Day 1 of our Hakka tulou building visit was special and interesting, but hectic. In spite of being “off season”, there were many large tour buses, small mini vans, and private vehicles at most of the tulou buildings and villages we visited.
Day 2 was different. Most Fujian tour groups will only visit one cluster of the tulou buildings, either the Nanjing cluster or the Yongding cluster, before heading off to the next Fujian highlight, typically back to Xiamen, or off to Wuyishan. By choosing to staying overnight at Hongkeng village, not only will we be able to visit both the Nanjing and the Yongding clusters, but we will also be able to visit some of the best tulou buildings early in the morning before the tourist crowd arrives and experience authentic rural village life.
After a good night sleep in the 136 year-old UNESCO world heritage building,, we were served a simple breakfast of congee with 3 different kinds of preserved vegetables condiments, boiled eggs and nian gao (new year steam cake).
Then armed with a map provided by the guest house’s owner Stephan, we began our leisurely walk around the village to observe village life, and to find the famous well-preserved heritage buildings.
The Hongkeng tulou cluster within “Stephan’s village” boast over 40 tulou buildings in different in size and shape (circular, square, rectangular, crescent, and other variations). All the tulou buildings were built by the descendants of the “Lin” family, a rich tobacco merchant. He started to build the tulou buildings during the late Song Dynasty (960 – 1279) and early Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The accessible and famous representatives of the Hongkeng tulou cluster are Zhengchenglou, Kuijulou, Rushenglou, and Fuyulou (the building of our guest house).
We walked past villagers working on their vegetable patches, washing clothes, taking their children to school, cooking breakfast, sweeping their courtyards, selling meat and produce on our way to see Zhengchenglou.
Zhengchenglou is well known as “the Prince of Tulou”. Its construction started in 1912 by the Lin family, and took 5 years. Zhengchenglou has two concentric rings (outer and inner ring). The outer ring building has four storeys with 48 rooms on each floor. The inner ring is a two storey building made of brick and wood with 32 rooms. Its center is the hall used as an ancestral hall, and also serve as a place for important events like marriages and mournings.
We were the sole visitors at this tulou this morning. It was so peaceful, just us and the tulou residents going about their morning routines. We had the time to reflect on the generations of family that have lived within these walls, the war, the peace, sad times, happy times that have passed, and are still continuing on the same way today in spite of it being an UNESCO building, and thousands of visitors dropping by every day.
Next we visited the Kuijulou, a square tulou building built on a hillside facing south, with the rear building higher (4 levels), and the front building lower. It is the only palace styled tulou building in Yongding County. It is also known as “Potala Palace” since it is similar to the style of the Tibetan palace. Square tulou buildings are older than the round tulou building, Kuijulou was started in 1834.
Then we visited Rushenglou, one of the smallest tulou buildings in Yongding. It was built between 1875 and 1908. Rushenglou is a three-storey earth building of brick and rammed earth.
We also visited one of the newest tulou building, Qingchenglou. This square building was built in 1937, is about 1,100 square meters in area, and now houses a small museum about the Hakka people, their migration from different regions, and their culture.
It was time to start heading back to our guest house to check out of our guest room, and for our trip back to Xiamen. On the way back, we stopped by a village temple, and a rice wine museum and workshop.
When it was time to go, we were reluctant to leave such a serene place. This place spoke to our Chinese heritage. Our ancestors, even as recent as our own parents, live parts of their lives in these types of villages. The vegetables we saw drying in front of the tulou building were just like the dry vegetables our parents made. As Fujian and Guangdong provinces are next to each other, the food and culture between the two provinces have intermixed over the centuries. In fact, what we thought were Guangdong food in fact has its origin as Hakka food.
This trip in search of Fujian Hakka tulou buildings has enriched our lives in so many ways.