"It is difficult to overstate how much of China's old imperial capital has disappeared in recent years. When the Communists took power in 1949, they inherited a city marbled with 7,000 alleyways, or hutong, a Mongol word that referred to the space between tents. In Old Beijing, hutong were the capillaries that fed the walled compounds where most people lived.
Even if the Communists forced aristocratic families to share their courtyard homes with scores of working-class families, the structures, and their stone-and-wood artistry, remained largely intact. Monument-building and road-widening claimed swaths of the old city in the 1950s and '60s, and more damage was done during the Cultural Revolution, but the pace surged in the 1990s, when China's embrace of market economics fueled a redevelopment juggernaut.
In the years leading up to the Beijing Olympics in August, the destruction took on a manic pace. According to Unesco, more than 88 percent of the city's old residential quarters are gone, including many government-designated heritage zones whose protections existed only on paper. Today, just 1,300 hutong remain, and many more neighborhoods, like the colorful Qianmen district just south of Tiananmen Square, are scheduled for renewal."