BEIJING The Chinese capital is sanitizing its ancient hutong alleyways, home to millions of migrants workers and thousands of small businesses, bulldozing illegal constructions and forcing shops, bars and tiny courtyard restaurants to relocate or go under.
As part of guidelines unveiled in April, authorities have started to brick in doors of properties along the narrow passageways, many of which date back to the 13th century. They have also cracked down on illegal shopfronts to restore the original facades.
Traditionally a courtyard property has only one entrance. That means shops on a property are not allowed to create or maintain additional entrances. On top of that, authorities have stopped issuing new commercial licenses in Beijing’s most ambitious clean-up of the hutongs, where some buildings are crumbling and unsafe. And current licenses will not be renewed.
The municipal government says it is trying to eradicate an “urban disease”.
Business owners have been seen taking photos of their shopfronts and bidding them goodbye. For some, they are saying farewell to the old city.
“The most appealing part of Beijing is about to disappear,” said Titi, the owner of a clothing store in Fangjia hutong, famous for its bars and vintage stores.
Shopkeepers in Fangjia complained that they had not been given enough time before their stores were bricked in. Some had no choice but to hold flash clearance sales during a recent three-day public holiday to get rid of stock.
Residents and businesses are given from five to 15 days to rectify unapproved construction before “the authorities enforce mandatory demolition with no obligation to compensate any losses”, according to notices posted on the walls of many hutongs.
“I am not against government policy, but you (the authorities) have to give us some time to take care of our business,” said the owner of a Fangjia Mexican snack bar.