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  • Mark Whitworth

The Curious History of the Hakka and the Tulou

Updated: Nov 26, 2020

How the rural Chinese of Fujian convinced the US government they had built missile silos.

Much of the content of this article, on the Hakka and the Tulous, can be regarded as a hypothesis rather than an entirely factual piece. There is far too much contradictory information, of variable quality, to form many concrete conclusions. It has been written with reference to papers that would probably be best read in Chinese, by someone with a better grasp of Chinese history than I, and a couple of days field work. However, it would be interesting to have a series of unbiased people research sections of this work, to draw their own conclusions and to present their agreement or disagreement. I had hoped that the National Geographic/IBM Genographic Project would shed some more conclusive light on the subject of Hakka migration and origins, but as far as I can see it does not. At the end of the article are my private conclusions, made quite subjectively, I hope no one finds offence in them.

The Hakka

The Hakka are a large Chinese language group and probably a sub-group of the dominant Han. Within China they are dispersed mainly across the boundary area between Jiangxi, Fujian and Guangdong, in Sichuan and in Taiwan. There are probably about 75 million people worldwide who would claim Hakka ancestry, and although the 2007 Atlas of China does not distinguish the Hakka as a separate ethnic group from the Han, there are probably 40 million in China

The term Hakka is probably relatively recent, arising only during the Qing Dynasty in the last 400 years. In the Hakka language it is pronounced Haagga and in Putonghua as Kejia, but derives from the southern Chinese languages meaning “families who are guests”.

The Hakka are also dispersed widely overseas and were part of the driven migration of Chinese from the mid-C19th. In the United Kingdom probably the majority of Chinese restaurants are run by Hakka, but they are most widely settled in South-East Asia.

The Origins of the Hakka

There is confusion about the origins of the Hakka people; this is made more difficult by pseudo-scientists hypothesising along lines which may either justify twentieth century political events or to satisfy individual aspirations as regards their genealogy.

In the simplest terms the Hakka probably migrated from the Huang He (Yellow River) valley during a disputed period between 220 B.C. and 420 A.D. The fact that this has not been more accurately dated is probably very clear evidence the Hakka are genealogically confused by interbreeding with both other minorities and the majority Han. Due to a sequence of migrations it is possible the linguistic and cultural lineage is of prime importance, whereas the bloodline itself may be very confused.

The Hakka language was possibly the spoken language of the Chinese Imperial Court

up to and including the Tang dynasty. From this it can be concluded that the Hakka language was not unique to their culture, but simply a carryover from a time when the Hakka were possibly closer to the centres of power. When the centralised empire collapsed or once the power base shifted north again under the Yuan and Qing Dynasties, the Hakka appear to have been at their most mobile and defensive.

It is possible that the collapse of the Ming Dynasty was the final straw, when Fujian formed the last bastion of Ming resistance. Their possible support for the more southern minded Ming may have resulted in the Manchurian Qing forcing many Hakka into the tight base area of the Wuxi Mountains, which have been notoriously difficult to access.

The later diaspora from the mid Nineteenth century onwards is not of particular relevance to this piece, but it should be noted that the Hakka were heavily involved in a series of rebellions at his time, particularly in the leadership of the Taiping rebellion. This period in China had been preceded by a series of floods, droughts and incredibly cold periods, the result had been famine; those in the most marginal areas would have suffered more than those in more favoured lands, and by this time the Hakka were in marginal farming zones.

Hakka “colonisations” in Taiwan and Sichuan were following respectively political choices and economic incentives.

Both the Hakka and the Han, over the millennia, attempted to distance themselves from the gene pool groups to the north of China, often called the Xiongnu and associated with the Huns. Research into Hakka roots amongst the northerly groups has proved inconclusive and the only conclusions that can be drawn are that both the Han and the Hakka are very mixed in origin and probably contain elements of the northern tribes’ ancestries. The migratory waves out of the central Asian area, over tens of thousands of years, by first hunter/gatherers and then pastoralists, were followed by the continuous southern migrations of agriculturalists, who were replaced on their own farms by the pastoralists, now turned farmers, who pushed them out. The extent of bloodline mixing is uncertain but is sure to have been very high. As the southward waves met the groups who had settled from the south this process would have been further confused.

