Deep in the mountains of southwestern Fujian, bordering the provinces of Guangdong and Jiangxi, lies a place of beauty that is somewhat off the beaten tourist track: tulou country. Although you can book a one-day tour from Xiamen (distance 150 km), best is to stay at least two nights – in this way you can visit a variety of tulou while also savoring the tranquility of a stay in one. For me, watching the moon rise through the lanterns at night and having breakfast among the residents with their daily rituals, proved to be an unforgettable experience.
The word tulou means a building made of earth. In Fujian, the oldest tulou were built in the 13th century when Minnan and Hakka people escaped famine and draught of the Yellow River region and immigrated southwards. They prospered due to their cultivation of tea, rice and tobacco and in their potentially hostile and remote environment, they built fort -like housing where whole clans could live together. Tulou developed in the 14th- 16th century (Ming dynasty) and peaked during the Qing dynasty and the first half of the 20thcentury. Tulou can have different shapes: round, square, in the shape of a half moon or ‘phoenix’ like (stretched). Walls, made by mud and earth fortified with bamboo in molds, can be up to 1.5 meters thick. A tulou has several stories, the first two have no windows and are used for kitchens and storage, while the higher ones are used as living quarters. Each family has a unit on several floors, like a modern apartment. As in a castle, there is only one entrance and in the courtyard there can be wells, communal buildings and a forefather temple. Up to 800 people can live in one tulou, all belonging to one clan and having the same family name.
There are around 3000 tulou scattered in the countryside, either in clusters or alone, some huge buildings, some small. Some are restored and in full use, some deserted and rickety. Sometimes slogans of the Cultural Revolution can still be seen on walls. It is a delight to see the varied building styles as each tulou is unique. Tulou are situated in the stunning landscape in accordance with Fengshui rules, or are in picturesque mountain villages like Taxia. Since Unesco World Heritage status was conferred in 2008 on 46 tulou in Fujian, tulou have become more well known. Huge tourist service centers are being built by the government and it is not surprising that residents of tulou have set up shops and restaurants in their homes. Still, one can wander around and visit the lesser known and quiet tulou while also enjoying famous clusters like Tianluokeng. The friendly people and the beauty of the tulou in the magnificent landscape of Fujian will pleasantly surprise you!