Hakka Roundhouses (also known as tulou, “福建土樓” in Chinese, fújiàn tǔlóu in pinyin) are a highlight of ancient Chinese architecture. If you are visiting China, the southern province of Fujian is one of the best places to see them.
The Hakka are an ethnic minority in the region, and their monumental communal housing structures, designed as livable fortresses, date back possibly as early as the 12th century right up to the 20th century.
Eight locations of Hakka roundhouses are now designated World Heritage Sites. “Hakka” means “guest people” or kèjiārén (客家人 in Chinese), and is a word derived from Cantonese for the traveling tribes who settled in the south.
Though they are generally called roundhouses, they come in various shapes, including square, oval, and pentagonal. Their Chinese name tulou indicates their walls are made of earth. In Chinese, tǔ means earth and lóu refers to building.
Hakka Roundhouses are unadorned and are of original architecture. In addition to being round, they can be square, oval, and pentagonal. Usually, they have several rings of round houses within. (Image courtesy of Xiao Yue)
The walls of Hakka Roundhouses are 33-56 feet high and 6.5 feet thick. Their walls are made of rammed earth and are reinforced with bamboo strips. Each ‘tulou’ has only one entrance at ground level. For most roundhouses, windows are usually small and begin on the third floor. (Image courtesy of Xiao Yue)
An inside view of a roundhouse. There are 72 stair cases within this building, one per family, making it convenient for residents to go in and out. (Image courtesy of Xiao Yue)
Most families living in the same building share the same surname. The ground level of a ‘tulou’ is used for cooking and eating, and the second floor is used for storage. People sleep on the third floor or higher. (Image courtesy of Xiao Yue)
Hakka Roundhouses in Yongding County. The Yongding ‘tulous’ are more varied than the roundhouses in other places. (Image courtesy of Xiao Yue)
In the time of U.S. President Reagan, American officials thought their spy satellites revealed hundreds of threatening missile silos. Therefore, they sent scientists to investigate Fujian Province. Two months after their arrival and living among the local residents, their minds were put at ease when they learned the buildings were simply the dwellings of the Hakka people. (Image courtesy of Xiao Yue)
Roundhouses in various shapes, such as square, oval, and round. (Image courtesy of Xiao Yue)
Hakka Roundhouses are the most beautiful and unique examples of Hakka architecture. The yellow color of their earthen walls harmonizes with the green rice terraces in the distance. (Image courtesy of Xiao Yue)
Hakka Roundhouses are getting more popular day by day. In 2008, three Hakka Roundhouses were designated as World Heritage buildings. (Image courtesy of Xiao Yue)
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