By the time of the arrival of the Hakka in the Jiangxi, Fujian and Guangdong area, they were a group that were self-identifying rather than genealogically different. The Hakka further diluted their own genealogy by intermarrying with the local people and would often buy unwanted daughters from these people to serve as wives for their own sons. Today it is almost certainly only language and culture that provide any sense of separateness between the Hakka and the Han Chinese.

However, blood typing suggests that the Hakka have more in common with the Japanese and Koreans, than do the Han. This could be explained if it were accepted that the Japanese and Korean people and cultures shared a common ancestry with the Hakka. Certainly many of the people in Fujian look significantly more like the Japanese than many other Chinese. However, from the C13th onwards, Japanese incursions into south-east China could easily have led to the introduction of a Japanese gene pool base, first from the regular piracy and later during the Sino-Japanese Wars.

The Migrations of the Hakka

It has been proposed that there was a single outward migration from Shanxi, in the Yellow River basin, moving southwards but also eastwards into Korea and Japan. Such a migration would go a long way to explaining the appearance of “ancient” Chinese cultures in these two countries at similar times. The Yayoi culture of Japan which arose during the Qin/Han Dynasties bears striking relationships to the Chinese civilisation of the time; but this could be a Qin or Han derivative rather than specifically Hakka.

What could be the propulsion mechanism? A few causes suggest themselves:

· The fall of the Qin Dynasty in 206 BC

· The fall of the Western Han Dynasty in 9 AD

· The fall of the Xin Dynasty in 23 AD

· The fall of the Eastern Han Dynasty in 220 AD

· Any of the confusing changes C3rd – C6th AD

Whatever the force behind this first migration, the Hakka were probably pushed into the Chang Jiang (Yangtze) flood plain. The subsequent migrations were probably caused by:

· The fall of the Tang Dynasty in 907 AD

· The arrival of the Yuan Dynasty in 1271 AD

· The fall of the Ming Dynasty in 1644 AD

However, it is also unclear who moved. Were these mass movements of an entire people, or simply leadership groups shifting on, moving to dominate a different set of peasants.

The Hakka keep better records of their family lineage than most Chinese groups and it is clear they have been very significant in both politics and warfare. Sun Yatsen, Deng Xiaoping, Lee Teng-hui (President Taiwan 1988-2000) and Hing Xiuquan (Leader of the Taiping Rebellion) are just a few of the Hakka to have risen to prominence. The Hakka held twenty five percent of the first PRC politburo. These examples perhaps indicate an experience of involvement in power structures.

There is also no surprise that so many overseas Chinese are of Hakka origin. From the start of the Qing Dynasty the Hakka were largely confined to the coastal provinces of Fujian and Guangdong, with access to the ports of Xiamen and Guangzhou; access to a port means access to a ship, be it to Taiwan, Singapore or the United States. They were also confined to less productive land, which may have meant emigration was more desirable for the Hakka than the other southern Chinese who were based in more fertile areas.

If it is generally accepted that the Hakka moved first from the Huang He flood plain to that of the Chang Jiang, it has to be supposed they were agriculturalists, as most have been until recently. Arriving in the southerly parts of China would have meant either disputing land ownership with the locals, or punti, or accepting less productive unwanted lands. The move into the now recognizably Hakka “home” area coincided with the introduction into China of some of the New World staple crops which would thrive in the lower latitude but higher altitude conditions and were such that they were pre-adapted for growth on steep slopes.

Time spent on the flood plain of the Chang Jiang would also have encouraged the Hakka to take up fishing and to become very competent in micro irrigation techniques. The use of clay in irrigation systems may provide a glimpse into the Hakka’s later history when they began to build the tulou (earth buildings).

The Hakka group does not appear to have started to move into its present “home” area until the commencement of the Yuan dynasty, when settlement in this area would already have been comprehensive. If they were, as is suggested, already proud of their own distinct culture, possibly pre-dating the first unification of China 2200 years ago, the arrival of the Mongol over-lordship may have been the final thrust pushing them into the mountains, and would go further in explaining their series of migrations under both previous dynasties and the later Qing, when these were predominantly northern in characteristic.

