Tulou-a defensive home

Tulou is a type of ancient dwelling in Southern China, many people attracted by its unique appearance and history. Today let’s have a look at this ancient ‘donut-like’ homes.

In order to understand Tulou we’d better know about it’s residents -the Hakka people. Hakka in Chinese literally mean “guest families”. Because the Hakka people were originally from the Yellow river valley in the far north. Due to constant wars and social unrest the ancestors of the Hakka people suffered a series of migrations and finally settled in the the southern provinces.

In the south, however, the Hakkas didn’t have a peaceful life. Their arrival was resisted by the southern natives, and fighting can’t be avoided. As a result, the Hakka people had to kept their home in a remote mountainous are where far from the villages but close to muggers and bandits. The Hakka families had to build a new building to protect themselves. This kind of building should not only meet the needs of living, but also have enough defensive performance so that when the enemies come, it doesn’t need to be a big fight. In the end, the Hakkas created the enclosed house – Tulou.

The Hakkas had five separatemajor migrations in different times, and the final settlement was not same[1], so they didn’t have a fixed mode to built the home. Therefore, the construction of Tulou in different areas are different, they are mostly round, some of them are square. But, of course, the same living environment and cultural background of Hakkas also make their enclosed houses have many same characteristics.



Enclosed layout

The enclosed houses emphasized defense, presumably the Hakka people who escaped from war were not willing to stir up any trouble, and they reluctant to fight if they had to. The weight bearing outer wall of Tulou were built tall and strong, the windows are generally small or not open at all. These small windows were only used for ventilation or use as embrasures, so you can see how dangerous the fighting was.

Thickened wall

The outside wall were made by loess with a thickness of more than one meter in the lower part. In order to made it stronger, builder will wait for the lower part to be completely dry before they can build the upper part, so that the wall will be incredibly strong. But this building method is very time-consuming, it often takes years to build a complete Tulou.

Living in groups

The Hakkas in the foreign land must be united in order to survive, the best way to fend off enemies is to live in groups. Therefore, the Tulou often appeared in clusters, from the air, a group of circle houses built next to each other, with a few squares between them. The appearance of Tulou were once mistaken believed as missile silos by U.S. during the cold war[2].

Multiple functions

Now that the Hakkas have to live in these enclosed buildings, the interior of the building has to be prepared for every functions that people needs. The inside of Tulou includes well and livestock, an ancestral hall, storage and living spaces. In this way, even if the bandits encircling the building for half a month will not delay the Hakkas playing mahjong.

Today, the ‘guest families’ were no longer guests for that place, and there is no danger of life, but the Hakka people still love living there. I guess there are probably few houses like Tulou that have been through life and death together with its occupants.


[1] The Hakka People, Historical Background, accessed September 14, 2017, http://edu.ocac.gov.tw/lang/hakka/english/a/a.htm

[2] CNN Travel, China’s ancient ‘donut-like’ homes: Where to see the tulou, accessed September 14, 2017, http://travel.cnn.com/China-travel-tulou-unesco-919371/


[1], Magnus Mundi, Tulous, os castelos chineses, accessed September 14, 2017, http://www.magnusmundi.com/tulous-os-castelos-chineses/

[2], [3] fjta.com.tw, Chuxi Tulou Cluster, accessed September 14, 2017, http://www.fjta.com.tw/spot_citycontent_b.aspx?scenic_spots_name_db_id=226


Leave a Reply