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Get a different taste of China - Discover the Hakka community in Southern Fujian

Updated: 2014-10-21
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Read more on: Hakka culture   Tulou tour   Fujian tour  

 

Get off the beaten path in southern Fujian, amidst scenic rivers, impressive mountains and a community of people who have settled into this peaceful existence.

 

The History
Seven hundred years ago, waves of Han people fled from war-torn central China to south Fujian in search of refuge. These peace-lovers eventually settled down in the inland regions where scenic rivers wove around impressive mountains.

These refugees were called Hakka (客家, meaning “guest” in Mandarin), and are today often mistaken for their own ethnic minority, even though they are still Han. With little to protect themselves from bandits and wild animals, these outsiders built incredible structures called “tulou” (literally: earth buildings), which acted as both defensive strongholds and places of residence.

These fortress-like structures were so peculiar-looking, in fact, that passing travelers often described them as alien spaceships or massive magic mushrooms. During the Cold War, these buildings were even suspected of being missile silos when captured by CIA satellites.

Today they’re a UNESCO heritage site. We recently visited this remote area to witness the mysterious structures for ourselves and glean insight into Hakka culture.

The Architecture
After a two-hour drive from Xiamen along twisting mountain roads, our apprehension (and carsickness) finally dissipated upon seeing tremendous yellow buildings looming up from fog-shrouded villages.

Scattered throughout beautiful countryside, the tulou are in remarkably good repair despite centuries of floods, earthquakes, typhoons, fires, wild animals and war.

The Hakka people informed us that these age-old marvels were built entirely out of mud scrounged from nearby forests and rivers. Taking up to 10 years to complete, these tulou have proven to be some of the most enduring architectural pieces ever built, as they’ve been standing for nearly 700 years.

 

 Beautiful courtyard inside Cheng Qi Lou

 

The typical designs entail circular and square structures three to five stories tall with one-meter-thick clay and sandstone walls protecting them from attack. Ranging from 700 to 20,000 sq. meters, a tulou typically has a large courtyard in the center of the building that provides a communal space for residents. The structures generally only feature one door and very few windows, which are located towards the top, perched above small chimneys.

The Culture
However, while its architectural aesthetics are intriguing, what is happening behind these thick walls is equally fascinating, if not more so. It is a living museum where ancient artifacts serve as the backdrop for modern Hakka culture.

Inside you are not only guaranteed incredible photo opportunities, but also a wistful glimpse into a bygone age. If you speak or understand Mandarin, you may also return with a few alluring stories of what goes on behind those walls.

Yu Chang Lou, built in 1386, is one of the oldest surviving tulou in Fujian. Home to four generations of the Liu clan, it still provides housing for 130 people. The most unique characteristics of Yu Chang Lou are its leaning pillars, which are positioned so precariously you fear they’ll topple every time the wind blows.

 

A view of Yu Chang Lou

 

Fortunately, this is unlikely, as they’ve withstood hundreds of years of strong winds and earthquakes. Yu Chang Lou’s ancient courtyard has been converted into small family run shops selling teas and local snacks to tourists.

These stalls claim to sell only the most traditional and authentic Mu Chui Su snacks (木锤酥) and freshest tieguanyin tea (铁观音) in their Hakka neighborhood. After a few rounds of tea, the Hakka will tell you what life is really like living in a tulou, and how the young left the villages to become migrant workers until tourists flooded the area, giving them a taste of prosperity. He Gui Lou, Wen Chang Lou and several other famous tulou have been revamped to appeal to tourists.

The Countryside
When we veered away from the more touristy of the tulou, we happened upon a more unspoiled cluster (called “He Keng Tu Lou cluster 河坑土楼群). Here, chickens, ducks and toddlers roamed freely among central courtyards holding outdoor washrooms, vegetable gardens and woodpiles.

 

Hakka Village: Off the touristy path

 

We sat down on a bench next to a stream, soaking up the sun and exchanging a smile with a spritely 80-something lady on the opposite bank. She was clearly in no hurry to trade tea leaves for tourist pennies and a modern life. This would impress anyone searching for a taste of traditional culture and a relaxing countryside life.

 

Hakka people living inside a tulou

 

The Village
Down the road from the He Keng Tu Lou cluster lies a small village called Ta Xia (塔下). Half of the town is occupied by flag-bearing tourist groups itching to check off their bucket list De Yuan Tang, a well-known ancestral temple.

De Yuan Tang is famous for its 24 stone pillars, each representing a government official ancestor. Nearby, a mock Hakka wedding ceremony is performed.

 

 

Fortunately, the quieter half of the town is largely untouched by tourists. On a clear day, a 20-minute hill climb gives you a majestic view of the tulou shining in the sunlight and clean streams running into endless golden rice fields that merge with misty mountains. We recommend going there at sunset.

The Nightlife
Yun Shui Yao (云水谣) was made famous by a recent film of the same name, but is a somewhat disappointing site inundated with tourists more interested in visiting the locations from the film than experiencing the historic culture.

However, if you are seeking a bit of nightlife—and a slightly more luxurious place to rest up—then this is the place to go. The tourist flow ebbs around late afternoon, so it’s advisable to head there at that time.

We recommend heading away from the main Yun Shui Yao and taking a stroll into the countryside, where you can admire the plethora of crops. Later on, as darkness falls and your bellies start to growl, venture back to the whispery streets and enjoy some local Chinese street-food.

 

SOURCE: www.cityweekend.com.cn

 

Tour package:
Click the link below to select a Tulou tour package on Apple Travel

Fujian Tulou Tour

 

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