Chinese history sees a regular pattern of pastoralist/agriculturalist conflicts in the north, which found its ultimate expression in the Great Wall, and regularly forced a southerly migration for many peoples from the Huang He river basin. This makes the Hakka’s own migratory tendency even more difficult to track; they were simply one group of many that moved, Their great significance today is that they have become the largest of language groups.

In each of the moves, people from north of the Great Wall would have interbred with people to the south prior to the migrations. Thus each migration was a mixed bag, and even though subsequent migrations may be forced by intrusion of the Huns, Turks, Xiongnu, Mongols or whoever, in the wake of each migration the new settlers again would interbreed and thus the following migration would once again be a mixture of blood types and genes.

The dynastic changes that impacted the migrations of the Hakka almost all coincide with climatic change in central Asia. The fall of the Eastern Han in 220 AD and the partitioning of the Chinese Empire had been preceded by climatic variations and crop failure. The Jurchen’s takeover of northern China as the Jin came in another period of climatic instability at the start of the C12th, as did the Mongols establishment of the Yuan Dynasty in the late C13th. The Ming Dynasty, driven out by the Manchurian Yuan, also coincides with climatic variation in the mid-C17th.

After the Hakka had fully established themselves in the axial Jiangxi/Fujian/Guangdong region, but were still attempting to shrug off the tag of strangers, the climatic aspects of the nineteenth century came into account, when a period of inclement weather in the period 1800 to 1840 preceded some of the worst instabilities of the Qing, including of course, the Hakka led Taiping Rebellion, and provided the first big shove in destabilising China’s last Imperial dynasty.

The Development of Tulou Housing

The Hakka will now forever be associated with the tulou, particularly the massive circular structures that NASA and the CIA identified from space as missile silos during the Cold War. But it is not clear as to whether the tulou was a Hakka invention or whether it was a housing type already used in this region that the Hakka cottoned onto and adopted as their own.

It would appear that two developments led to the classic circular tulou we recognise today. One branch begun with classically structured housing for the wealthy, which can still be found around China today; there are some perfect examples in Suzhou. The other branch began with perimeter fortifications of a village site. As time passes, the housing branch and the fortified village branch develop higher walls as a reaction to the greater need for protection, eventually the housing branch becomes the large fortified square tulou and the fortified village becomes the circular tulou. Obviously both strands of development would have had cross-fertilisation of concepts in addition to both being reactions to the same problems.

The different branches of development indicate wholly different backgrounds of the people involved in initiating their construction; the housing strand from rich families and the fortification strand by terrified peasant villagers. One train of thought here is that the poor villagers were of the She minority group, or other local people, and that the wealthy house owners the Hakka. As their defensive needs converged and the possible wealth of the Hakka diminished, so their housing requirements would become closer. Many of the circular tulou were occupied by non-Hakka groups quite recently and this strongly suggests that the circular strand of the tulou may pre-date the Hakka arrival in the area.

The use of the word “tulou” can be traced back to the county records of 1573, however, the oldest extant tulou, Yuchang Lu, dates from 1308. Whether this was definitively prior to the arrival of the Hakka in the area is arguable, it was originally home to five clans and these did not all have family names that are common amongst the Hakka. It is likely it was constructed in reaction to the new Mongol leadership in Beijing who, like most central governments until the birth of the People’s Republic, had limited control over the Wuyi Mountains of Fujian. The tulou has five stories with 54 rooms on each floor, but there was obviously a design flaw and this has led to the housing lining up as much as 15° from the perpendicular, suggesting perhaps a fairly hasty construction. However, the courtyard with its individual wells for each cooking area suggests a planned structure, as does the buildings longevity.

The local She group are also from northern China although, like the Hakka, their origins are not entirely clear. Their original migration from the North may or may not have coincided with that of the Hakka but they appear to pre-date the Hakka in terms of their arrival in Fujian.

It is interesting that the Japanese were the first non-Chinese to study the tulou in detail. The Japanese culture bears some resemblances to that of the Hakka; one supposition is that the Hakka and the Japanese had a common cultural or ancestral line dating from the Qin Dynasty or before.

