Hakka tulou (earth buildings)

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October 3rd 2006
Published: October 10th 2006
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Today I went with some of the other ex-pat teachers on a day drip to Yongding in south-east Fujian to see the Tulou (Earth Buildings) of the local Hakka people.

The trip itself was a long four hour trip through the mountains. About two hours in I was starting to deeply regret not bringing my ipod or a book to read when one of the rear tyres on the minibus burst. As we were pretty much in the middle of nowhere the driver had us all sit on the other side of the bus while he drove around to try and find someone to change the tyre. It didn’t take too long to find a garage that could change the tyre. The spare looked like it had seen better days but never mind. The scenery more than made up for it. Driving through lush mountainsides and rice paddies (dodging water buffalo) was like driving through post-card China. Beautiful.

We reached the first tulou without further incident and were treated to a local Hakka style lunch. The tulou themselves are (usually) round buildings built in the shape of a doughnut which house entire extended families. They consist of a number of smaller rooms which overlook communal buildings and courtyards. The smallest tulou hold up to 100 people and the largest up to 300. They were built around 300 AD when the Hakka people fled to south-east Fujian in order to escape persecution and were designed as defensive structures to keep out bandits and wild animals.

Apparently there are around 20,00 tulou still in existence and many of them (certainly all of the ones we saw) are still inhabited by their families. Amusingly the USA government was apparently convinced they were missile silos because of their appearance in satellite pictures.

There were quite a lot of other tourists (mostly Chinese) there but then tourism is the local’s main source of income. Apparently, many young people leave the area for the larger cities as the local economy isn’t so good so the vast majority of the people we saw were either very young or quite old. We did get to see the wedding celebrations of a local couple held in one of the last tulou we visited, which was cool.

The trip was great, really interesting and worthwhile despite the 8+ hours spent on a cramped minibus!

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