The south-east region of Fujian Province in China is a quite picturesque green mountainous landscape that has long been a home to many of one of Chinas minority groups the Hakkas. The Hakkas are probably most well known for cuisine, culture but mostly for their very unique homes of which many still standing today date back over 700 years old.
As rumor has it, in the early days of satellite spying, the US suspected these may have been missile silos and reportedly sent spies to investigate. Lucky spies, as they would have stopped in and got to enjoy the delicious local Hakka cuisine!
Their homes are referred to as ‘tulou – 土楼’ literally meaning ‘earth building’ due to being built with wood and rammed earth. Some are square or rectangular, but many were built in a round or oval shape to create a defensive structure that would keep the community within safe from attacking bandits.
Some of the tulou’s are quite large, featuring over 200 rooms across multiple stories. One of these tulou’s would be a home to many families, and a cluster of tulou’s would make a community. It’s somewhat fascinating that these buildings, built many hundreds years ago, are still providing a home to many people today, and that many of those people are descendants of the original inhabitants, continuing the Hakka lifestyle and culture.
There are many clusters of these tulou buildings throughout the Yongding, Hukeng, and Nanjing, so lucky for me, I got to jump on board a day tour of these ancient cultural wonders. Hats off to the friendly French couple, Phillipe and Fon Fon, who were kind enough to let me share the day with them on the tour they’d organized with the Fuyulou Changdi Inn.
My French is as good as my Mandarin, but fortunately, Fon Fon spoke great Mandarin, so, when intuition and hand gestures failed, she could speak Mandarin to an English speaking local who could translate for me. There’s an interesting circle of linguistics but the day worked out terrific regardless of any language barriers.
The first stop on this tour was Chengqi Lou, here’s a couple of panorama shots:
What is seriously interesting about these buildings is their sustainability. Built from rammed earth consisting of mud, rice juice, and reeds or shredded bamboo. The buildings are thermally efficient and the communal lifestyle has inbuilt efficiency. The open center creates a well-lit environment and great ventilation.
While we walk around with all our buzzwords for eco-living, cohabitation, sustainability etc. etc., they were actually doing it simply because it made instinctive sense to do so, hundreds of years ago.
A primary consideration in their design was defense. Back in the day of the Qin Dynasty, the Hakka people were often ostracized by Han Chinese and as outsiders, they fled to where no one wanted to live and through determined efforts carved out a life.
Yet, they still came under attack from bandits and the tulou was designed to defend against such. Something they were obviously very successful at as many homes are housing 12th and 13th generations of the original inhabitants.
The larger round tulou can have up to five levels with three interior rings and cover 40,000 m². Livestock, central kitchens, and utilities occupy the ground floor, the second floor for storage, and floors above that are bedrooms. Larger ones could house some 200 families.
More Tulou photos: