Hearing that my ancestors lived in a tulou (土楼）before making his way to Singapore，I was naturally very curious to visit one when I was in Xiamen. We went on a day trip to find out more. Though, my grandfather used to lived in the Tuluo in Guangdong, there are some similarities and differences on how Hakkas in different region lives.
What are tulou (土楼）?
🧱 A tulou is usually a large, enclosed and fortified building made from earth.
🧱 they are usually found in Fujian province and unique to the ethic group of Hakka.
🧱 they are usually rectangular or circular.
🧱tulou is built by compacting earth mixed with sticky rice and reinforced with horizontal bamboo sticks mixed with stone and other readily available materials, to form walls up to 6 feet (1.8 m) thick. Branches, strips of wood and bamboo chips are often laid in the wall as additional reinforcement. The result is a well-lit, well-ventilated, windproof and earthquake-proof building that is warm in winter and cool in summer.
🧱 between three and five stories high.
🧱 It is for community living. It is a like village built upwards and up to 800 people can live in a single Tuluo.
🧱 the oldest ones are more than 700 years old!
Unique features of tulou (土楼)
If you were to study the structure of Tulou, you will find the ingenious building methods essential for the survival during those times.
🧱 Smaller buildings like halls, storehouses and dwellings can also be found inside a tulou. A small building at the center may served as an ancestral hall for ancestry worshipping, festivals, meetings, weddings, funerals and other ceremonial functions.
🧱 Amenities like kitchen, wells, and toilets are shared by a few families, if not by the whole building! Even the surrounding land and farmland, fruit trees etc. were shared.
🧱 Tulous usually have only one main gate. Doors are 4–5-inch-thick (100–130 mm) made of Granite, reinforced with an outer shell of iron plate.
🧱 The top level of these earth buildings has peep holes or even gun holes – so they can see afar if there’s any dangers and quickly close the main gates. Long time ago, when bandits were abundant, many families banded together to be on guard and lookout. Loud drums and gongs were sounded as an alarm signal for any sign of approaching bandits or invaders. Due to the massive solidarity of tulou residents, even large powerful bandit gangs with tens of thousands of men dared not attack the inhabitants of tulou.
🧱 The foundation of tulou building was built with paved stones in case of prolonged flooding damaging the structure of the tuluo.
🧱 The walls were built inclined toward the center, such that the natural force of gravity pushes the wall together.
🧱 The rooftops were covered with baked clay tiles, arranged radially. This technique allowed the tiles to be laid without visible gaps.
🧱 The eaves usually extend about two meters, protecting the earth wall from damage by rainwater pouring from the eaves.
🧱 Stairwells are distributed evenly around the corridors, four sets of stairwells being the usual number. Each stairwell leads from ground floor to the highest floor.
🧱 Fujian Tulou exhibits its unique characteristic as a model of community housing for equals. All rooms were built the same. Every family owned a vertical set from ground floor to “penthouse” floor, while a larger family would own two or three vertical sets.
🧱 The ground floor rooms are kitchens. The second level rooms are for food storage, and the 3rd and 4th floor rooms are living quarters and bedrooms. The 5th? Accordingly to my guide, some put their coffin there… and yes, we did see one on our trip there. You will also notice bottom two levels of tulou have no window, likely due to defense as well. Windows are only from the third to fifth stories since people are living in those rooms.
🧱 Tulous were usually occupied by one large family clan of several generations; some larger tulou had more than one family clan.
🧱 When a clan grew, the housing expanded radially by adding another concentric ring, or by building another tulou close by. Thus, a clan stayed together.
🧱 Nowadays newer housing with modern facilities is popping up in rural China but several are still staying put in these buildings. These are real people staying so do respect their privacy. Some have transformed to be more commercialized to serve tourists. I saw some are rented out as hostels! In other words, if you were to stay there, you have to share amenities and lived like the olden days! 😱 Anyone up for it?
Why should you bring your kids to visit a tulou (earthen structures)?
It is such an educational trip for me which makes this trip one of my most interesting excursion in China.
🧱 it is just interesting to learn about how people (like my grandpa) lived in the past!
🧱 learn about the ingenious ways of how they make their homes work for them.
🧱 Appreciate the modern standard of living we have now.
🧱 learn about the virtues of teamwork and how they can being united can be beneficial to each other.