Hakka Tulou and Their Differences with Hakka Walled Houses
Hello, I am Yanyan. Today I am in a hilly region in west Fujian Province, in a house that has a shape of a circle. In the 2020 Hollywood movie Mulan, it was Mulans home. But that was utterly wrong. This type of house is called Tulou, which translates to earthen house. And Tulous have nothing to do with Mulan.
Today let's visit tulous together and get to know their real owners the Chinese Hakka. Tulous are scattered in almost the entire Fujian Province as well as the adjacent part of Guangdong Province. Hakka tulous are mostly located in the hilly region on the border of the two provinces. 46 Fujian tulous including Hakka tulous and Hokkien tulous have been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2008. In this video I'll show you about 10 Hakka tulous from the list. I'll start with the common features of Hakka tulous and then we'll visit each one to see their unique features.
Tulou is a castle-type of building. Defensing was the top priority. Tu in English is earth.
Tulou means houses made of earth. Although tulous are also made of earth, they are quite different from the houses in Loess Plateau. In Loess Plateau in the Yellow River region, there are also houses made of earth. But the earth is so loose that it falls even with a gentle touch. The earth here is very solid because it's mixed with sugar, glutenous rice and other ingredients.
Sometimes there are cracks on the wall but tulous are solid in general. In a typical tulou, there's no window on the outer wall of the first and second floor. In this 4-storey tulou, there are two rows of windows. In this 3-storey one, only one row.
The windows are generally small and they are installed with wooden bars. Because the outer wall is thick, space was left for a person to approach the window to monitor what's outside. There is only one entrance in a tulou for defensing purpose. Take the entrance of this 300-year tulou for example.
These three holes in the threshold were for bolts of the door. There are three corresponding ones above. In case enemies set fire to the door, there are pipes above for pouring water down. There is always a well and sometimes 2 in the courtyard, which is the public space inside the tulou. In the center of the circle there is usually an ancestral. Worshiping of ancestor is part of the Chinese culture and of course, the culture of Hakka.
Ancestral hall is an important part of traditional Chinese houses. In the case of Hakka Tulou, it's in the very center. In a tulou, each family took one room on each floor. Rooms on the first floor are kitchens. But sometimes, in order to have a dining room, kitchen ranges and sinks are moved to the courtyard. Rooms on the second floor are granaries.
In early harsh days, Hakkas would store grains that could last for a year in this room in case they were besieged in the tulou. Rooms on the third floor and above are bedrooms. Equality is very important in this type of house.
Each room has the same size. Otherwise people would fight about who get the bigger rooms. Eaves are sometimes used for sun-drying farm produce. In the movie Mulan there are similar scenes. These are common features that could be found in the old tulous built when Hakkas were living in hostile environment. In the later ones, it could be different because when danger receded, convenience took priority.
I visited more than a dozen tulous in 3 clusters. Many have their unique designs and stories. I'll start from this one that was built in the early 20th century. There are two circles inside this tulou.
Blow the middle circle are kitchen ranges and sinks. This way rooms on the first floor of the outer circle could be used as dining rooms. Inside the inner circle is the ancestral hall. The two rooms on each side of the ancestral hall were designed as study rooms for kids in the tulou.
The other part of the inner circle is like a corridor in Chinese gardens. This is not a common design in tulou. When surviving was the priority in Hakka's life, no one would consider a garden in their house. But in the 20th century, environment was different from the early days. That's why there are no granaries in this tulou and there are windows open on the outer wall of the second floor.
Hakka tulous are not all in the shape of a circle. 2km away from the Huaiyuan Tulou there's a square one. The Hegui Tulou was once regarded as the tallest tulou in Fujian Province.
Although after precise measurement this title was striped, its height still tops most tulou I visited. It's hard to imagine a tulou of this size was built on swamp. Over 200 timbers of pine trees were inserted into the swamp as the foundation and the tulou was built on that. Someone once tried sticking an iron wire of 5 meters long into the earth in this courtyard. Two wells were dug in the courtyard, on each side of the central hall. One has clear and drinkable water but the other has very muddy water inside.
Muddy water from the swamp got into this well because the wall is made of small rocks. This Tulou reminds me of the Yanyi House in south Jiangxi Province. That one has four storeys and is the tallest Hakka walled house in south Jiangxi Province. This one has five storeys. What are the differences between Hakka Walled Houses and Hakka Tulous? I am sure some would ask this question. I kept that question in my mind during the trip and here is my answer.
No.1 There is no window on the outer wall of Hakka Walled Houses. This is not the case of Hakka Tulou. No.2 In the Hegui Tulou the structure on the top floor
is no different from other floors. The corridor is in front of the rooms. However, in the Yanyi House, the corridor on the top floor is behind the rooms. It's more covert.
