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Earthen Fortresses (tulou)
Itinerary (there & back in onepiece)
(CIA Hakka Silo Scare)
of Earthen Architecture
visit to West Fujian
must include the Hakka (“Guest People”) earthen castles, which
fascinate foreign and Chinese tourists, international architects, and
even the Pentagon (Reagan and the CIA
thought their spy satellites had revealed hundreds of missile
I asked a Hakka if his satellite dish was
for missiles. “No, no!” he said. “Television! Basketball!”
“ "Just joking!” I said, but that joke bombed.
“…the only ones
that are fairytale-like village buildings, shaped like a huge mushroom
out of the ground, and a UFO dropped from the clouds.”
Chinese Roundhouse Brochure
earthen castles are not tourist
traps. People really live and work here, and invariably, when
you show up on their doorstep they will grin and say, “You’ve
come! Have some tea!”"
earthen houses are round. This not only keeps wives from cornering
their husbands, but also helps fend off bandits and warlords, as well
as their local "hosts", who did not always welcome the waves
of Han Chinese immigrants who 1,000 years ago showed up from the Central
Plains, said, “We’re the ‘Guest People,’”
and never left.
If my guests stuck around 1,000 years, I’d shred the welcome mat.
Click for more Hakka History
are inexpensive to build and maintain, last forever (some are over
1,000 years old), and are so aesthetic they appear to have sprung from
the very earth itself.
Earthen homes are rammed into shape, layer by layer, using a mix of raw
earth, sand, lime, glutinous rice,
and brown sugar, and reinforced with ‘bones’ of bamboo and
wood. Only upper floors have outer windows, and the massive wooden gates
are sheathed in iron.
The first floor is
for cooking, eating, socializing,
and working. Grains and grandparents are stored on the second floor. The
spryer young folk live on the third and fourth floors. Central
courtyards usually have a well, mill, threshing floor, ancestral hall—everything
but a basketball court.
I've visited the
Hakka houses at least 30 times. I love driving the winding road through
Nanjing’s lush valleys, and then visiting Yongding’s earthen
castles, and returning to Xiamen via the Longyan-Xiamen highway. The trip
can be done in a one day 14 hour marathon, but it’s easier on the
body to spend a night in a roundhouse, and it gives you a chance to sample
unique local mountain delicacies, some of which have quit moving.
about 360 earthen castles are round nowadays. The other 4,000 are square.
A complex of five castles built in the 1950s is said to represent the
five stars of China’s national flag. But my favorite roundhouse
is Prosperity Castle (Fuxing Lou) in
Nanjing’s Chizhou Village.
Castle (Fuxing Lou) was built in 1963 by the Xiao Clan.
The three-story roundhouse has two outer rings. I asked how much the building
cost to build. The wooden balconies, doors, and gates alone must have
cost a fortune.
“Not a penny!” said the headman “It took 3 years to
build, but the earth and wood were all local, and the Xia Clan provided
the labor…But trees are protected now, so no more roundhouses.”
Generations Fuxing Lou is home to 4 generations of Xiao—about
214 people, from newborns to octogenarians. And like Chinese elsewhere,
they greet you with, “You’ve come. Have some tea!”
I reciprocate by bringing bags of candy for the kids, who of course are
too polite to accept it. So I have a granny divvy up the goodies (after
she pockets a few pieces that she’ll gum for the rest of the day).
American children often whine, “Dad, there’s nothing to do!”
But Fuxing Lou’s children are never idle.
After school, pig-tailed girls sing and skip rope, and boys play pebble
chess, hoop and stick, skip stones on the scummy duck pond, or pester
calico cats that regard Laowai and Laonei alike with their patented air
of regal indifference. Cats, worldwide, ignore the lesser human species
unless we’re too busy for them—in which case they’re
in our lap in an instant.
roundhouses at least a dozen times, and they were one of the first places
I showed my sister, Galinda Fleming, when she visited China. She too fell
in love with the people. But she wasn’t overly keen on the outdoor
toilet, which was just a hut with two planks over a ditch. Bu Yao Jin!
