Tulou, the unique residential architecture of Fujian Province in southeastern China, was inscribed on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List on July 7th, 2008 during the 32nd session of the World Heritage Committee held in Quebec, Canada.
Tulou means “earthen structure” in English, built by Hakka (or kejia) people to avoid attacks by wild animals and bandits. Hakka people moved from the lower reaches of the Yellow River to the southern China, thus got their name with the meaning “guest”. As a kind of large civilian residence of rammed earth, Tulou is found nowhere else in the world, and it is also a great work of architectural art.
From the 11th century right up to the 20th century, Tulou buildings were built in the rural areas in western and southern Fujian Province, especially in Yongding County, Nanjing County and Hua’an County. They feature tall well-fortified mud walls capped by tiled roofs with wide over-hanging eaves.
A Tulou usually consists of external rammed earth wall and internal wooden framework. It is built on the base of stones, and the raw soil is kneaded, pounded and rammed again and again with lime, and fortified with fine sand, bamboo strips and wood. Usually the roof is covered with burnt tiles which can last long. In layout, the buildings are harmoniously integrated with the surrounding hills and waters, which reflects the traditional Chinese architectural designs, Fengshui and the concept of unification between human and nature.
Tulou buildings were built for a whole clan to live together. Setting amongst rice, tea and tobacco fields, Tulou can be as high as four or five storeys, providing enough space for three or four generations to live in the same building. They were built along an inward, circular or square floor plan, each housing up to 800 people (almost a whole clan). Tulou is divided by family, and each family occupies two or three rooms on the same floor.
The most elaborate structures of Tulou can be dated back to the 17th and 18th centuries. On the walls inside Eryi Lou of Hua’an County, there are 952 frescoes and color paintings. And besides, you can even see New York Times of 1930s, pictures of occidental beauties and clocks of ancient Rome.
Tulou is also built for defensive purpose. There is a circular open courtyard in the centre, few windows to the outside and only one single entrance for all the people. In contrast with their plain exterior, the inside of Tulou was built for comfort and often sumptuously decorated. They are inscribed as exceptional examples of traditional architecture and exemplify a particular type of communal living style and defense. And in terms of their harmonious relationship with the environment, Tulou is an outstanding example of human dwelling.
In addition, Tulou buildings have nurtured local ways of production and life style and fostered colorful intangible cultures. Its unique structural form and ingenious interior design highlight the interdependent relations among clan members who live inside. The form and design also demonstrate the development process of the life style there.