Dongchang hutong

Dongchang (eastern yard) hutong is located to the south of Chinese Art Museum and west to the northern street of Wangfujing. This hutong was well known for the Dongchang, the seat of Dongchang governmental office, which was set up in the 18th year of Zhu Di’s reign in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), corresponding to the Jinyiwei (imperial guards). There were three evil forces in the Ming Dynasty —Dongchang, imperial guards and the eunuchs. And Dongchang was superior to the imperial guard. Dongchang had a notorious reputation for terrorizing innocent people. The then Dongchang was in the north of today’s Dongchang hutong. Dongchang controlled the imperial court and the whole country; it was the biggest imperial secret service organ secondary only to the Xingbu (Minister of Justice), Ducha Yuan (Censorate) and Dali Yuan (Parliament), the three major yamuns (governmental offices) in ancient China. Emperor Zhu Di was suspicious of his court offices — he would rather trust the eunuchs — he appointed some of his favorite eunuchs to the perfect of Dongchang. Dongchang comprised of the eunuchs, imperial guards and local rogues. Dongchang was under direct supervision of the emperor. And its main function was to detect the rebellions, scoop out rumors and evil persons; it set up the Zhaoyu (the prison), executed cruel punishments and spied on the court officials and the ordinary people. Zhaoyu emerged in the Han Dynasty, “tingzhang” (bastinado at court in the presence of other court officials as a punishment) began in the Yuan Dynasty and the Changwei (advance guard) started in the Ming Dynasty.

The spying team of Changwei consisted of Jianxiao, Yizhang and Fanzi; they wore tipped hat, white boots and dressed in dark and blue. They wandered here and there — among teahouses, restaurants, lanes and fairs — to collect or fabricate news. They had secret channels of reporting; even when the gate of the Forbidden City was closed, they could pass on the information through door slot. After the Ming’s Yongle reign (1368-1644), the emperors would rather believe in the Changwei’s report than the memorials to the throne submitted by the court officials.