No worries, mate! I’m not sure if they got it on film, though, when
I helped make a TV documentary about village life, and drove the film
crew in Toy Ota to Prosperity Castle. The cameraman asked where the WC
was and I said, “Bu Yao Jin.” No worries, mate! Step right
but I think the absolutely most beautiful scene is just 15 or 20 minutes
west of Prosperity Castle. High on a curve, look down to the valley far
below on the right and you’ll see a cluster of over half a dozen
round and square earthen buildings, as well as a green roofed ancestral
If you’re not up for the lovely but tiring traipse down the narrow
path, a couple of hundred meters further, a road leads off the right and
down into the valley, right to the roundhouse doors, and the inevitable
chorus of, “You’ve come! Have some tea.”
—Just for the record
Castle is, officially at least,
#1 earthen attraction. It was built in Hukeng Town’s Hongkeng Village
in 1912, and has two concentric
circles. The outer building has 48 rooms on each of four floors; the inner
circle has 30 rooms on two floors. An ancestral hall with four massive
granite pillars dominates the courtyard.
Chenqi Castle, in Guzhu Town’s Gaotou
Village, was built in 1709. This 5,300 sq. m. castle has 400 rooms, 3
gates, 2 wells, 400 people in 60 households, 14 cats, 37 kittens, and
a few mutts who have miraculously escaped the wok. The outermost wall
is 73m in diameter, four stories high, and has 72 rooms. The middle circle
has two floors and 80 rooms. The inner circle has one floor and 32 rooms.
Extinguished ancestors hold court in the central ancestral hall.
Yijing Castle, in Gaobo
Village, was built in 1851, and has a 136m by 76m rectangular outer wall.
The main tower in the rear is 5 ½ stories high, and the adjoining
three buildings are 3 stories high. The castle has 280 rooms, 51 halls,
two schools, and three flea-bitten dogs far too scrawny to stew.
“It was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.” J.R.R.Tolkien,
Earthen architecture is gaining popularity worldwide.
Here to read about the advantages of
Bldg. Hakka Cultural Village
I used to take visitors only to the "real-life" earthen villages,
and skipped the so-called tourist trap, but since the Yongding government
created it's Hakka Cultural Village, I've
changed my tune. They tore down much of the new, imappropriate architecture,
and now the entire area is much like a Hakka Park. Even the W.C. (public
toilet, for us Americans) is designed like a roundhouse! The professional
tour guides at Zhengcheng building give excellent introductions to the
history and culture behind the Hakka earthen buildings, and how they are
built. And just outside the gate, locals Hakkas will off you inexpensive
rooms for the night (only 40 Yuan a night--5$ USD, with private bath).
It's worth spending a few days there!
Bit of Hakka History
The Hakka fled south to escape war and famine during the Qin Dynasty (221-206
BC), when Han general Ran Min slaughtered the Jie tribe because they had
bigger noses. While Hakkas headed south, the nomad Huns fled west. Some
Chinese scholars claim the Huns settled Hungary.
How ironic that Huns fleeing famine still went Hungary.
Hungry Huns have vanished, but industrious Hakka, who emphasized agriculture, self-sufficiency,
and education, hang
in there. Fiercely proud of their Han heritage, Hakkas are more meticulous
than Mormons in keeping genealogical records. A Malaysian Hakka, Eng-Seng
Teoh, claims to be a 149th generation descendant from the mythical Yellow
Emperor! The Hakka may even have relatives in Japan.
Japan? About 219 B.C., Qin Dynasty Emperor Shi sent Xufu
with 3000 boys and girls to obtain longevity pills from present day Kyushu,
Japan. Either he never found the pills or he got a pirated batch, because
Xufu died. His tomb is still in Japan, and the Yamato clan is his crew’s
arrival in Japan happened to coincide with Japan’s evolution from
hunting and fishing to a sophisticated civilization similar in many ways
to the Qin Dynasty. Even today, every 50 years the Japanese celebrate
the birth year of Shen Wu Tian Huang, the Father of Japan, who lived around
Xufu’s time. So who knows? Maybe even Japan was “Made in China!”
say Hakka resembles Japanese, and I agree. Both are unintelligible. And
DNA tests show similarities between Japanese, Koreans and Hakkas. It is
also said that Hakka and Japanese are alike in their stubbornness and
adherence to tradition—though if stubbornness is a factor, my blond
wife Susan Marie is Hakka, Japanese, or both.
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