Back in the 12th century in Southeast China, where massive Hakka people lived, emerged one of the greatest wonders of humankind: the Fujian Tulou, serving as residences of the whole clans, as well as undefeatable defensive buildings, which survived both human attacks and harsh natural phenomena for countless centuries. Mostly being round-shaped, the tulou were entirely built with natural materials – clay, sandy soil and bamboo strips, portraying how amicably human beings could live with Mother Nature.
The earthen houses’ unique charm attracts discerning travellers and history buffs from all over the world, with the stunning beauty from their symmetrical simplicity, the mystery of ancient Hakka’s architectural wisdom, their being unorthodox multistorey habitats of clans like nowhere else, and highly durable constructions. Besides, descendants of the original dwellers are still living there, in the very same old houses of their ancestors.
The Fujian Tulou were inscribed in 2008 by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, as “exceptional examples of a building tradition and function exemplifying a particular type of communal living and defensive organisation harmonious relationship with their environment”. Here are visit-worthy spots to be included in your travel itinerary, and to be witnessed with your own eyes:
TIANLOUKENG TULOU CLUSTER
Resembling and nicknamed “four dishes of rice and one cup of soup”, Tianloukeng village’s tulou cluster comprises four round-shaped and one squared earthen house. The cluster looks like one big “meihua” plum blossom – the national flower of the Republic of China, and the symbol of strength, security, and diligence – from a bird’s-eye view.
Suburbanly picturesque is Taxia village, with its scenery of a quiet brook cutting through an old-fashioned village, meandering toward bushy mountains. This hard-to-find Hakka village is home to a number of earthen buildings for over 500 years, as well as charming arched bridges. There is also a famous shrine of the Zhang family – the founder of this historic small town. Standing before the shrine are 24 rare dragon pillars, which are still in a good health.
The leaning tulou of Yuchanglou is among one of the oldest existing tulou. The five-storey detached dwelling is a huge circular shape, with slanting wooden poles forming a slight arch of this building. Over 700 years have passed, and this hefty tulou remains structurally intact despite innumerable earthquakes, revealing the fascinating architectural abilities of ancient Hakka people.
YUN SHUI YAO
Made famous by the popular drama film dubbed “The Knot”, which portrays the story of young lovers who have to be apart for years, the small town is getting more attention from tourists. The dreamy suburban village, Yun Shui Yao, by a clear stream has remained serene and barely anything has changed, with a scenic backdrop of tulou and mountains.
This tulou is a remarkable rammed-earth architecture with two annular constructions. Rammed earth in old times was considered a handicraft, together with other handmade structures and carvings on the ceiling’s beams. This ancient southern Fujian technique was applied in perfect harmony with Confucianism’s social way, as the name ‘Huaiyuan’ implies nostalgia to distant relatives.
Not so far from Yun Shui Yao stands the largest rectangular tulou. Heguilou is five storeys high and situated right on a basin, gaining loads of attention due to its architectural value – its structure was too good to be true 200 years ago, and miraculously lasted on a swamp for centuries!