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The Hakkas refer to a branch of the Han Chinese people that originated in the Huanghe River (Yellow River) valley and migrated southward settling in Guangdong, Jiangxi, Guangxi, Sichuan, Hunan and Fujian provinces in China, and later migrated overseas. In China, they are particularly associated with Guangdong and Fujian Provinces. Many of the Chinese in Taiwan and Hong Kong—as well as those in Suriname, India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, East Timor and Myanmar—are descendants of Hakka migrants.

Hakka are known for the pugnacity, ability to make money and clannishness. They are considered a stable branch of the Han nationality with distinct characteristics rather than a separate ethnic group. The term "Hakka" comes from Guangdong dialect "Ha Ka" (Hakka), meaning "the guest" or "the customer", a name first used to distinguish the Hakkas from the local indigenous people. Some interpret Hakka as meaning “guest people” or ‘stranger families.” They are called guests because they began migrating to southern China from the Yellow River basin in the fourth century to escape war and natural disasters.

Worldwide there are about 80 million Hakkas. The number of Hakka language speakers is significantly less. Hakka who live in Guangdong comprise about 60 percent of the total Hakka population. Worldwide, over 95 percent of the overseas-descended Hakka came from this Guangdong region, usually from Meizhou and Heyuan: Hakka there live mostly in the northeast part of the province, particularly in the so-called Xing-Mei (Xingning-Meixian) area. Jiangxi contains the second largest Hakka community. [Source: Wikipedia]

By some estimates there are about 45 million Hakka in China, where they make up 3.7 percent of the population. The Hakka are well represented in southwestern Fujian, southern Jiangxi, eastern Guangxi, Hainan Island, Hong Kong and Taiwan. There are many in Southeast Asia, Britain and the United States.

History of the Hakka

The Hakka are believed to have originated from southern Shanxi, central Henan and Anhui provinces in north-central China and migrated from there to southern China in five major waves of migration that began around the A.D. 4th century and ended in the mid 18th century. The Hakka tended to take up residence in the mountains because the lowlands were already occupied.

The history of the Hakka is one migration and conflicts with the people they lived around and competed with for land. Because they had such a hard time establishing a homeland they made up many of the migrants who left China for Southeast Asia, the Americas and Europe.

The leaders of the Taiping rebellion and the early revolutionary Communist Party were Hakkas. They occupied one-quarter of the seats in the first post-revolutionary politburo. Lee Teng-hui, the President of Taiwan, and Lee Kuan Yew, the Singaporean strongman, are Hakka. The British hired many Hakka as civil servants because they were considered hardworking and trustworthy.

Five Migrations of the Hakka

According to historical records the Hakka people had migrated southwards from the Central Plains of China to escape the turmoil of the Yongjia period (A.D. 304-312) and the wartime ravages of the late Tang dynasty and the Song dynasty. Many of the Hakka settled in Fujian and Guangdong Provinces.

The Hakkas have taken shape through five great migrations. The first migration happened from the last years of the Eastern Han Dynasty (A.D. 25- 220) to the Jin Dynasty and the Southern and Northern Dynasties (A.D. 420 to 589), when a large number of people living in Central Plains crossed the Yellow River and the Yangtze River, and moved to Jiangsu, Anhui, Fujian, Zhejiang, and Jiangxi provinces, to avoid the chaos caused by wars with Mongol-like invaders from the north. A second migration was after the Huangchao peasants uprising in the late years of the Tang Dynasty. Ancestors of the Hakkas, again avoiding the war disasters, migrated to the southeastern Jiangxi Province and the western Fujian Province, some even entering faraway Guangdong Province.[Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science Museums of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn ~]

A third migration took place at the end of the Song Dynasty ((960-1279), when the Mongolian hordes swept to the south and the Chinese timid emperor fled in panic to Fujian and Guangdong provinces, and some Hakkas in Jiangxi and Fujian provinces also moved to the south, particularly to eastern and northern Guangdong Province. A fourth migration took place at the beginning of the Qing Dynasty, when the Hakkas' economy was prospering and their population expanded in Fujian, Jianxi and Guangdong provinces and they needed some place to go. A shortage farmland pushed the government into implementing an immigration policy that forced the Hakkas to migrate to the south and west, into the middle, eastern, and western parts of Guangdong Province, Hunan, Yunnan, Sichuan, and Taiwan provinces. A fifth migration started from the middle and late 19th century, when the Hakkas population in the western Guangdong Province increased sharply, leading to conflicts with indigenous populations. The government once more forced part of the Hakkas to move to the faraway places, in this case the mountainous areas in the western Guangdong Province, Leizhou peninsula, Hainan Island, and Guangxi Province. At this time more and more Hakkas started to go abroad and seek their fortune outside of China. ~

