Fujian Tulou

Fujian Tulou, the World Heritage Site

Nora Zheng
2390 Words/10 Minutes, By Nora Zheng, Updated February 21, 2023

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 Locations

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.

Tulou architecture analysis

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:

(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.

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.

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.

Ways to explore the Tulou in Yongding

Tulou, or Earth Buildings, are a unique and iconic feature of the Fujian province, and the best place to explore them is in the town of Yongding. Here are a few ways to explore the Tulou in Yongding:

Guided tours: One of the best ways to explore the Tulou is to take a guided tour, which will allow visitors to learn about the history and culture of the Tulou, as well as gain access to the interior of the buildings. Many tour companies in Yongding offer guided tours of the Tulou, and some even offer overnight stays in the Tulou for a unique experience.

Bicycle tours: Another way to explore the Tulou is by taking a bicycle tour. This allows visitors to explore the Tulou at a leisurely pace, and also enjoy the beautiful countryside that surrounds the Tulou.

Hiking: For those who are looking for a more active way to explore the Tulou, hiking is a great option. There are several hiking trails that take visitors to the Tulou, and the trails offer beautiful views of the surrounding landscape.

Learn more about Wuyi Mt. Hiking itineraries »

Photography: For photography enthusiasts, the Tulou are a great subject to photograph. Visitors can capture the unique architecture of the Tulou, as well as the beautiful scenery that surrounds them.

Photography travel itineraries for your reference »

Food tour: Yongding is also famous for its local food, visitors can join a food tour, where they can learn about the local cuisines and taste the local delicacies. This can be a great way to explore the culture and lifestyle of the people who live in the Tulou.

Overall, there are many ways to explore the Tulou in Yongding, and each offers a unique and memorable experience. Whether it's taking a guided tour, cycling, hiking, photography, or exploring the local food, visitors will be able to experience the beauty and culture of the Tulou in their own way.

The best time to visit Yongding Tulou

The best time to visit the Yongding Tulou depends on personal preference and what you want to experience.

Spring (March to May) is a good time to visit as the weather is mild and the tulips and azaleas in the surrounding area are in bloom.

Summer (June to August) is also a popular time to visit, as the weather is warm and it is a good time to experience the local festivals and events in the area.

Autumn (September to November) is another good time to visit, as the weather is cool and the leaves of the surrounding trees change color, providing a beautiful backdrop for the Tulou.

Winter (December to February) is also a good time to visit, as the weather is cool and the area is less crowded. But it can be quite cold, so make sure you bring enough warm clothes.

Overall, the best time to visit the Yongding Tulou is during the shoulder seasons of spring and autumn, when the weather is mild, the crowds are smaller and the scenery is at its best.

The best time to visit fujian »

2-day Tulou Tour Itinerary from Xiamen

Day 1: Depart Xiamen in the morning and drive to Yongding. Upon arrival, check into your Tulou accommodation. Many Tulou offer the opportunity to stay overnight. Take a guided tour of the nearby Tulou, including the famous Chuxi Tulou Cluster, which features over 10 Tulou buildings. Learn about the history and culture of the Tulou, and gain access to the interior of the buildings. Enjoy a traditional Fujianese lunch at a local restaurant. In the afternoon, explore the surrounding countryside by bike or on foot. Take in the beautiful views and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere. In the evening, enjoy a traditional Fujianese dinner at your Tulou accommodation.

Day 2: Wake up early to catch the beautiful sunrise over the Tulou. Have breakfast at your Tulou accommodation before checking out. Take a guided tour of the nearby Gaobei Tulou Cluster. This cluster features over 20 Tulou buildings and is known for its stunning architecture. Enjoy a traditional Fujianese lunch at a local restaurant. In the afternoon, drive back to Xiamen.

Please note that depending on the accommodation and tour options, the itinerary may change. Also, It's always a good idea to check the opening times and availability of the different attractions before planning your itinerary.

Photography travel itineraries for your reference »

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Nora Zheng

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