Hakka Tulou

Exploring the Hakka Tulou in Fujian

The Fujian Tulou are unique traditional residential mud buildings ingenuously constructed by the Hakka people during the 12th to 20th centuries. A Tulou is enclosed by a thick defensive earth wall communal building housing families of the sane clan.

Exploring Hakka Tulou in Fujian

(7th – 10th Sept 2010)

(A)    Introduction

The main purpose of our trip to Fujian Province from 07 Sept to 14 Sept was to explore the Hakka earthen buildings (Tulou) in Yongding and Nanjing Counties. The itinerary was arranged by the travel agent we know from CITS Wuyishan, Ms Jenny Zhang. Besides Hakka Tulou, we also trekked in Taimushan and visited Jenny’s hometown, Wuyishan. Throughout our sojourn in Fujian, we were accompanied by Jenny and her daughter, Alice.


Map of Southern Fujian Province

(B)  Hakka Tulou

The name “Hakka” is the Cantonese pronunciation of the Mandarin word “Kejia” (Guest). The Hakka’s ancestral history is not clear, but they are an ethnic sub-group of the Han. They were originally from northern China, but due to constant warfare and upheaval, they were forced to leave their homes after the fall of the Song Dynasty. They headed south in search of peace and wealth. After years of moving from the turbulent Central Plains, they finally settled down in the high mountain ranges of southwestern Fujian.

The Hakka first built wooden sheds and thatched huts to settle down. With a peaceful environment, fertile land and hard work, they began to flourish. The Hakka people needed extra hands to work in the farms and so the population grew rapidly. This created another worrisome problem: housing. Not only did they want the entire clan to have a secure home that would shield them from the inclement weather but also they wanted the entire clan to have a safe home where they could live together. To achieve this objective, the first inception of big communal houses was formed.

The earthen buildings were conceived and built due to Hakka people’s ingenuity and the materials available to them. They must have taken many years to improve their building technique to create better, higher, larger, stronger and more and more beautiful earthen buildings – like an ugly duckling that finally turns into a swan!

The earthen buildings (Tulou) were constructed from the 12th century right up to 20th century. A Tulou is a large, enclosed and fortified earth building. It is of rectangular or circular in configuration and three- to five-storey high. The foundation is constructed with large stones and the gaps were packed with smaller ones. Its main structure is the very thick outer wall (over 1.5 meter thick at the bottom) formed by compacting earth, sandstone and lime. The wall is further reinforced with split bamboo canes. All decks and columns are constructed of wood and built in parallel with the completion of each floor level. The roof is constructed with a slightly sloping cladding of grey locally-fired tiles. The remaining interior construction – partitioning walls, stairs, flooring, doors windows etc - is of wood. When fully completed, a Tulou is a well-lit, well ventilated, windproof and earthquake-proof building which is warm in winter and cool in summer. A Tulou usually has only a main gate fixed with a thick wooden door. The top levels – first and second floors – have gun holes for defensive purposes.

All rooms are the same size and use the same materials, the same decoration, and the same type of windows and doors. A family unit consists of a vertical set of rooms from the ground floor up to the top floor, while a large family would own two or more vertical sets.


A Tulou can be three to six storeys high. In each family unit, the ground floor is used for kitchen and dining, the second floor is for the storage of grains and other food stuff while the upper floors are for living. Within a Tulou there is a main courtyard to allow in light and ventilation and to house livestock. There is a well in the courtyard to provide drinking water and for washing and a complex drainage system. Although each family has their own unit, there are common and public spaces in the building – the courtyard, the halls, the staircases, the verandas, and the shrine. With ample stock of grains, a Tulou can be completely self-sufficient for a long time – it is effectively a fortified village!

Over twenty thousand Tulou buildings are still standing today in Fujiang. Two of them have been converted to museums, and the rest are still inhabited mostly by Hakka people. However, most of the dwellers are older folks as the younger ones have moved out to work in the cities and live in newer and modern brick buildings.

The largest circular Tulou and also the oldest is ChengQiLou (乘 启 搂) in Gaotou Town with a diameter of over 80m. The smallest is RuShengLou (如 升 搂) in HongKenCun with a diameter of 17m. The finest example of circular Tulou is ZhenChengLou (振 成 搂) also in HongkenCun. There is only one oval Tulou and that is WenChandLou (文昌搂) in TianLuoKengCun.

A total of 46 Tulou in Fujian Province have been inscribed in 2008 by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. They are Chuxi Tulou cluster, TianLuoKeng Tulou cluster, HeKeng Tulou cluster, GaoBei Tulou cluster, DaLi Tulou cluster, HongKeng Tulou cluster, YangXian Lou, HuiYuan Lou and Hegui Lou.


                                                                        A Typical Tulou

(C)  Journey by road to Yongding County – 07 Sept 2010 


We left KLIA by MH390 to Xiamen at 0935 on 07 Sept and arrived on time at 1340. Jenny and her daughter, Alice, were at the Xiamen Airport to receive us. We left Xiamen Airport in a mini-van at about 1400 and our first destination was to go to Yongding County. From Xiamen, we travelled smoothly along the highway to Zhangzhou city and from there the roads were narrow and winding through mountains and valleys. We finally reached Hukeng Town by 1730. We stayed in QiaoLian Hotel for a night.

The hotel was beside a river with small animal farms nearby

The next day (08 Sept) after an early breakfast we left Hukeng at 0800 and travelled to visit Chuxi Tulou cluster. Before we arrived at Hukeng, we were informed by the driver, Xiao Gao that the road to Chuxi was bad and if it rained, the road would be impassable. Luckily, the weather was fine before we came and that morning the sun was already shinning by 0700 (as usual in all my travels). So we started our journey by 0800. The distance to Chuxi was only about 50km but we took more than two hours to reach our destination!

We travelled along an old dilapidated mountain road with only one single-lane traffic for both directions. The road was under repair and a new lane was also under construction. We were held up in a few locations when a truck occupied the whole road to be fully loaded with construction debris. The workers just couldn’t be bothered for holding up the traffic and continued doing their work leisurely.

In normal practice, a temporary by-pass should first be constructed to allow a free flow of traffic. Luckily there were very few vehicles on this road or else we would be stuck here just like along Tibet-Beijing highway where the traffic was stalled 100km long for a week!



In a number of places along the same route where one lane of the road had been completed, no traffic control system had been installed at each end of the road to allow a one-directional traffic on the road at all times. We were caught a couple of times when we were entering this newly constructed concrete lane when suddenly there was an oncoming vehicle approaching. Without any choice, our driver had to reverse out of this lane to avoid a stalemate.


Unfortunately we had to endure these unpleasant encounters again on our return journey because that was the only access to and from Chuxi.

We encountered very few vehicles travelling along this road and when we were visiting the Chuxi Tulou cluster there were also very few tourists there. The deplorable road condition must be the reason for tourists to shun this Tulou cluster.

Go to Home Pg                                                      Pg 1                                                                  Go to Pg 2

nakedeyeview.com.my 2008