The five great migrations have distributed the Hakkas relatively broadly, but they have always managed to stick together in relative compact communities. This and the fact they have done well in business and have been resented by local populations has earned them the name “the Jews of Asia.” At present, there are approximately more than 280 Hakkas counties in 19 provinces and autonomous regions, with Guangdong, Jiangxi, and Fujian mostly centralized. The total Hakkas population is 58.1 million, incluing approximately 49.2 million in the mainland, 6.8 million in Taiwan, 2 million in Hong Kong, and 100 thousand in Maccao.In addition, there are about five million Hakkas living the Southeast Asia. ~

Chinese Migrations from China

Overseas Chinese speak three main language groups: 1) Min (Northern and Southern), 2) Yue and 3) Hakka. Southern Min dialects include Hokkien and Fukien from Fujian; Chaochow, Teochew and Taechew from Chaozhou and Hainan. Northern Min dialects include Foochow and Hockchew from Fuzhou, Hungua from Xinghua and Hockchia. Yue dialects include Cantonese, Guangfu and Yueh. Hakka dialects include Hokka, Ke, Kechia, Kejia, Kek and Kheh. Technically these dialects are not really dialects. They are topolects (speeches from a particularly place).It is not unusual for an overseas Chinese community to speak eight of more dialects. When this is the case one dialect becomes the lingua franca for the entire community. Hokkein, the Southern Min dialect of Fujian, is the primary dialect of many overseas Chinese communities in Malaysia, Singapore Indonesia, and the Philippines whereas Teochew, the Southern Min dialect of Chaozhou, is the primary dialect of the overseas Chinese communities in Thailand.

Beginning in the late-1700s, large numbers of Chinese— mostly from Guangdong and Fujian provinces and Hainan Island in southern China, including many Hakka— began emigrating to Southeast Asia. Most were illiterate, landless peasants oppressed in their homelands and looking for opportunities abroad. The rich landowners and educated Mandarins stayed in China. Scholars attribute the mass exodus to population explosion in the coastal cities of Fujian and prosperity and contacts generated by foreign trade. So many people left Fujian for Southeast Asia during the late 18th century and early 19th century that the Manchu court issued an imperial edict in 1718 recalling all Chinese to the mainland. A 1728 proclamation declared that anyone who didn't return and was captured would be executed.

Most of the Chinese who settled in Southeast Asia left China in the mid 19th century after a number treaty ports were opened in China with the signing of the Treaty of Nanking in 1842 after the first Opium War. The ports made it easy to leave and with the British rather than imperial Chinese running things there were fewer obstacles preventing them from leaving. British ports in Southeast Asia, particularly Singapore, gave them destinations they could head to. A particularly large number of Chinese left from the British treaty ports of Xiamen (Amoy) and Fuzhou (Foochow) in Fujian province. Many were encouraged to leave by colonial governments so they could provide cheap coolie labor in ports around the world, including those in colonial Southeast Asia. Many Chinese fled the coastal province of Fujian and Zhejiang after famines and floods in 1910 and later during World War II and the early days of Communist rule. Many of the legal and illegal immigrants from China continue to come from Fujian.

Of the Chinese who went abroad, some returned, some died under harsh working conditions but many stayed on where able to prosper under European colonial rule. Many of those who initially did well acted as middlemen between the Europeans and Southeast Asian producers and consumers. In Southeast Asia, the Chinese thrived under colonial rule. In French colonies laws discouraged participation in commerce by the native population but encouraged Chinese participation. In the British-controlled Malay states the Chinese managed the lucrative opium farms and controlled opium distribution. in Indonesia, the Chinese collected taxes and worked as labor contractors for the Dutch.

Over time, the Chinese became moneylenders, and controlled internal trade in the Southeast Asia countries where they lived. They also played various roles in the trade between Southeast Asian countries. Some accumulated great wealth and this encouraged other Chinese in China to follow in their footsteps. Overseas Chinese worked as shop owners, traders, middlemen; became involved in wide variety of businesses; and founded family businesses and international firms. By the late 19th century they controlled much of the commerce in Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Cambodia and Indonesia and ran companies that businesses through the Asian-Pacific region.

