17th Century Chinese Fortress Villages
September 21, 2006 9:04 PM   Subscribe

Tu Lou, ("earthen structures") are massive, fortress like dwellings, native to the Hakka people of China's Fujian province. Distinguishing features include a central courtyard, multiple levels, a lack of windows on the ground floor, a single, heavily fortified entrance, and dozens of homes all wedged together. The buildings are ringed with a one meter thick outer wall, feautre no concrete or steel; living quarters on the upper levels are largely built from wooden beams, jointed with pegs. A typical structure would take several years to build.
posted by jonson (17 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Well, all I gotta say is that y'all 20th century communtarians did not invent the wheel, after all.

Great links; thanks jonson..
posted by kozad at 9:13 PM on September 21, 2006

I've read a little about and seen a few pictures of these dwellings before, and found them fascinating. Thanks for putting these various links all under one roof, as it were.

I like these Tu Lou. Somehow they speak to something a bit more noble (or at least, more communal) in the human soul than these gated communities...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:18 PM on September 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

Good post. You're on a roll, jonson.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:19 PM on September 21, 2006

There is something very Chinese about it.. inward looking, fortified from the outside world. Reminds me of the Iron Age Atlantic Roundhouses such as the Scottish Brochs (whose purpose remains controversial).
posted by stbalbach at 9:20 PM on September 21, 2006

Wow, flapjax! Bonus points for ironic juxtaposition, nice link!!
posted by jonson at 9:24 PM on September 21, 2006

I first learned of these dwellings from a large glossy calender from a Chinese restaurant. What, I wonder did they actually do if attackers came?
posted by longsleeves at 9:36 PM on September 21, 2006

stbalbach: the Chinese character for 'City' is 'earthen rampart'. This character, in Japanese, became "castle".
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 10:01 PM on September 21, 2006

excellent! thanks, jonson.
posted by madamjujujive at 11:07 PM on September 21, 2006

So beautiful, one post said three to four hundred years old but I wonder if there are older ones.
posted by Iron Rat at 11:30 PM on September 21, 2006

My Hakka history is not very good, but are these fortified because there has traditionally been conflict between the Hakka and their neighbours? I seem to remember that "Hakka" means something like "guest people" - they are Han chinese, but moved from the north into the south and speak a very different dialect. The women also didn't bind their feet, and they were involved in the Taiping rebellion (the prophet and some of the leaders were Hakka). That's where my knowledge stops.
posted by jb at 2:46 AM on September 22, 2006

I visited the tulou's in western Fujian in early 2005. They're just starting to develop this area for tourism. For instance, when I went, most of these were still being lived in by regular people (and as such, they had chickens walking around, old women hanging up clothes, etc.) and they were free to walk in. Whenever I walked into one, some old guy would usher me over and offer some green tea. I'd try to have some basic conversation with them, but most people over the age of 30 there spoke pretty terrible Mandarin.

The guide that I hired to take me around was telling me that they're moving all the people out and turning them into museums with entrance fees. I'd hurry up and visit them now before it's completely taken over by outside developers and it loses a lot of its charm.

Here are a couple of pictures from the area. Most of my other pictures are on my harddrive. Sure wish I had an ultrawide angle/fisheye lens at the time.

Travel-wise, Fujian is probably the most underrated province in all of China.

stbalbach, I'd be hesistant to take these structures as a metaphor for Chinese thinking. These buildings were simply a response to the harsh, warlord-ridden environment that the Hakkas lived in.
posted by alidarbac at 6:50 AM on September 22, 2006

Wow, you really got some great photos, alidarbac!
posted by jonson at 7:04 AM on September 22, 2006

I spent my senior year of high school living in China, and I got to do a lot of traveling- one of our trips took us for a few weeks to southeast China including Fujian, and we actually spent several nights in Tulous hiking and doing homestays. The ones we stayed in were very remote and not, as far as we could tell, tourist destinations at all- although one of our Mandarin-speaking hosts did tell us that there is an entire tulou village that is now more or less administered solely for tourism. This always struck me as somewhat odd since the Hakka (yes, the name literally means "guest people"- 客家人) are not recognized as an ethnic minority by the PRC (ethnic minorities, of which there are 56 recognized groups, are exempt from the one-child policy, among other policy differences). I remember also being really puzzled, when upon returning to Beijing, my host family (who hail from Fujian originally) had no idea what I was talking about when I described the tulou. Even when I showed them pictures, they seemed wholly unfamiliar with their existence.
posted by Oobidaius at 7:06 AM on September 22, 2006

I used to live next to a hotel run by the World Hakka Federation. It didn't really look those at all.... But seriously, I found this post fascinating because it got me thinking about the ways in which Flickr and similar sites (or even our own metafilter) facilitate a sort of amateur ethnography/anthropology, both falling into the traps of those disciplines and I think escaping them or recuperating them in interesting ways....
posted by jrb223 at 9:06 AM on September 22, 2006

I went to the tulou shown in the first link a couple of years ago. We took a taxi from Xiamen, which took forever. The taxi driver had never been there, and in the end he was so fascinated that he took the tour with us together. They're gearing up for tourism allright -- there was talk of buses coming from up from Xiamen and I had the impression that the commune derives a substantial fraction of their income from tourism.

But then again, they are so remote that not many people from the city will ever get to go there and even people from Fujian may never have heard of them. It's not like they are keeping them a secret, though.
posted by sour cream at 12:20 PM on September 22, 2006

Mmmmm, donoughts....
They are beautiful to look at here, but I wonder how it is to live in them? The entire parti looks like the Panopticon, but without the exterior windows.
posted by DenOfSizer at 12:29 PM on September 22, 2006

A prominent overseas Hakka in the current news.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 3:44 PM on September 22, 2006

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