I feel the biggest difference between tulou and Hakka walled house is there is no turret in tulou, even in the square ones. Turrets are trademark of Hakka Walled Houses. Usually there is one in each of the four corners of the house. The turrets in Yanyi house are a bit different.
They are located around two corners. This is what's like inside. In tulous, no matter round ones or square ones, I didn't find such thing.
There are regular rooms located in the corners. I did, however, found peepholes on the wall above in the corners. So these are like simplified turrets in tulou. In some round tulous, there are watchtowers hanging on the top floor for the same purpose. Both Hakka Walled Houses and Hakka tulous have peepholes and crenels on the outer wall.
At this point, I think I can draw the conclusion that Hakka Walled Houses focused more on defensing. They are really formidable castles. Outside this five-storey tulou, there is another enclosure which has one storey of rooms. I'll talk about the variations of square tulous in detail in my future video.
Stay tuned. Why did Hakka build the castle-type of houses? Hakka are Han Chinese who migrated from north China during nomadic invasions and civil wars. Fertile land were all occupied. They ended up in the hilly regions and were put in the category of "guest household", which in Mandarin is 客家.
In their own dialect, it's Hakka. There were three reasons to build castle-type houses. 1.To prevent attacking of beasts in the mountain.
2.Since Hakka were "guest", there must have been others who lived in the hilly regions before the Hakkas had arrived. Arable land is limited.
Conflicts were inevitable. The third reason were conflicts among the Hakkas. Each clan lived in a big communal house which is centripetal and exclusive. Each clan had strong cohesion.
A minor friction between two persons from different clans could ignite large-scale conflicts between the two clans. There are historic records of hostility and fighting between clans that lasted for generations. A tulou built 700 years ago might give us some information on the early days of the Hakka in this region. This is probably one of the oldest tulous in China. It has more than 700 years of history, which means 700 years ago the ancestors of Hakka have migrated here.
It's not only one of the oldest tulous but also the largest one among more than a dozen tulous I visited during this trip. It has five floors, with 54 rooms on each floor. Most tulous are for members of the same clan to live. But five families collectively built this tulou and got their shares of rooms.
So it was like a partnership. Partnership in business mitigates risks and solves the shortage of capital. It was probably also the reason for the five families to build this tulou collectively. The first unique thing about this tulou is that the columns are not vertical. They are leaning towards opposite directions on different floors. Some say it was designed this way because triangles are most stable.
Others say the columns skewed decades after the tulou was built. Either way, it has been like this for centuries. Yet It is still safe and solid. And there are still people living inside. I don't have enough engineering knowledge to understand that. Neither did I have enough courage to go upstairs.
The second unique thing about this tulous is in the kitchens on the first floor which now have been turned into stores. Usually there's one well in a tulou and it's in the courtyard. But in this tulou, each family got their own well. It's on the first floor of the tulou in the kitchen. Considering the size of the tulou and the amount of people living inside, one well really is not enough. When the tulou was constructed, 7 wells were dug in the 7 kitchens at the back.
Now there are 22 wells in total. In business world, partnerships a lot of times end up with break-ups. The partnership in this tulou does not exit any more either. Now only the Liu clan live in this tulou.
The other four have moved out. I don't have any information of when and how this happened and whether it happened in a friendly way. About 3km away, there is a cluster of tulou on the slope of a hill.
This is probably one of the most famous cluster of tulou. There are five of them. A square one in the center surround by four round ones. People compare them to typical Chinese cuisine with four dishes and a soup in the center.
Residents in these five tulous are the members of the same clan. Their ancestor moved here in the early 15th century. He built a shelter in the place where the square tulou is now and lived in the shelter with his son. He made living by raising ducks on the slope of the hill. The oldest tulou in this cluster is the square one built in the 18th century.
But it was demolished and was rebuilt. The rest ones were built or rebuilt in the 20th century. The tulous in the cluster are not big in size and they lack some of the features of the earliest tulous. But from this cluster we can see how Hakka built their houses in the hill. The five tulous are not on the same level.
I'll walk from top to bottom. The tulou at the very bottom of this cluster is actually not a round one. It has an oval shape. Constructing an oval-shaped tulou really was not for artistic reasons. As you can see, land is not enough to build a round one.
This is a reality that Hakkas are consistently facing. Land and resource are limited. I believe it was this terraced field that inspired the scenes in the movie Mulan. This is a tourism place but it's not a theme park. It is real life. Hardworking Hakka were plowing in the terraced field.
In my earlier videos, I took you to the terraced fields in southwest China. Mountainous indigenous people there build their houses in stilts to get extra room on a slope. Layers and layers of stilted houses cover the slope of the hill.
This cluster of tulous shows how Han Chinese, specifically Hakka build their houses on the slope of the hill. Similarly, the houses are on different levels. But on each level, Hakka need a considerable size of flat foundation to build their tulou. If we really pay attention, the foundation of tulou is actually not completely flat. It's tilted downward on the slope. I guess it's for drainage purpose.
