One of the interesting scenes in Beijing is hutong, an ancient city alley or lane. Most of the residents of these hutongs are descendants of imperial kinsmen and aristocrafts. They are four houses built around a quadrangular courtyard and these quadrangles varied. The stereotyped arrangement of the hutongs was affected by the changes of dynasties and the vicissitudes of life. The social status of the residents also changed, reflecting the collapse of the feudal system.
The city of Beijing deteriorated and the conditions of the hutongs worsened. Quadrangles previously owned by the one family became a compound occupied by many households. As time passed the houses in many hutongs were pulled down and replaced by modern buildings. The hutongs today are fading into shade for both tourists and inhabitants. However, in the urban district of Beijing houses along hutongs still occupy one-third of the total area, providing housing for half the population, so many hutongs have survived.