The other day, my class took a trip to go visit a Siheyuan and a hutong. The Siheyuan is a small compound that serves as a home for approximately three generations of the same family. It’s walled in on all four sides, with the main buildings occupying the periphery. A courtyard occupies the very center of the siheyuan. There’s usually some trees and whatnot planted in the courtyard, and some places will even have ponds full of goldfish. It was a nice little place, but I thought that it was a bit small, particularly given that you, your parents, and your grandparents are all supposed to live in it together.
There were also several hutongs nearby, so we went to go visit one of those next. They were really little more than city alleys, so I don’t completely understand all of the hype that they get. Some of them are pretty old (as in hundreds of years), but the condition of the people living in them left a lot to be desired. There’s some debate over whether the government’s policy of bull-dozing the hutongs in favor of shopping malls and apartment buildings is a good idea. But I know, that I’d personally rather live in an apartment than in one of the hutongs. We talked to some people who lived in the hutongs and, they seemed to concur with this assessment. They made it quite clear how much they disliked their hutong. Apparently, American-style housing is preferable. Go figure.