Chinese that arrived before the mid 19th century often intermarried with local people and became assimilated into the local culture. As time went on they became progressively less assimilated. Assimilation has been particularly difficult in Malaysia and Indonesia where Islamic practices discourage marriages involving Muslims and non-Muslims. For local people marrying a non-Muslim is also seen as rejection of Muslim-based nationalist pride. Assimilation has been easier for Chinese in Thailand, where the people speak a tonal language somewhat related to Chinese, practice Buddhism and Chinese influences are present in the culture. Here more Chinese of have intermarried and become assimilated. Many have taken Thai names and speak the Thai language but retain Chinese cultural practices

Hakka Language and Religion

Although the Hakka language was for a long time the primary unifying force behind the Hakka few people speak it anymore. It is regarded as a southern Chinese language even though many linguist regarded as more similar to Mandarin than Cantonese. Linguists say the Hakka language is closer to the ancient Chinese of the Yellow River area, considered the birthplace of Chinese civilization, than any other language spoken today. Today, the Hakka language is spoken so little it is in danger of dying out.

Sanshan Guowang (Three-Mountain-Guandian) is one of the most important deities of the Hakka people in eastern Guangdong Province. Some members of the She minority also worship this god. Many people think the Sanshan Guowang is a unique deity of Hakka people. Some Hakka worship the She hunting deity under the influence of the She.

Hakka Life

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Most Hakka customs and religious beliefs are similar to those of Han Chinese. Although they have reputation for dressing plainly, Hakka women weave intricately patterned bands or ribbons which often worn to secure head clothes on flat, circular, Hakka hats. Women are also known for their flirtatious, mountain folk songs.

In historical times, the Hakka were regarded as skilled farmers, who were able to coax good harvests from the most marginal land. This grew into a reputation of being hardworking, persistent and never giving up, which enabled them to have success in business and achieve success in a number of different environments.

Hakka women traditionally had more power than other Chinese women and their feet were never bound. They are still regarded as hard workers. Sometimes you can see them working on road crews and doing heavy work. In the old days Cantonese girls who misbehaved were told they would “marry a Hakka,” meaning they would be doomed to a life of drudgery.

Hakkas are regarded as clannish. They have traditionally lived in courtyard houses with such thick walls they resembled mini fortresses. They were often the newcomers in the places they lived and often faught with other local people over water and farming land.

Hakka Culture

Since the main body of the Hakkas is made up of Han people that from Yellow River valley, to southern China, Hakka culture differs from the culture of typical Han Chinese. The ancestors of the Hakkas absorbed many things from the ancient Yue culture and Yao culture when they lived together with different indigenous people in the south. As a result, they has developed a distinct Hakkas culture, which defers from the cultures of the Han Chinese of the Central Plains and the aboriginal people in the south. As one of the eight major Chinese dialects, the Hakkas dialect developed from the ancient common language of the Han nationality of Central Plains-Heluoya language and later, in successively, incorporated elements of the Wu and Chu dialects as well as the ancient Yue, Jiangxi, Guangdong and Fujian dialects. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science Museums of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn ~]

The architecture of Hakkas residential buildings vary a lot: the square storied buildings of southern Jiangxi, the round storied buildings of western Fujian, and the encircled house of the Meizhou all have exceptional features that make them stand out not only in China but in the entire world. See Below

The Hakkas like singing folk songs with some Chinese saying that Hakka-inhabited areas are the "hometown of the folk song." The Hakka themselves say: "a-hundred-kilogramme burden on the shoulder will become lighter as long as people sing a song when climbing the hills," "everybody have something to worry about, but they will be happy once they start to sing the folk songs." One famous Hakka folk song goes: "the songs fill the river, where the fishermen are fishing; the songs spread all over the slopes, where the herdsman is herding his cows; the songs flow in the mountains as the woodman is walking on the mountain roads.”

Hakkas are reknowned as artists and known for surviving under great difficulties, doing pioneering work in the remote places, being resourceful and enterprising, arduously struggling and valuing education. They have distinguished themselves throughout Chinese history with their outstanding abilities and achievements in a number of fields. 1) Sun Yat-sen, the founder of modern China, Soong 2) Ching-ling, wife of Sun Yat-sen, 3) the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, 4) Singaporean leader Lee Kuan Yew, 5) actor Chow Yun-fat, 6) Soong May-ling (Madame Chiang Kai-shek, Ching-ling’s sister, and one of the Soong sisters) were all Hakkas.