During the Warring States period (475-221 BC) one of the prime activities had been wall building, culminating in the linking of several walls to form the first great wall under the first all-China Emperor Qin (220-206BC). These walls were made of rammed earth on the lower land, only in the mountains were they made of stone, and similar construction techniques may be used in building a tulou.

The square strand commences with a villa-like structure which resembles the palatial houses of the Chinese elite. Sometimes referred to as the Phoenix House it is a symbol of wealth and status. This strand gradually becomes larger and more fortified as the external buildings are placed inside the defensive wall.

The early circular strand has similarities to simple defensive structures across Eurasia and Africa and develops through a motte and bailey stage before becoming a building unique to this area. Only the ultimate developments of the tulou are outlined below. As previously stated there are many variations but is the gigantic square and circular fortress-like constructs that hold the most interest and define perhaps the pinnacle of the architectural technique.

Although some of the large tulous are still partially inhabited, more recent development have seen many of the former residents abandon tulou life; however the structures are still used in several ways. They are utilised as:

  • storage areas and the central courtyard as work yards

  • walls to which lean to housing attached

  • a source of raw material for the construction of more modern buildings

  • tourist attractions

The most recently constructed tulou was built as late as 1967 although this is a rare modern addition and may have been constructed in response to the uncertainties of the Cultural Revolution. Certainly the need for protection from bandits was still an issue in the early Republic and the occupation of coast of Fujian by the Japanese would also have seen the tulou used for defensive purposes. It is likely that the earliest large tulous were built from the C13th although this is not a certainty. It is likely that the larger fortified buildings were a reaction to times of instability and that in times of relative peace lesser fortified dwellings would have been built; thus there is no clear starting point for their construction. Certainly the gross instability of the C19th and the period during the overthrow of the Ming would have been two such times that fortified homes were regarded as a necessity. Japanese piracy between the C13th and C16th and internal banditry up into the C19th was also a threat and it has been suggested that the tulou were sufficiently daunting for the pirate bands to bother attacking them. In 1934 a tulou that was attacked with army canon fire after a peasant uprising proved remarkably resistant.

During the early Yuan Dynasty it is clear that the She people were in active rebellion against the centralised leadership. Around this time we have evidence of the first defensive tulous. Whether or not this coincided with the arrival of the Hakka groupings in the area may be disputed, but in all likelihood this was the case. The She had been previously been troubled by land grabbing Han lords in Guangdong, causing them to move into the Wuyi Mountains, where they, as late arrivals, had to occupy less attractive farmland. If the Hakka were less a distinctive ethnic group and more a disaffected conservative Imperialist Han splinter group this would go some way to explaining their presence in the region and perhaps their relationship with the local agriculturalists.

The Tulou Building

Since the recognition of the tulou by the world Heritage organisation many tulous have been extensively repaired and brought back to something nearing their original appearance with centralised assistance. Private funding, in an attempt to gain tourist revenue, has seen many more tulous partially or fully repaired but in these cases the interiors are often wholly turned over to small commercial enterprises. These notes, draw from a personal visit in December 2009 and to a lesser extent from sources listed in the bibliography, describe the restored tulous with the implicit acceptance that the restoration is reasonably accurate.

It seems odd that most commentators have omitted to mention this, perhaps taking it as read, but in the majority of cases the central area is an open courtyard, the roof and extended eaves only cover the walls and the wooden housing that is pinned to them. From the outside, at ground level, it may appear as if the roof extends across the whole structure; this is not the case, although some smaller rectangular earth buildings do have a full roof covering. As soon as roofing is removed the walls erode very quickly and the housing structure becomes immediately unstable. In addition as soon as occupation ceases the structure begins to degrade, continuous upkeep is a requirement, otherwise the wood rots and the walls become exposed. An excellent example of this can be seen in the modern Hukeng Township, where across the river from a line of modern guest houses can be seen a semi-derelict tulou, which is both partially inhabited and undergoing restoration.

The great outer walls of the majority, but not all, of these larger structures, are made from a mix of earth, sand, some layers of wood or bamboo and lime. Underpinning the wall was often a section made of stones. This was designed in such a way as to make digging through or under the outer wall extremely difficult, but also had the effect of raising the earth structure away from the water table. The earth walls themselves taper towards the top and lean inwards, adding stability to the structure.

