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Fujian Tulou

Fujian Tulou

World Cultural Heritage Site: Fujian Tulou (2008)

Comment from the World Heritage Committee

Fujian tulou is a Chinese rural dwelling of the Hakka people in the mountainous areas of southeastern Fujian Province in China. It serves as an example of construction that is both traditional and functional as well as the type of communal living in harmony with the environment. Thus, it is said to be rich in universal value.


Fujian tulou is found in Nanjing County and Hua’an County, Zhangzhou, and Longyan County, Yongding. A tulou is a large, enclosed and fortified earth building, its shape is commonly rectangular or circular, with very thick earth walls ranging from three and five stories high. In history, the Han Chinese in Central China, who were thought to be the ancestors of the Hakka people, migrated to Southern China after traversing the Yellow River, Yangtze River and Ting River, spreading the building techniques that feature the use of earth to different parts of Southern China. Today, tulou sites found in Fujian Province top elsewhere for their large number, scope, varieties and good preservation. Most are located in southwestern Fujian, with as many as 30,000 such buildings. Mostly built by the Hakka people in Fujian, they are also referred to as Hakka tulou, thought to be a symbol of the Hakka culture.

Fujian Tulou

Unique Architectural Style

The shape, adornment and building techniques of the Fujian Tulou are unique and rarely found elsewhere. Fujian tulou, also known as rammed earth building, is a structure formed by compacting earth, mixed with stone, bamboo, wood and other readily available materials. The roof top is covered with burnt tiles, which withstand the wind, rain and other natural forces. A tulou can be as high as 4 to 5 stories, housing rooms that can accommodate up to 4 generations of a family.

The layout of Fujian tulou according to Chinese dwelling tradition of “closed outside, open inside” is as follows: an enclosure wall with living quarters around the peripheral and a common courtyard at the center, exhibiting its unique characteristic as a model of community housing for equals. Its unique architectural style, superb building techniques, profound cultural richness and the local lifestyle all contribute to its extraordinary charm unparalleled elsewhere in the world.

Tulou embraces three styles at its core, including Five Phoenix Building, rectangular building and circular fortress. When viewed as a whole, the Five Phoenix Building, which surrounds Santang Hall (three-hall house), has a perfect combination of the main and smaller corresponding structures. It is concluded that this layout evolved from the ancient courtyard design commonly seen in the region that is located in the middle of the Yellow river. It is said that this region was a cradle of the Han civilization. Among all the structures in the complex, only the main hall at the end of the axis is constructed with rammed earth walls. The layout of the rectangular building is similar to that of the Five Phoenix Building, but its rammed earth walls extend from the main hall to its exterior for defensive purposes. The circular fortress shows its two characteristics:

Fujian Tulou

(1) it is a structure that comes in the shape of a circle, with its three halls well hidden in the whole structure and no obvious division between the main and the subordinate halls; and

(2) It is a fortified earth building for defensive purposes. Thus, it  is regarded as a project for military purposes.

Fujian tulou is cost-effective and solid enough to withstand natural forces. Its unique physical structures contribute to its outstanding defensive functions. Besides, it is rich in aesthetic values.

In the 1980s, Americans mistakenly took the mushroom-shaped earth buildings in Yongding and Longyan, Fujian Province for nuclear equipments due to their unique and peculiar structures. However, these buildings can be dated back to the Song and Yuan Dynasties when rammed earth buildings were constructed on a large scale. Long before the emergence of the first atomic bomb in the world, they have made their wide presence in southwestern Fujian for centuries, covering an area of over 600 square kilometers.


Fujian tulou can be categorized into three major varieties according to its shape, particularly circular fortress, rectangular building and Five Phoenix Building.Other variations include concave structure, semicircular structure and Eight Trigram-shaped structure. Among all variations, the circular fortress and rectangular have the widest presence and are usually found in one architectural complex. With an area of over a thousand square meters, they can house a family clan of several generations. They just repose amidst the vast valley encompassed by extending hills, with the man-made structure casting a sharp contrast to the surrounding natural environment. Since the implementation of the reform and opening up policy in the 1980s, the sites of Fujian tulou have attracted worldwide attention in the tourism industry.

Fujian Tulou

Notable Fujian Tulou

Yongding Hakka Tulou

Yongding County is known as the hometown of Fujian tulou. With over 23,000 earth buildings, it is home to over 70% of the tulou sites in Fujian. Among all six earth building architectural complexes and four earth buildings in Fujian placed on the World Heritage Site List, two complexes and two buildings are in Yongding. Visitors marvel at the unique circular earth structure found in Yongding, which is deeply influenced Hakka culture. In April 2010, Yongding County was hailed as a county with the largest number of Fujian tulou by China Records Headquarters. There are over 23,000 earth buildings in Yongding scattered in different towns and villages, among which, the largest one is Chengqi tulou, with the largest number of concentric rings, the tallest being Yongchang tulou, and the oldest is Long’an tulou (initially built in the Tang Dynasty).

The Hakka tolou in Yongding comes in various shapes and styles, which can be mainly categorized into two types, those include rectangular building and circular fortress, involving more than 20 architectural styles. These architectural styles are as follows: palace, Five Phoenix Building, rectangular building, square building, courtyard, pentagonal building, hexagonal building, octagonal building, cat-shaped building, Zouma building (with 4 corridors), stilted building, crescent-shaped building, circular building and oval-shaped building. For this reason, Yongding has a reputation for having a vast museum for the Hakka tulou. Among all earth buildings, the most typical are the Five Phoenix Building, the circular fortress and the rectangular building.

Fujian Tulou

The circular earth fortress is said to be a shining example of Hakka tulou people in Yongding. It resembles a castle towering into the sky and its magnificence bears resemblance to that of a modern stadium. The spectacular shape of the buildings are shaped similar to a mushroom, or butterfly flying down from heaven. The structure features 2 or 3 concentric rings radiating from the interior to the exterior. The exterior wall can be as high as over 10 meters. Normally, the exterior circle of tulou has four stories housing 100 to 200 rooms. The kitchen and dining room are usually on the first floor, the warehouse the second floor, and the bedrooms the third and fourth floors. While the interior circle has 30 to 50 rooms, which are commonly used as guest rooms. The hall in the center is a public place for ceremonial celebrations for all the households inside the complex, including such events as wedding and funeral. Inside the complex there are such facilities as bathroom and mill. The buildings are all constructed with rammed earth without the use of concretes and irons. The base of the wall is as wide as 3 meters. The bottom of the wall is 1.5 meters wide, and the width of the wall decreases as the wall is higher. The top of the wall is no less than 0.9 meters wide. The exterior circle of the complex is divided into a number of rooms by wood templates with a corridor in its interior side.

The result of this unique structure is a well-lit, well-ventilated, windproof, fireproof and earthquake-proof building that is warm in winter and cool in summer. The top level of these earth buildings has gun holes for defensive purposes. Altogether, the Hakka tulou in Yongding shows the wisdom of the Hakka people. Visitors get carried away with the magnificence of the earth buildings. Also, the time-honored traditions of the Hakka people will never fail to attract any visitors. One will be also impressed by the local lifestyle which focuses on harmony and love in human relationships. There, different households of the same clan live side by side in harmony, carrying forward the fine traditions of frugality and diligence in household management. Today, the local people still observe unique traditions and customs of major ceremonial celebrations, those hold a great fascination to tourists.