Other Famous Hakkas have included: 1) the well-known prime minister Zhang Jiuling in the Tang Dynasty; 2) the renowned Neo-confucianist Zhu Xi in the Song Dynasty; 3) the national hero Wen Tianxiang in the Southern Song Dynasty; 4) the patriotic military officer Yuan Chonghuan in the Ming Dynasty; 5) the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom leader Hong Xiuchuan; 6) the great national democratic revolution leader Sun Yat-Sen; 7) the revolutionary martyr Liao Zhongkai; 8) the great proletariat revolutionists, statesman, and strategist Commander-in-Chief Zhu De and marshal Ye Jianyin; 9) vice-chairmen of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress Zhang Dingcheng, Liao Chengzhi, Chen Pixian; 10) the renowned military officers Zhang Fa Kui, Ye Ting, Liu Yalou, Xiao Hua, Xue Yue, Yang Chengwu; 11) the historian and poet Guo Moruo; 12) the chemist Lu Jiaxi; 13) the mathematician Qiu Chengtong; 14) the industrialists Zhang Bishi, Zhang Rongxuan, Zhang Yaoxuan, Hu Wenhu, Tian Jiabing, Zeng Xianzi; and 15) the Singapore state head Lee Kuan Yew.

Tu lou, Hakka Houses

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Tu lou (“earth buildings”) are large circular edifices that resemble fortresses in the remote hills of southeastern Fujian Province. They were built by the Hakka after they arrived in Fujian from Henan Province, where they had been persecuted. The tu lou are quite impressive and are a popular destination among tourists. There are several thousand of them in Yongding county alone.

Julie Makinen wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Since the 12th century, the Hakka and Minnan people in Fujian province have concealed and protected themselves inside tulou, rammed-earth apartment complexes lined with wood-framed rooms facing a communal courtyard. Each clan would build its own tulou over a period of years; some are small, housing only a few dozen people, others can hold more than 500... From the sky, some are shaped like doughnuts. Others take the form of squares and ovals. The structures are so strange and fantastic that American intelligence officers analyzing satellite images during the Cold War initially suspected they were missile silos or part of a nuclear complex. From the ground here in southeastern China, though, it’s clear these fortresses — with thick walls and a single, heavily fortified entrance — were designed not for offense, but for defense. And they’re hardly modern technology.” [Source: Julie Makinen, Los Angeles Times, January 3, 2015 \~\]

Tu lou are built from sand, earth and mud and pebbles bound together with glutinous rice and brown sugar. The structures are supported on wooden poles. Many house more than 100 people. Some house more than 300 people. The Hakka were basically a fishing people. They used the fortified houses in the remote hills to escape persecution.

Good Websites and Sources: China Vista China Vista ; Asian Wind asiawind.com Tulou, Hakka Houses have been declared a World Heritage Site Map. Hakka Clan Homes in Fujian chinadwelling.dk ; Hakka Houses flickr.com/photos ; UNESCO World Heritage Site : (click 1001wonders.org at the bottom): UNESCO ; UNESCO World Heritage Site Web site (click the site you want) World Heritage Site ; Lonely Planet Lonely Planet

Tuluo and Myths About Them

Tulou in a Mandarin word. Most of the earthen buildings are circular, square, or phoenix-shaped (mansion style). Others are oblong, in the shape of the Eight Trigrams or crescent-shaped. Edward Wong wrote in the New York Times: “The gargantuan buildings are so iconic that they appear on a Chinese stamp. The most famous have distinctive round shapes, appearing from a distance like flying saucers that have plopped down in the middle of farm fields. Some were reportedly mistaken for missile silos by American officials poring over satellite images.: [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, March 22, 2011]

UNESCO, the United Nations agency that oversees cultural preservation, declared 46 tulou together to be a World Heritage Site in 2008. A UNESCO museum in one of the tulou says the structures were built between the 13th and 20th centuries. One exhibit says there are 30,000 tulou in Fujian Province, more than 20,000 of those in Yongding County. Others are concentrated in Nanjing and Hua’an counties.

