Located in the city of Kaiping, Guangdong Province, featureing the multi-storey defensive village tower houses, Kaiping Diaolou was officially included on the UNESCO World Heritage List in June, 2007.
The origin of Kaiping Diaolou can be attributed to the local geological environment and social conditions in the past. Located in the Southwest of the Pearl River Delta that features low-lying networks of waterway, Kaiping had been constantly suffering from floods due to the poor irrigation system. And besides, the locals also suffered from the scourge of banditry because Kaiping was adjacent to four counties and the social order was poor. Thus, from the Ming Dynasty on, Diaolou had been initially built for the protection of lives and properties from floods and banditry. By 1940s, a great number of Diaolou towers had been erected by lots of the returned Kaiping emigrants after the Opium War. Consequently, Kaiping, hometown of overseas Chinese, is featured by its Diaolou towers that integrated the Western and Eastern architectural styles, numbering over 3,000 in the prime, and 1,833 at present.
Diaolou towers are built of four types of materials: stone, rammed earth ,brick, and reinforced concrete, most were built with concrete. Functionally speaking, the towers fall into three categories: communal towers built by several families and used as temporary refuge; residential towers built by individual rich families and used as fortified residences; and watch towers which appeared last.
For the defensive purpose, Kaiping Diaolou is usually multi-storied, considerably higher than common village residences, with hard-wearing walls against attacks or fires, and smaller windows well-armed with iron bars and casements. At its four upper corners are cantilevered turrets (generally known as the “Swallow nests”), fully-closed or semi-closed, with some shooting holes allowing villages to fight from a commanding height against invaders.
The towers resemble each other in the body though they may be different in size and height. However, their tops vary dramatically in styles, employing different structures, such as colonnade, platform, backward terrace, cantilever balcony, castle, and the hybrid form. Heavy adoption of foreign construction elements gives every tower a distinctive and unique look. Towers in different styles, such as the Grecian columns, the Romanesque columns, arches and domes, Medieval Gothic spires, Islamic arches, European castles, Portuguese arcades, and Baroque of Renaissance, can be seen almost everywhere. The style of the tower reveals the owner’s financial capacity, aesthetic taste and influence by the foreign architectural culture. The Panoramic styles of the towers in Kaiping are what attract people most.
In a word, Kaiping Diaolou represents an important cultural exchange between China the West in this particular area. The towers are well preserved. Together with the surrounding village houses and the rural landscape, they form an authentically harmonious picture.