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People's Daily Online>>Life & Culture

The circle of life

By Zhang Yue (China Daily)

10:12, April 19, 2012

Occasionally referred to as "oriental ancient castles", tulou preserve Hakka culture in Fujian province and were added to UNESCO's World Heritage List in 2008. (Photos by Bao Xinguo / for China Daily)

The Hakka people's distinctive homes, called tulou, have a storied past and one today is a prime tourist attraction. Zhang Yue reports in Yongding, Fujian province.

There's a joke about tulou, the distinctive homes of Hakka people in Fujian province, which goes a bit like this: Two men are talking and one of them boasts: "My house is so big, it's four stories high." The other responds: "That's nothing - 300 people live at my place." They continue arguing about who has the bigger house and only later, when they arrive home, do they realize that they actually live in the same place. Tulou means "earthen building" in Chinese and is a large communal building representative of Hakka culture. Most are three or four stories high and accommodate hundreds of people, often with the same surname.

Yongding county is an ideal place to experience this unique architecture. Tulou are one of the distinctive features of the countryside here and are scattered throughout the mountainous terrain.

There are more than 23,000 tulou in Yongding county. Many were built during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties.

It is thought the northern Hakka migrants originally constructed tulou because they wanted to safeguard themselves from invaders and burglars, and they built the structures out of clay and wood.

Yongding's tulou were added to UNESCO's World Heritage List in 2008 and are a big tourist attraction for both domestic and international visitors.

Chengqi Lou in Gaobei village is the first stop on our two-day tour of Yongding. The building is called the "King of Tulou" and has four concentric circles and 384 rooms. It was completed in 1708. Rooms on the first floor are used as sitting rooms and kitchens, while some also function as stores selling ginger sugar and oolong tea to visitors.

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