Huang Hanmin, a scholar of the tulou who lives in Fujian, told the New York Times that many of the claims made about tuluo are myths, including the number. He said his research showed there were only 3,000 tulou in the province. A report by Global Heritage Fund, a preservation organization based in California that has a tulou project, gives the same number. Mr. Huang said about 1,100 are round, the kind that appear on stamps, postcards and tourism posters. The rest are square or rectangular. Another myth, he said, is that the tulou were all built by the Hakka. They were also built by the ethnic Minnan people of rural Fujian Province. [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, March 22, 2011]

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square tulou

History of Tuluo

According to legend that Hakka left their elderly left their homes behind and travelled in grief and despair across the Yellow River and the Yangtze with their clothing, valuables, pots and pans, poultry, horses and pigs, and the bones of their ancestors kept in jars. As they traversed the high mountain ranges of southwestern Fujian, they had to endure harsh weather conditions, and fend off attacks by wild animals and raids by bandits. After years of wandering, the weary Hakkas finally found a valley where they could build a new life. They cleared the land and worked from dawn to dusk to construct their earthen houses with clods of earth. [Source: Foong Thim Leng, The Star (a Malaysian newspaper), February 15, 2011]

The Hakka clan elders decided to build a home with a large courtyard that would allow clan members to live closely together. Building materials consisted of red soil mixed with strips of bamboo, sand and stone, a watery glutinous rice paste, brown sugar and egg whites. The earliest of the extant earthen buildings were constructed more than 1,200 years ago in 769 during the Tang dynasty (618-907). Many of the earthen dwellings date from the Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1279-1368) dynasties. Structures from the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) can be seen everywhere. Of course, most were built between the time of Qing dynasty’s Kangxi emperor (1661-1722) and the 20th century. [Ibid]

The tulou scholar Huang Hanmin, said that the people living in the tuluo area of Fujian before the Hakka---people who mostly speak a language called Minnan---also constructed many tulou for security. “Historically the Hakka people and Minnan people didn’t live peacefully side by side,” he told the New York Times. ‘so safety became a paramount issue...The Minnan ones are older, and there are probably more of them,” he added. The Minnan people also built some of the largest tulou, with diameters of nearly a tenth of a mile.” [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, March 22, 2011]

Chinese officials tried smashing the clan system during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and “70s. Collectives built more and more tulou and randomly assigned people to live in the buildings, so that each clan would have members spread among different collectives. When the Cultural Revolution ended, people drifted back to their clans. [Ibid]

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Chuxi tulou cluster

Tuluo and the Hakka Clan Lifestyle

Traditionally, everyone living in the tulou would share a family name, with the building providing both a haven from bandits and a sense of community."The tuluo---are the ultimate architectural expression of clan existence in China,” Edward Wong wrote in the New York Times.” For centuries, each building... would house an entire clan, virtually a village. Everyone living inside would have the same surname, except for those who had married into the clan. The tulou usually tower four floors and have up to hundreds of rooms that open out onto a vast central courtyard, like the Colosseum. [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, March 22, 2011]

"The thick outer walls, made of rammed earth, protected residents against bandits. The forms vary. Many are square, resembling medieval keeps. With stockpiles of food, people could live for months without setting foot outside the tulou. But as the clan traditions of China dwindle today, more and more people are moving out of the tulou to live in modern apartments with conveniences absent from the earthen buildings---indoor toilets, for example." [Ibid]

Chengqi Lou Tulou

Edward Wong wrote in the New York Times: “Perhaps the most famous tulou is the 17th-century Chengqi lou, which has striking concentric rings of homes and alleys on its ground floor... Its diameter is almost as long as a football field, and it has 402 rooms. (The smallest tulou in Fujian has just 16 rooms.) Fifteen generations have lived in it. Four brothers together oversaw building of the Chengqi lou for their families; it took four years to build, one year for each floor.” [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, March 22, 2011]

“In the center is an ancestral altar, which is common to tulou” Wong wrote. “The inner ring of buildings once housed classrooms. Now children go outside for school. The next ring has 36 meeting rooms. The outermost ring is the main residential section of the tulou. In a design typical of tulou, that ring’s towering walls have kitchens and animal stalls on the ground floor, storage rooms on the second and homes on the third and fourth floors. Water is drawn from two wells. The people here are surnamed Jiang. Their ancestors migrated from Henan Province.” [Ibid]

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Tianluoken and Zhencheng Touluo

In Taxia there is a square tulou surrounded by four circular ones. Known as the Tianluokeng complex it has gained World Cultural Heritage status and is commonly referred to as “four dishes, a soup.” According to tourist guides the founder of Tianluokeng was from Aoyao in Yongding on the other side of the mountain. According to genealogical records, his name was Huang Baisanlang. He chose to settle in Taxia because of its favorable fengshui. Huang scraped together a fortune raising ducks to build the earthen dwellings. Another story was that a fairy fell in love with him and helped him build the earthen buildings.[Source: Foong Thim Leng, The Star (a Malaysian newspaper), February 15, 2011]

