The Earthen Fortresses of the Hakka

The Zhencheng Lou. The tulou of Fujian’s Hakka minority were like modern-day apartment buildings crossed with mini-fortifications. The larger buildings could house hundreds of families, all of whom would cook and eat in common in the center of the roundhouse. The windows were set high up for added defense from roving bandits.

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Some of the most fascinating and intimidating traditional housing complexes of mankind

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The tulou (earthen buildings) of the Hakka minority are nestled in the hinterland of Fujian Province.  There are hundreds of them scattered across several counties.  I was lucky enough to stay the night in two tulou in two different Hakka villages – one a famous UNESCO world heritage site and another considered the most photogenic of the villages.


Inside the Zhencheng Lou, this central hall is built in a unique Romanesque style.

I started visiting these magnificent villages after I had the ambition to start a travel blog, so I approached the trips with the mentality of a journalist – camera at the ready and with an eye out for detail.  The initial plan was to blog about the trip soon after returning.  Months later and I’m sure some of the details have slipped my mind in a fog of forgetfulness.


Inside the Zhencheng Lou.

Anna and I got the hour or so train from Xiamen to Longyan before hopping on a bus bound for the town of Liulian and the Hongkeng Tulou Cluster Scenic Spot.  The bus driver’s sister-in-law happened to be the proprietor of one of the inns converted from historic tulou in the cluster.  He made a call to his brother who picked us up and drove us through the ticketed gate to the cluster and to the gate of the inn.


The Zhencheng Lou.

The next morning we walked a short distance down the road to the Zhencheng Lou, probably the most famous single tulou within China and abroad.


The Zhencheng Lou.

We wandered around the rest of the village.  Although I had heard that this particular village was “sanitized” for tourism, I didn’t get that sense myself.  In the village you’ll see the elderly laying out vegetables to dry and schoolchildren roaming the dirt streets, maybe kicking a soccer ball or crowded around an iPhone.  There were some vendors selling local handicrafts and snacks, but there weren’t many other tourists around when we went.


The Zhencheng Lou.

Weeks later during my school’s Spring Festival holiday, I took the train to Nanjing County and hired a car to the Tianluokeng Tulou Cluster, which clings to the side of a mountain and makes for a great photo opportunity.


That night I got good views of the village fireworks show and of the stars overhead, usually obscured by the light pollution of China’s cities.  The next morning the floor of the tulou where I was staying was strewn with the red debris of firecrackers.

The Hakka are renowned for their hospitality, even by Chinese standards, and I definitely got a sense of that from my interactions with the proprietors of the village inns and from ordinary people.  Locals in tourist hot spots in China are often very upfront and brusque about trying to get your money. But in the Hakka villages I didn’t feel hounded. While I was a tourist, the interactions with the locals didn’t feel wholly transactional or materialistic.  I was sat down and offered tea and asked unobtrusive questions (not the usual, pushy “how much money do you make,” and “Are you married?”) There was just something wholesome, nice and friendly about the Hakka that is sadly difficult to encounter elsewhere in China as a strange foreigner.










Locally grown tea.


Locally produced tobacco.


The tulou where Anna and I stayed also produces rice wine from local ingredients. We got to sample several varieties, some clear, others the color of amber.




Fermenting rice wine in the tulou.









The Tianluokeng Cluster.



The Tianluokeng Cluster.


The Tianluokeng Cluster.

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