Seen from the air they look like flying saucers from a B-movie, and they were in fact once picked up on CIA satellites and mistaken for missile silos! These buildings are the southern Chinese fortified villages called ‘Tulou’ found in the provinces of Yongding, Jiangxi and Fujian with the oldest still standing dating back over 500 years. Tulou literally means ‘buildings made of mud’ and the first ones were constructed using a mixture of earth, bamboo, stone and any other materials that were readily available.
The Tulou were built by the Hakka people who migrated to southern China from the north and were constructed as a defense mechanism enabling the community to live together without fear of the outside world. With only one entrance, these fortified structures can measure up to six stories high with a central courtyard providing home for livestock. Food is stored on the second floor alongside the kitchens, with the upper floors designated for living. Most notably windows, albeit very small ones, feature only on the upper floors to strengthen defense further.
30,000 Tulou are spread across China’s southern provinces, all of varying sizes, with the largest once able to house up to 80 families or 600 people. Even today some are inhabited, but the most distinctive are primarily tourist attractions. The most photographed type of Tulou are the ones constructed in wood found in the Fujian province which appear to resemble Shakespeare’s Globe Theater in London, making you wonder if the great playwright made it to the Far East?!
These UNESCO World Heritage Sites are a must see on any trip to southern China and our Tour: Fortresses, Modern History & The Hakka gives travelers a great introduction to the Tulou. Feel free to contact our local experts based in Beijing and they will happily tailor-make your perfect trip to your very own specifications.