The square-shaped tulou named Buyun was constructed in 1796. It has three storeys with 26 rooms on each floor. The circular building called Hechang is on Buyun’s right. It also has three storeys with 22 rooms on each floor. In 1936, both Buyun and Hechang were burned down by bandits and were rebuilt in 1953. The other circular building, Zhencheng, was built in 1930, while Ruiyin was built in 1936. Both are three storeys high with 26 rooms on each floor. The last building, Wenchang, was constructed in 1966. It is oval-shaped and like the others, has three storeys with 32 rooms on each floor. [Ibid]

The Zhencheng building is a famous tulou in Hongkeng village in Yongding. Zhencheng stands on 500sqm of land and was built by a descendant of Lin Zaiting, who was the 19th generation of the Lin clan in Hongkeng village. During the Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864) Lai Zaiing took his three sons to seek shelter in Fushi in Yongding, and to learn to be blacksmiths making tobacco cutters. Later the Lin brothers returned to Hongkeng and established the first factory producing tobacco cutters. They became rich and opened shops in Guangzhou, Shanghai and other major cities. [Ibid]

They first built Fuyu, a mansion-style square earthen building. Later one of the brothers, Lin Renshan, built Zhencheng. The couplet on the main door of Zhencheng reads: “Establish principles and discipline; bring about virtue and talent”. Zhencheng is shaped like the Eight Trigrams, with inner and outer rings. The four storeys of the outer rings are 16m high and have 184 rooms. The two storeys of the inner ring have 32 rooms. The outer ring is divided into eight large sections. After going through the two massive doors of the two rings, we reached the ancestral hall which the residents used for weddings, funerals or festivals. Part of the compound has been converted into a hotel. [Ibid]

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Roud tulou

Slanting Pillars of Yuchang

Xiaban is a village 4 kilometers away from Tianluokeng. Twelve earthen buildings are scattered on both sides of the river. The most famous earthen building here is Yuchang. It is famous for its slanting supporting pillars in the corridor on the third and upper floors. The pillar with the biggest tilt slanted at 15̊. Guides reassure visitors us that the building was in no danger of collapsing after surviving the elements and even earthquakes for more than 600 years. [Source: Foong Thim Leng, The Star, February 15, 2011]

The construction of Yuchang began in the middle years of the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368) through the cooperation of the Liu, Luo, Zhang, Tang and Fan families. The building has five storeys with 54 rooms on each floor. It is divided into five large units, each with its own staircase. The ancestral hall is located in the middle of the courtyard. [Ibid]

Why the slanting pillars? One guide said the five families took turns to provide meals for the masons and carpenters during construction but they were not well coordinated. Yuchang was originally a seven-storey building. A fire broke out before work was completed. A group of outsiders had come to pay respects to their ancestors at the tombs behind the building. However, the wind blew some of the burning hell notes into the building and set fire to the pillars on the seventh floor. [Ibid]

The Yuchang residents, the guide said, considered it a bad omen, and so the sixth and seventh floors were done away with. He said the residents later noticed that the supporting pillars in the corridors on the third and higher floors were slanted and they became fearful that the building would collapse...At dusk a tiger wandered into the building and moved along the corridors like a high-ranking official during inspection. Then it jumped from a rear window and escaped into the woods behind. That night the residents heard the tiger’s roar. [Ibid]

The Lius interpreted the roar as a congratulatory message from the tiger on the completion of the building. However, the other four families thought it was an inauspicious omen and they sold their units to the Liu family and moved to other villages. Some sailed across the ocean to South-East Asia,” He said the Liu family carefully investigated the tilting girders and pillars and found that the building was sound and in no danger of collapsing. Today, more than 100 people still live in the building. [Ibid]

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Snail pit tulou

Tulou Tourism and Their Decline

Forty-six of the most spectacular tulou were added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2009. They were built between the 1300s and the 1960s with oldest being 600 years old. Some of the older ones have been earmarked for restoration. Julie Makinen wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “The United Nations designation has brought a wave of tourists to this largely agricultural region, where residents now hawk tea, tobacco, herbs and handicrafts to visitors, charging them about $1 to poke their heads into their homes. [Source: Julie Makinen, Los Angeles Times, January 3, 2015]

A developer is building To lou-style apartment buildings in Guangzhou that has a circular shape, 245 apartments, a small hotel, shops and a health club.

