Hutong Memory: A Solo Exhibition of Ye Jian Qing


Exhibition Period: 26th November – 11th December 2009
Jardine HouseCentral Hong Kong

Forming an acquaintance with the Hutong’s past, can further amplify its importance in Modern-day Beijing, relaying the urge to preserve a structure that has gained hushed distinction as a cultural miracle, one that guides and defines the veins of a city; housing the hearts of Beijing’s oldest inhabitants, and the country’s intricate, and at times, tumultuous journey, taken thus far.

The history of the Hutong can be traced back to the Yuan Dynasty (China under the Mongol Empire, from 1271 – 1368), with origins in the City of Dadu, translated as ‘Great Capital’. During the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644), the 3rd Ming Emperor, Zhu Di (1402 – 1424) renamed the city ‘Dadu’ to ‘Beijing’, an interesting notion, given that the title ‘Beijing’ was designated slightly more than a century after the ‘Hutong’ earned its name, thus viewing Old Beijing as a city fashioned and cultivated by the Hutong, as opposed to vice versa, as some might initially perceive…

By 1420, Beijing was fully reconstructed, and Emperor Chengzu of the Ming Dynasty made the city a capital, records show that there were 459 Hutongs present at this time. By the 1940s, the number of alleyways in Beijing amounted to over 3000, and with the development of urban constructions in the 1980s, the total area of the city had expanded 24 times more than old Beijing, increasing the number of passages to approximately 6000- among which an estimated 1300 were named Hutongs. Currently, only one-third of Hutongs in Beijing are well preserved, making the conservation of a cultural code, one that is symbolic of Old Beijing, more of a challenge than anticipated.

There is a labyrinthine charm embedded in these alleyways. Steeped in history, the naming of the Hutong reflects the social inclinations of its people. With the formation of a Hutong, residents will proceed to confer a title, and if accepted by the majority of tenants, as well as granted general consensus by the public, will thereafter become an essential indication for people’s engagements. Whilst some will have names reflecting its exact attributes, take ‘Xiao La Ba’ for instance, translated as ‘Little Brass Wind Instrument’, to describe a Hutong that is narrower at one end, and wider at the other, others are connected to the prevailing trades that previously occurred within the alleyway, or associated with food, temples and prominent individuals.

Ye Jian Qing’s wistful depiction of the Hutong, relays the artist’s desire to secure the existence of an ancient architecture. The warped application of oils, akin to viewing a Hutong through an obscure pane pelted by rain or snow, is a purposeful deformation (but paradoxically beautiful), aimed at conveying the Hutong’s demise; the blurring of a structure akin to the ambiguity of the Hutong’s future, the images caught in a ‘photographic’ snap shot, catching an episodic (but questionable) moment, where a country, caught in the whirl of hasty industrialisation, threatens the very existence of its cultural code.

Hutong Memory’- A Solo Exhibition of Ye Jian Qing, will feature 10 exclusive black and white oil paintings from Ye’s earlier series, dated from 2004 to 2007: To be showcased at iPRECIATION Hong Kong, Jardine House, 1 Connaught Place, Central. For artwork enquiry, please call +852 2537 8869 or email

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