around Beijing's hutong. Despite being granted this home by Zhou Enlai in 1950, the writer refused to become a cheerleader for the regime, and his post-revolution years were remarkably quiet for such a prolific writer. He recently came in at no. 5 in an online survey of "China's leading cultural icons," ahead of pop diva Wang Faye but well behind the no. 1 choice, the iconoclastic writer Lu Xun (who has a memorial hall in the west of town). Lao She is renowned for the novel Rickshaw (Luotuo Xiangzi), a darkly humorous tale of a hardworking rickshaw puller, Happy Boy.

Start in Hall 3, to the right, which records his early years in London, the United States, and Shandong Province. Hall 2 is an attempt to re-create the mood of his original study and sitting room, with his personal library untouched and his desk calendar left open at the day of his disappearance -- August 24, 1966. While the date of his death is certain, the details are murky. The official line has him committing a poetic suicide in nearby Taiping Hu (pictured in Hall 1) after enduring a "struggle session" at Kong Miao. It's possible that he was simply murdered by Red Guards.