Almost as quickly as tourists are pouring in to see them residents are leaving the Tu lou and moving to new brick and tile houses. Some Tu lou have only handful of people living in them in. Others are so deteriorated they have been deemed unsafe to live in. One elderly woman who left one told the Times of London, “If anyone can afford to, then they move out. They want homes with lavatories and bigger rooms.” Another said “only people without money” continue to live in the Tu lou.” Without residents to do maintenance the Tu lou deteriorate quickly, The walls crack and chips fall off. Wooden poles rot.

“The construction of tulou ended last century,” Edward Wong wrote in the New York Times. “The art of building them is fading. The United Nations is seeking to shield those that survive from the ravages of time. Some scholars contend that Chinese officials---though they promote the tulou as tourist attractions, and President Hu Jintao visited them during the 2010 Lunar New Year festivities---have done little to systematically preserve the buildings or modernize them so people will continue living in them.” People don’t clean it anymore,” said Jiang Qing, 28, as she stood on an upper balcony in Huan Xing tulou, whose name means “embracing prosperity.” “As long as people live here, the ecosystem thrives. Once people move out, then it all falls apart.” [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, March 22, 2011]

Last Tulou Residents

Reporting from Tianzhong, the home of some of the last tulou residents, Julie Makinen wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Amid rising incomes and expectations, residents — especially young couples with children — are abandoning the tulou way of life.They’re building boxy concrete homes with more privacy and modern amenities such as indoor plumbing and air conditioning. [Source: Julie Makinen, Los Angeles Times, January 3, 2015 \~\]

“Huang Maoyou, 67, and Xiao Dashi, 73, cling to the simple life in their 400-year-old tulou. They’re the only residents left in the two-story building, which has more than a dozen rooms. Many tulou proudly bear appellations over their doorways, such as Dragon’s Den or Five Phoenixes, but the entryway of the aging couple’s home is adorned with a smiling portrait of Mao Zedong. The sun has bleached the chairman’s once-red sun halo to a faint shade of peach. \~\

“Just inside the threshold of the fortress, a rough-hewed timber and stone gristmill is covered with dust. In the cobblestoned courtyard, Huang drew water from a well lined with green fern fronds and put a kettle on her outdoor stove. A group of foreigners on a bicycle tour had dropped by, and Xiao was eager to pour them some local tea from his pink Mickey Mouse thermos. “My sons and daughter have all moved to the city, but I can’t stand to live there,” said Xiao, who refuses money from his visitors. “I can’t read, and I prefer to stay here and work in the fields.” Xiao thinks that he and his wife will be the last inhabitants of his tulou, but he’s unperturbed. “It’s just the way life is,” he said, shrugging. Xiao was born in a nearby tulou that’s now abandoned. Fujian’s lush and aggressive tropical foliage has wasted no time moving in and is quickly swallowing the structure. \~\

Huan Xing is a typical tulou in Yongding County. It is 500 years old. Edward Wong wrote in the New York Times: "Chickens saunter across the grounds. Wooden pillars along the balconies were erected long ago at leaning angles to give the structure greater strength. The tulou once housed 100 families, but only 10 or so people live here now,” Wong wrote. “The elderly residents shuffle back and forth, cooking in kitchens on the first floor or sitting around the central courtyard chatting. One afternoon, they were moving firewood stacked outside the front entrance of the tulou to nearby storage sheds; the local government had asked them to do this to hide the messy stacks from tourists. The young have all moved out. Many live two hours away in the coastal city of Xiamen, where they largely do menial work.” [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, March 22, 2011]

“Ms. Jiang, the mother of a 3-year-old child, moved here from another village when she married into the Li clan. She was used to tulou living---she had grown up in a square one herself. She and her husband recently moved out of Huan Xing to an apartment with running water and indoor plumbing. Her husband’s parents still live in a tulou, a ramshackle one across the street.” [Ibid]

“People used to live in the tulou for safety, but that’s not needed anymore,” said the husband, Li Jingan, 28, a restaurant owner. “A lot of people have gone elsewhere---Hong Kong, other places, they’re everywhere,” said Li Jiulan, 53, a woman who has lived in Chengqi lou for 32 years. “But it doesn’t matter if young people don’t live here. The older people are still here.” Mr. Huang, the scholar, had a different take: “What they’ve preserved is just the structure, but the people have all moved out,” he said. ‘so the living part has died. You’re just preserving a relic.”

