China’s Hakka Tulous

Hakka tulous

We had a three-day weekend due to Chinese holiday Mid-Autumn Day on Monday, September 12th, so we decided to travel to the province of Fujian, to the city of Xiamen (“shah-men”), and on to rural county of Yongding, to see the Fujian tulous, (also called Hakka tulous), or Chinese round houses.

The Fujian tulous are large round buildings that resemble a small stadium from the outside, and, in the inside, the middle is round and open to the sky.  They are large and have many rooms, and housed whole towns in the past, some held up to 800 people.

Chengqilou 承啟樓 nicknamed "the king of tulou" (Wikipedia)

We visited “Chengqilou,… of Gaobei Tulou cluster at Gaotou village of Yongding County… (It) was built in 1709.” (Wikipedia)  These tulous were made UNESCO Sites in 2008, so they have become very big tourist sites.  We were on one of many buses, with all Chinese tourists.  We did our own tour, and got a good feel of these amazing structures.

Inside small tulou

Looking up at sky inside tulou

Who built these houses?  The Hakka people.  They came from northern China and migrated south.  They are a subgroup of the Han.  They developed these fort-like houses that can be closed up for protection. Part of the explanation for these style houses is… “Due to their agrarian lifestyle, the Hakkas have a unique architecture based on defense and communal living, and a hearty savory cuisine based on an equal balance between texturised meat and vegetables, and fresh vegetables.” (Wikipedia)

More information from Wikipedia, “A tulou is usually a large, enclosed and fortified earth building, rectangular or circular in configuration, with very thick load-bearing rammed earth walls between three and five storeys high and housing up to 80 families. Smaller interior buildings are often enclosed by these huge peripheral walls which can contain halls, storehouses, wells and living areas, the whole structure resembling a small fortified city.

“The fortified outer structures are formed by compacting earth, mixed with stone, bamboo, wood and other readily available materials, to form walls up to 6 feet (1.8 m) thick. Branches, strips of wood and bamboo chips are often laid in the wall as additional reinforcement. The end result is a well-lit, well-ventilated, windproof and earthquake-proof building that is warm in winter and cool in summer.  Tulous usually have only one main gate, guarded by 4–5-inch-thick (100–130 mm) wooden doors reinforced with an outer shell of iron plate. The top level of these earth buildings has gun holes for defensive purposes.”

Older picture from 1960s of tulou we visited

Inside the ring are rooms, apartments, of the people who live there.  These are basically early apartment houses.  The age of them vary, some were built as far back as the 12th century, and some are only 200 years old.

Inside the "King of the Tulous," buildings in concentric circles

The central building in these tulous was a Buddhist-type temple.  There was an obviously “Feng Shui” influence to these curved round buildings, with curved round circles inside.  Most of these tulous still have clans living in them, and if you choose, you can stay overnight in a tulou for a small fee.  It would seem that these inside families have adapted to living there and are now making a living catering to the tourists that come through their house.  They sell tea, handicrafts, food and drink, offer lodging to the hordes of tourists.

sampling tea in a tulou...perhaps to buy some?

We climbed up the stairs to the top level and walked around part of the circle, after waiting in line with a “few” other people.

Chinese waiting patiently in line to climb the tulou stairs

We had some cooling black jello in water and ice sold to us by a local on the hot day we were there.  It was good.

still waiting patiently in line to climb te stairs...

an elder insider walking one of the circles

According to Lonely Planet China, there are over 30,000 tulous in China.  On one of the websites (, it told the story that during the Reagan years, CIA aerial photos (or satellite space photos???) wondered if the tulous were Chinese missile silos???

shoes outside the door, laundry hanging...people live in the round...

Living in the round like this must affect one’s thinking.  One can certainly see the influence of these structures.  There are some that are square or oval, but the ones that really make you gaze in awe are the round ones…so many curves…it gives you a good feeling.  We enjoyed our visit to this part of China.

not the same feeling as round...

that's more like it...round!

big & round!

Where's Waldo at the Hakka tulou?


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