Today is the our journey to tour the Hakka dwellings known as Tulou, 土楼, literally meaning “mud buildings”. UNESCO added Hakka Tulou earthen houses to its World Heritage list in 2008.
Tulou is closely linked with the history of Hakka. Hakka people (guest people) originally came from the middle or north of China, to avoid the annoyance and danger of wars and famine, and they were forced to move to southern China.
They lived in the mountains to avoid the wars, but in mountains they suffered from local disputes, threats from bandits, and therefore, they established the huge tulou buildings to safeguard their family and farmland. Wherever they arrive, they were always living together, and then the particular building Tulou was built.
Not only will we tour these remarkable buildings, but we will spend one night in the Hongkeng Hakka Tulou Village, a tulou wonderland in Yongding County.
Our driver, pre-arranged by Stephen Lin, owner of the Fuyulou Changdi Inn, Hongkeng Village, picked us up at our Xiamen hotel at 9:00 am.
We drove for approximately two and a half hours until we reached a tourist service center for tulou visitors. We purchased two tickets for the 3 sites we will visit on route to Hongkeng Hakka Village. Cost of each ticket was $90 yuan ($13 USD). Seniors 60 and over was at half-price.
As we continued in our car, we soon come to a check point where we presented our tickets. After this check point, the road became a zigzag narrow mountain road. The scenery was misty and beautiful, and our driver explained to us the green terrace fields are primarily tea farms. After 20 minutes on the narrow road, we stopped at a lookout point for the famous Tianluokeng tulou cluster, consisting of a square earth tulou building in the center, surrounded by four round tulou buidlings.
Unfortunately, fog obscured our view. But we can imagine on a nice day, it would be quite a sight to see these building from this high vantage point. There is a walking path from this spot to go down to the tulou cluster, but since it was misty and wet, our driver drove us down to the main entrance to visit this tulou cluster.
This cluster, in Shangban Village, is one of the most well preserved Hakka tulou cluster in the area. The village is listed in the famous historic cultural village in China.
The square earth building, Buyunlou, at the center of the cluster was the first tulou at this site, built in 1796. It is three storeys high, each storey has 26 rooms, four sets of stairs, and a go around corridor in front of the rooms at each level. This building was burnt down by bandits in 1936, but rebuilt in 1953 according to the original plan.
The four round tulous, built around the original square building are the Hechang buildings (three storeys high round building), the Zhenchang building (three storeys, round shape 26 rooms per storey, built in 1930), and Ruiyun building (built in 1936, 26 rooms per floor), and the oval shape Wenchang building (built in 1966, three storeys, 32 rooms per floor).
These tulous are still “living” buildings, inhibited by residents. Most of the dwellers are older residents as younger residents have moved out to newer and modern buildings. The ground floor of the buildings have mostly converted to rustic restaurants, tea shops, or snack shops for tourists.
Next stop was the Yuchanglou, located in Xiaban village, built in 1308 and is one of the oldest tulou still standing. This five storey earth building is most famous for its tilted pillars. The most extreme is slanted at 15-degree angle. Yuchanglou has been lived in like this for more than 600 years and remains intact today.
Then we drove to Taxia Village, a small village with a peaceful brook where villagers enjoy tranquil lives. The founder of this village, the Zhangs, is a time-honored Hakka family dating back to the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279).
As it was still early in the day, our driver asked if we still have the energy to go visit Chengquilou, the largest tulou, within the Yongding tulou cluster. We were not quite “tulou” out yet at this point and still found them fascinating so off we went.
He drove us to the Yongding tourist service building and we purchase the required ticket for the Yongding tulou cluster, also at the cost of $90 yuan ($13 USD).
It was busy at Chengquilou as many of the large tour bus tourists were still at this site. This building is a large round earthen building with four concentric circular buildings. It is an area of 5376 square meters, with the diameter of 73 meters and a circumference of 1915 meters, Chengqilou is hailed as the King of Earthen Building with 400 rooms. This unique building was first known by the world as a family castle when it was printed on the stamps of a Chinese Residence Series in 1986.
Besides this largest tulou at this site, there was one additional round tulou at this site, and two additional square shape tulous. Each of these tulous were built at different periods, by different families, each having their own unique history, and currently all are still occupied by residents with some ties to the original clans.
Then it was finally time to call it a day and meet Steve Lin, owner of the guest house inside the HongKeng village where we will spend the night.
Steve Lin is a pleasant young father, a descendant of the important Lin clan in this area. He can trace his line back 25 generations, with over 500 families, and 2,000 descendants.
His guest house is within the famous Fuyu building, a kind of tulou, but not quite as famous as the large square or round ones. It is a five phoenix style with beautiful layout and symmetry. Our room, on the third floor, was comfortable with warm, soft white comforters for the cold night, and we had a simple small private bathroom.
We had a nice dinner at the guest house, Hakka chicken and mushroom, Hakka tofu, rice, and beer. After dinner, we had some tea tasting, as offered by Steve’s wife.
Then Steve showed his guests a very famous and entertaining Chinese animated movie that featured the Yongding tulous.
Part 2, Prince of Tulou, Palace Tulou, Smallest Tulou, Village Life Past & Present to come …