This way rain and sewage water could flow out of the house easily. But from the second floor above, it's flat. One wouldn't feel walking upward or downward. It's achieved by adjusting the length of the supporting columns. According to my observation, this applies to most tulous I've seen.
I stayed in this oval-shaped tulou for two nights to experience the life in a tulou. It's definitely a different experience from city life. During dinner time, each family were busy cooking in the courtyard. It smelt so good. The rooms on the first floor are their dinning rooms.
At night, they hang out on the first floor. They are all relatives. The atmosphere in this tulou is pretty good. But I am sure it's not always so friendly in every tulou. Communal living could be inconvenient in many ways.
One tulou in this cluster shows how people modified a tulou to get more privacy. This cluster of tulous belong to the Xu clan. The biggest round one was the first one built.
All residents have moved out and visitors can see every elements of tulou inside out here. Of all the tulous I visited, this is my favorite one. Conflicts and disputes are inevitable in communal living. This tulou that has more than 600 years of history was modified to give more privacy to each family and to make communal living more convenient. There are two circles of rooms in this tulou and let's enter from this first circle. Rooms in the inner circle are dining rooms.
This is the only tulou we've seen in this video that's equipped with separate dining rooms. Rooms on the first floor of the outer circle are kitchens. To make life more convenient, small shower rooms were added behind the inner circle.
Different from other tulous that usually have one set of staircases or at most four sets of staircases, this tulou has 24 sets of staircases. So each family gets its own set of staircases. This tulou is also one of only a few places to find granaries on the second floor. This used to be a standard design but now can hardly be found. As population grew and environment turned friendly, extra rooms for more people to live exceeded the need to store food. As usual, rooms on the third and fourth floor are bedrooms.
A local resident told me the secret of this tulou. When the tulou was constructed, there was only one staircase. It's located at the entrance. This way all defensive forces could be focused on this only staircase. But as population grew in this house, one staircase for hundreds of people caused "traffic jam". Residents started installing their own staircases.
In addition to having its own staircases, each family was separated from the adjacent ones with wooden boards. The hallway was completely blocked. Hate your neighbor? You don't have to see them quite often.
This is your own private space. I was told when this tulou was renovated for tourism, the partition walls were removed for the convenience of tourists. I tried to find the traces of what it was like before the renovation. Turn on your imagination and let's do it together. I guess there was a partition wall here.
One entered the adjacent room from this side door. Lock the door here. This could be a separate unit.
One used the staircase inside instead of this one. From this door on, it looks like a separate unit of two rooms. There's a staircase at back inside this unit. This could be a unit with two rooms.
This could be another unit with more rooms. There's no pattern or rule of how it was divided. In 6 centuries, as population grew in the tulou and rooms were passed from one generation to another, things became complicated.
In order to add a staircase, a portion of the floor has to be cut off. I was surprised the tulou could be modified structurally without having safety issues. This part is the secret of how the beams are supported after modification. The entire tulou was divided into individual units and it was very complicated. That's why the partition walls were removed so that tourists wouldn't get lost inside. I wish they had kept the partition walls because the modification is so unique and the problem solved is so real.
Now look at the staircase in Mulan's home. I am sure it was inspired by this tulou. Actually the tulou in the movie combined different elements of different tulous, some of which I haven't seen. The crew must have visited a lot of tulous to be able to do that. Thumb up for the work! There is another secret about this tulou.
On the wall in a room on the first floor, there's a hole. Residents could flee from this hole and run to the hills to hide. The outer side is camouflaged with the same kind of earth as the outer wall.
Outsiders could hardly notice it. Among the yellow tulous, there is a white one in this cluster. It's painted white but it's still earth inside.
This tulou was built in the 1979 by the clan members living in Singapore. Hakka is a big group among oversea Chinese. This young tulou equipped with bathrooms and other things in contemporary apartments also made it to the UNESCO World Heritage List because it shows tulou can be adapted to contemporary life. I didn't go inside. But I stayed for a night in the tulou at the very bottom in this cluster which was also modified to contemporary life. In each room there's a bathroom, wifi, air-conditioning and it's pretty convenient.
Can you see the stars? Good night! In my next video, I'll travel to the southwest coast of Fujian Province and visit several tulous there. The owners of those tulous are Hokkien, a different group in Fujian Province. Compared with the Hakka tulous, this 3-circle tulou seems to have a reversed order, with the inner circle being the tallest one. I'll be walking on the roof of this tulou. It's an experience I didn't get in the Hakka tulous. What were the reasons for Hokkien to build tulou? You'll find the answer in my next video.
I'm Yanyan. I make videos about sights of interest in China and histories and stories behind them. Subscribe to my channel. I'll see you next time.