Spotlight on History - Nü Ren Jie
by Reg Micklewhite
During the late Yuan dynasty, texts report that the great Khan became alarmed that so many humans were women. It didn't take long for his policy advisors, Uhrt Klakka and Anhrt Gourd, to suggest the forcible movement of all women to a new street outside the city of Batjing (as Beijing was then known to some). The Yuandai Riji - one of the most important texts detailing day to day life during the Yuan dynasty - reports that the Khan was strolling around the city wall, when he proclaimed "Just as the clouds are moved by the great winds of heaven, so shall some women be moved over there (pointing in the direction of the north-east)."
Although the Khan's decree was not as extensive as his advisors wished, nonetheless a great feast was organised to mark the evictions, which became known as the 'moving feast' (and is also the first time in history that "musical chairs" is recorded). Even today, many women can still be found at Nü Ren Jie, although visitors should be wary that some of the Yuan dynasty customs are still extremely important to the people there. If you go there, please try and observe the following basic rules:
Above: a woman
- If you wish to speak to someone, you should always approach from the right, and to answer someone it is necessary to stand directly behind them.
- A request for information - such as a price inquiry - can only be delivered from a position lower than the person's shoulder. Similarly, answering someone when the sun is behind them is considered a faux-pas, but as a foreigner you can stretch this one a bit ;)
- Speaking and walking at the same time are frowned upon by men and women alike, although community elders have been allowed to do this since 1921, when it became apparent that they were much slower at moving around.
All in all, Women's Street can be a lovely place to go to soak up some Yuan Dynasty Culture. At times whilst meandering my way through the area, I can almost imagine what it would have been like to arrive there in bygone days, the delicate flavour of lamb in the air, mixed with exotic perfumes favoured by the women of the day. You can get to Nü Ren Jie by taking a taxi there and telling the driver where to go.