Tulou Preservation

Julie Makinen wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Academics, preservation groups and residents say the clock is ticking on tulou living. Figuring out a way to preserve both the physical structures and the intangible cultural and social heritage imbued in buildings inhabited by sprawling clans over centuries is a major challenge. Five years ago, the Global Heritage Fund, based in Palo Alto, Calif., initiated a tulou preservation project, but its efforts stalled amid a dearth of strong local partners. The organization hopes to revive the effort in the new year. “The ideal situation is to have people still live in them, but how do you convince people to live in a five-story mud house?” said Vincent Michael, the group’s executive director. “It doesn’t have as much cachet these days.” [Source: Julie Makinen, Los Angeles Times, January 3, 2015 \~\]

“In 2008, the 30 largely interrelated families who jointly owned” a tulou called Qingxing “agreed to lease it long term to a Seattle-based Chinese-American family. During Mao’s 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, the U.S. family’s patriarch, then a teenager, had been sent to work in Tianzhong and developed close ties with residents of the tulou. “Every year, my family would go back to visit and see there were fewer and fewer people to maintain it. My mother, who studied architecture and is sort of a sustainable buildings adviser, had the idea to try to preserve it,” said Dana Wu, 26, an architecture student at Harvard. “My mom thought we could keep the building alive by reusing it.” \~\

“The dozen or so mostly elderly residents still living in the building — erected between 1950 and 1961 — were allowed to stay on. Wu’s parents repaired some of the wood in the tulou and added modern bathrooms on each floor. Creating a nonprofit called Friends of Tulou, the family now invites small groups of scholars and students to stay from time to time in about 50 guest rooms. The tulou has also hosted company retreats and theatrical performances; visitors make donations to contribute to the upkeep. Travelers are free to explore the building’s ancestral hall (which doubles as a bike parking zone), ramble through its wooden corridors and chat with its resident grandmothers as they work in their courtyard kitchens.” \~\

Difficulties of Tulou Preservation

Julie Makinen wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “But even with its updates, Qingxing can appeal to only a certain set of travelers: the ones who find charm in the screech of Chinese opera blaring from a resident’s TV and tolerate the odor of chamber pots, still favored over contemporary commodes by the tulou regulars. “We’re a nonprofit but so far, it’s probably more accurate to say we’re a profit-losing corporation,” Wu said. “We have people there every few months, but we’re deliberately moving slowly because we don’t want to overwhelm the community.” [Source: Julie Makinen, Los Angeles Times, January 3, 2015 \~\]

“Even the more business-minded say repurposing tulou is financially challenging. Jian Xuezhen converted the Wind Cloud tulou in Kanxia village more than a year ago into a hotel, spending several hundred thousand dollars to add bathrooms, hot water and even Wi-Fi. He charges $15 to $20 a night for a room, but hasn’t seen many guests outside peak holiday times such as National Day in October and Chinese New Year. “I’ve lost some money already,” Jian said. Some nights, the only person in the building is an 89-year-old woman whom Jian allowed to stay on when he acquired the building. \~\

Tulou Tourism

Julie Makinen wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “One man who’s making a go of things is Stephen Lin, a sixth-generation inhabitant of the Fuyu tulou in Hongkeng village, 14 miles from Tianzhong, near a cluster of UNESCO-registered buildings. Lin’s 134-year-old building has 160 rooms; one wing with 19 rooms has been converted into a hotel, and 50 other clan members occupy the rest of the structure. [Source: Julie Makinen, Los Angeles Times, January 3, 2015 \~\]

Lin’s family got into the innkeeper business 12 years ago, and his clientele is 40 percent foreigners and 60 percent Chinese. The structure’s architecture, he noted, keeps visitors and permanent residents relatively separate, but guests like the idea of staying not in a “hotel-hotel, but a real living tulou.” Bruce Foreman, who runs a cycling tour group called Bikeaways and has visited the region more than a dozen times, agrees. “I really like to see authentic tulou with people still living in them, that human connection to the past,” he said. “If you want to see that, you’ve got to get there within the next 10 years and you’ve got to get off the beaten track. Don’t follow the bus route.” \~\

Image Sources: Wiki Commons

Text Sources: 1) Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia/ China , edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K. Hall & Company; 2) Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn ~; 3) Ethnic China ethnic-china.com \*\; 4) Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/; 5) China.org, the Chinese government news site china.org *|* New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Chinese government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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