On my trip to Guangdong Province in the 90’s, I got to visit Hakka walled village and stayed in our own “Tulou” where my great grandparents lived. I was born and raised in Bangladesh but my ethnicity is Hakka. My great grandparents are from Meizhou in Guangdong Province and so my father took me there for a visit.
Before I go into details about these ancient fortresses, let’s talk about the Hakka people and their culture.
Hakka people are a minority group in China. They are hard working, thrifty and practical. They are also part of the larger Han Chinese Ethnic Group. There are about 30 billion Han Chinese in the world. Although the worldwide population of Hakkas is about 80 million, Hakka-language speakers is fewer. You cannot distinguish the difference by looking at Han Chinese and Hakka.
They are nomadic, always moving around and never stayed in one place for too long because of constant persecution. In other words, the Hakka earned this unusual title because, they were subject to a series of approximately five forced migrations over a period of more than a thousand years. So this means moving your whole extended family five times over!
Hakka people have migrated and they are mostly located in Canada, Malaysia, India, Peru, Taiwan, Jamaica, Singapore and Mauritius.
Many Hakka authors say that Hakka are embodied by the dandelion, a flower that will thrive under the most trying conditions. This means that Hakka people are willing to take risks and are strong enough to survive any obstacles that comes in their path.
There are over 10 different regional dialects. Since Hakka are nomadic, their strength is the ability to adapt no matter how harsh the environment is.
The Hakka have their own language and it is still widely spoken. Sometimes Hakka cannot understand another Hakka. The language bears some similarity to Cantonese, although the two are not mutually understandable and there are also shared influences with Mandarin.
The most accepted theory today is that the Hakka are largely northern Han Chinese who progressively migrated south, fleeing war, poverty, and chaos.
Hakka women’s feet were never bound. They were needed in the fields they fought food from, and Hakka villagers were always ready to flee attack at a moment’s notice, therefore not an easy thing to do with bound feet.
Hakka Cuisine consists mainly of rice, tofu, pork and preserved vegetables, while ginger, garlic, rice wine, soy sauce and salt are used in almost all dishes. Top 5 Hakka food are Salt Baked Chicken, Pork Belly with preserved mustard green, Hakka noodles, Stuffed bitter gourd and Beef Ball soup.
“Hakka food” nowadays, has morphed with all the different cultures around the world. In Canada, where many of the hakka from Kolkatta, India have emigrated to, associate Hakka food as being Chinese food with the use of Indian spices with dishes like Chilli Chicken. In Singapore, Hakka food is all about tofu and “Thunder Tea” and in Malaysia, noodles or “Hakka Mee” is the new thing.
( Photo courtesy of google)
HAKKA WALLED VILLAGE
Hakka Walled villages are typically designed for defensive purposes and consist of one entrance and no windows at the ground level. The Hakka dwellings are known as Tulou, literally meaning “mud buildings.”They come in different shapes and sizes- there are circular, rectangular, pentagonal (5-sided), imperial style, oval etc. The most common tulou standing today are of rectangular and circular shapes. Tulou buildings have been inscribed in 2008 by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
Each of earthen fortresses is like a village in itself and was occupied by one family clan.
Hakka people migrated south to Fujian Province around the 14th Century so these structures are mostly found in Southern China and in Fujian province.
Many of these are still inhabited and welcome visitors for the day or night. They were built around a central, open courtyard.Most of them are found within the county of Yongding. Yongding is about an hour’s drive west from Xiamen in Fujian Province of China. Yongding County; of which about 360 are circular shaped. You will also find the majority at the three provinces of Guangdong, Fujian and Jiangxi.The giant ones are 5 to 6 stories high and all of them house hundreds of people who all share the Tulou’s space and facilities as if they were one big happy family.Each floor served a different function, the first floor hosts a well and livestock, the second is for food storage and the third and higher floors contain living spaces.
Hakka walled village ( courtesy of Google)
( Inside our grand parents’ Tulou)
Fujian Tulou is a property of 46 buildings constructed between the 15th and 20th centuries over 120 km in south-west of Fujian province, inland from the Taiwan Strait.
Their architecture is recognizable for its shape, size, construction technique and above all for its unique function.
You can also visit the Hakka walled village of Tsang Tai Uk in Hongkong, which retains its outer wall, guard house, and ancestral hall. You see Hakka women dressed in traditional costume.
Some preferred Yongding and Nanjing in Fujian province and Dabu in Guangdong.
Three of the most impressive toulou are the Tianlou Keng cluster (nicknamed Four Dishes and a Soup) completed in the late 14th century, Yuchanglou completed in 1338 and Jiqinglou, built in 1419.
Many descendants of the original clan families still reside there.
Most people would spend 1-3 days in Fujian Tulou areas to experience the legendary Hakka culture and be immersed in authentic rural life. For a quick tour, you can spend 1 day visiting Tianluokeng Tulou cluster, Heguilou, Huaiyuanlou, etc in Nanjing. For those who would like to explore tulou and Hakka culture deeper, you are recommended to take another 1-2 days further to Hongkeng Tulou Cluster, Chuxi Tulou Cluster, Chengqilou, etc. in Yongding. Visitors prefer to travel Fujian Tulou from Xiamen with convenient transfer and also tour the city highlights and this combo usually needs about 3-5 days.
You can stay overnight in a Tulou building. There are various choices for you to stay, including 4-star hotels, comfortable inns and hostels. All the accommodations are clean and tidy that can meet your basic needs.
To get to Fujian Tulou, which is mainly located in Nanjing County and Yongding County, about 140-180 km from Xiamen. There are usually 3 ways to reach the Tulou areas, by train transfer, private car, or flight transfer.
WHICH FUJIAN TULOU (EARTHEN CASTLES) TO VISIT
Nanjing Tulou Area retains its original appearance and it’s a good place to get close to the earthen building culture. The following are the most famous earthen buildings at Nanjing:
Tianluokeng Earthen Building Cluster — The Classic Cluster
Hegui Earthen building — The Highest Square Tulou
Yongding Tulou Area has more big earthen buildings than Nanjing, and its tourism is better developed than Nanjing, but it can be crowded. It is mainly composed of four earthen building clusters: Hongkeng, Gaobei, Chuxi, and Nanxi. And each cluster has its own unique features. You can visit the following two buildings:
Kuiju Building — Palace-Style Square Building
Fuyu Building — a Mansion-Style Tulou
Keep in mind, most earthen buildings don’t allow visitors upstairs. Respect the people who live there. Tulou are residences as well as tourist attractions.