Tulou – Hakka Walled Village

Fujian Tulou is a property of 46 buildings constructed between the 15th and 20th centuries over 120 km in south-west of Fujian province, inland from the Taiwan Strait. Set amongst rice, tea and tobacco fields the Tulou are earthen houses. Several storeys high, they are built along an inward-looking, circular or square floor plan as housing for up to 800 people each. They were built for defence purposes around a central open courtyard with only one entrance and windows to the outside only above the first floor. Housing a whole clan, the houses functioned as village units and were known as “a little kingdom for the family” or “bustling small city.” They feature tall fortified mud walls capped by tiled roofs with wide over-hanging eaves. The most elaborate structures date back to the 17th and 18th centuries. The buildings were divided vertically between families with each disposing of two or three rooms on each floor. In contrast with their plain exterior, the inside of the tulou were built for comfort and were often highly decorated. They are inscribed as exceptional examples of a building tradition and function exemplifying a particular type of communal living and defensive organization, and, in terms of their harmonious relationship with their environment, an outstanding example of human settlement.

We visited this incredible Hakka walled village, known as a tulou, at Yongding about an hour’s drive west from Xiamen in Fujian Province of China.


Hakka walled villages can be constructed from brick, stone, or rammed earth, with the last being the most common. The external wall is typically 1 metre in thickness and the entire building could be up to three or four stories in height. Often turrets were also built to extend the range of defensive power and to cover otherwise indefensible points. Battlements were also constructed on the top floor for muskets. The gate was the most vulnerable point and it was usually reinforced with stone and covered with iron. A number of smaller gates followed, in case the outer one was breached. With the exception of a few exceptionally large forts, Hakka houses usually only had one entrance. The round shape of the walls, which became popular in later stages, added to the defensive value of the fortifications and reduced the firepower of artillery against it. A Hakka fort could withstand a protracted siege, since it was well stocked with grains and had an internal source of water. They often also had their own sophisticated sewage systems.


The architectural style of Hakka forts is unique in China and around the world. The typical Chinese house contains a courtyard and, other than pagodas, does not often contain any structures higher than two stories.


A Hakka walled village is a large multi-family communal living structure that is designed to be easily defensible. This building style is unique to the Hakka people found in southern China. Walled villages are typically designed for defensive purposes and consist of one entrance and no windows at the ground level.


The Hakkas who settled in mountainous south western Fujian province in China developed unique architectural buildings called tulou, literally meaning earthen structures. The Hakkas set up these unique homes to prevent attack from bandits and marauders. The tulou are either round or square, and were designed as a large fortress and apartment building in one. Structures typically had only one entranceway and no windows at ground level. Each floor served a different function – the first hosts a well and livestock, the second is for food storage and the third and higher floors contain living spaces. Tulou can be found mostly in south western Fujian and southern Jiangxi provinces. Tulou buildings have been inscribed in 2008 by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.


In this area tea and tobacco is grown so we saw many of the ladies sorting the tea or making home made cigarettes.


Fruits were being dried on wooden racks in the sun and we also saw some rather strange herbs and dried twigs for sale ….. the stick-like ones in the photo below we recognised from the soup we had at the lunch prior to the visit …. still no idea what it actually is.


Walking through the Tolou Hakka Heritage Village in Yongdin, Fujian, China we eventually came to a large distinctive banyon tree next to the river. The tree was adorned with many red ribbons and sat below the tree was an old man with a small donation box. His arms outstretched he held up two fingers ….. 2 RMB for a wish …. then you could tie a red ribbon on the tree for good luck. I made my donation and made a wish for a good photograph … here it is.


Continuing our walk up by the river we came to numerous small settlements with rice or fruits such as pimentos being dried out in the sun and chickens and hens running around.


One house was all decked out for a wedding with a rather ornate wedding carriage sitting outside. Inside the house there was an open area all set up for a wedding with a red carpet, red and gold bunting and some large red lanterns.


The small settlement seemed very self-contained with some small shops selling clothes and various areas set up for drying fruits and herbs.


Our local guide invited us into one house (which I believe belonged to a relative) to sample some tea. This is a very traditional thing to sit down with the owner of the house to have tea and numerous rooms appeared to be set up for tea tasting.


On the main wall of the entrance were photographs of their ancestors and a large mirror …. yes that is me in the reflection taking the photograph.


So we sat down and sampled some local teas with the house owner which is just what we needed after walking for so far.


On the return walk we came by a strange monument outside a small family temple and in the field in front was a beautiful white horse. The house next to this was under repair with one man up on the roof trying to repair the roof tiles.


Again on the walk back through the village we saw large racks with pimentos being dried and also a wine maker with numerous large wine jars stacked outside the house. A small temple next to this area was also very photogenic.

So this brief visit to the Hakka walled village was certainly most interesting and I could have spent days here just photographing the life here.


Passionate Photographer …. Lost in Asia

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One thought on “Tulou – Hakka Walled Village

  1. What an amazing village! I always love red lanterns. The wedding carriage reminds me of a wedding I spotted as a child, probably in Taiwan. Nice to be able to visit a local home too!

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