From Xiamen it is about a 2-3 hour bus ride to the West of Fujian Province to come to the area of round or rectangular shaped clay buildings which reach back to 14th Century, called Fujian Tulou. The most famous one, is the cluster of dwellings called Chuxi Tulou which is a UNESCO World Heritage site (1113-001). The center rotunda building is called Jiqinglou and is a four storey building from the Ming Dynasty, built in 1419. It is amazing that these constructions are so stable, because the main structure is a 1-6.m meter clay wall. But the round structure seems so stable that even large cracks close again by the pressure. The later built rectangular Tulous are said to be less stable. The inner courtyard of the Tulous mostly has a temple and other central functions, like the well, which serve as a centre point for a whole clan living in such a structure.
The Tulous have been built by Hakka people who migrated from the Yellow River region as a result of civil wars in China. They settled in remote areas in Fujian and the Tulous also had a function of defense against robbers and smaller clans. It seems amazing that the clay walls really were a suitable protection against an attack, but it must have been only smaller conflicts and no serious warfare. Also it seems amazing that the wooden structures inside the Tulous, which are actually the homes of the individual families, only rarely caught fire. It is said, that because the living conditions inside are so dens, a fire will be discovered and put out on the spot. If not, I can imagine being trapped in a round high wall with only one exit, must be quite dangerous. The functions in a Tulou are structured vertically. On the ground floor there is a workshop and kitchen, bedroom on the first floor and sometimes also on the 2nd and then another workshop and storage floor.
Still today, beside the upcoming tourism, the main economy is based on agriculture and the highest margin crop is tea. What makes the Tulous specially interesting, is that they are not just a form of settlement, but are deeply integrated into the form of life and culture of clans. Of course, these cultures are very enclosed. Even without understanding the spoken word, you can already feel that the people’s character from Tulou to Tulou is different. With the development of tourism, the buildings also become economically attractive again and many families which abandoned the Tulous and live in a township or village, now return and re-claim ownership. Recently this is causing in some clans a lot of conflict.
Another thing, which surprised me at first, is that there are not just a few of these buildings, but that they are still today a dominant form of settlement spreading over a large region. I hope the tourism here will be developed wisely, to avert possible negative changes, because the Fujian Tulou are really a “World Cultural Heritage” in the true sense of the meaning.