The earth wall could have been constructed in one of two manners; by using earth blocks and fitting them on one the other or by fixing planking to either side or by tamping down the earth layer after layer. Much of the Great Wall was constructed in this latter manner. It is equally likely that a combination of the two techniques was utilised. The walls vary in thickness but are generally between 1-2 metres thick, depending upon the overall size of the structure, which in the case of the circular tulou can range from less than 20 metres across up to a massive 90 metres in diameter. In height the tulous range from two stories to five; the tallest being around 26 metres high. The largest rectangular structure, the Yijing Tulou, measures 136m by 76m and is five storeys high.

In the wall there are four types of opening. There is a single doorway opening on the ground floor framed with granite, although some larger tulous have more doors, it is normally about 2 metres high and 1.5 across, in this is a double door, made of heavy wood with various vertical and horizontal bolting devices; this is protected from above with arrow slits and a gap presumably through which unpleasant liquids could be poured or water to douse a fire attack. On the ground floor there are no other openings except some small flues to lead smoke out of the kitchen areas; it is unclear whether these are original features. Generally there are no windows on the first and second floor, except in the smaller tulous when there are windows on the second floor upwards. From the third floor upwards there are windows, generally around 70 cm square with white paint around them on the external side.

The roof is pitched with a central ridge and large eaves both internally and externally; presumably to protect not only the residents’ homes but also the walls from the heavy rain. It is a wood construct topped with baked clay tiles. One interesting feature is that heavier tiles are used occasionally to weigh down the standard tiles and these can be found in linear patterns.

The entrance way is about 6 metres long and in many cases there are two pounding devices on a stone bench on either side. These consist of a large stone cup with a 2m wooded lever on a fulcrum fitted with a stone head; they were presumably for pounding grain or dried root crops into flour. Their location is less easy to explain, but it can be assumed they were shared by the whole community and it was important they were located in a dry area.

The courtyards varied from tulou to tulou. At one extreme there were no buildings inside, only a cobbled floor, at the other there were so many structures the area resembles an enclosed hutong with narrow pathways between them. The central buildings appear almost invariably to be made of stone or large clay bricks, surfaced with a clay skim, with baked clay tiles on the roofs. In some of the circular tulous these buildings were curved following the outline of the basic shape.

These courtyard buildings appeared to be used for storage, cooking and washing, although some were quite obviously designed for animals; probably pigs or chickens. In some of the larger tulous they may also have provided communal or educational spaces. In two of the examples seen the structure at the very centre was the ancestral temple although in most tulous this is set into the far wall opposite the entrance way.

In Gaobei Village sits the “King of the Tulou”. Although the outer wall is a modest four floors, it has a diameter of 73m, two inner rings, the outer of which is two floors high, and a central ancestral hall. It was constructed in 1709 and may be considered the most spectacular of all the tulou. Unusually it has four entrances and at one time housed as many as eighty families, perhaps amounting to a total population in excess of 400 people.

Nearby, Wuyun Lu is rectangular and pre-dates the “King of the Tulous” by 140 years. In other clusters, notably Tianluokeng, the square tulou pre-dates the circular. This is perhaps the best indication that the one is not a direct development of the other.

The situation of the temples gives one the feeling these structures have a religious purpose but this is clearly not the case. Unlike western religious temples the Buddhist-Daoist-Confucianist centre of prayer is devoted to ancestral respect rather than the worship of Godhead. Today these altars are a mixed bag with a leaning towards Buddhism but in many cases their origin was probably Daoist and the key aspect of the local belief was that the dead could influence the living. Today most of the altars are still maintained although the extent of their upkeep is variable.

One of the more interesting tulous, in part because of its differences rather than its conformity, is Hegui Lou in Pushan Village in the township of Meilin. This has been constructed on the valley floor, thus taking up potentially valuable farming land and is overlooked by a hill at the rear, which would make defence more difficult. However, the tulou has been constructed on marshland and the springy cobbles in the courtyard provide evidence of the height of the water table. Constructed in 1732 it is 5 storeys high with 28 rooms on each floor.

In Hegui Lou the rooms on the top floor have a collection of coffins, wooden and narrow with sliding tops, which almost look as if they had already seen service. Hakka burials are initially made in coffins but once the bodies have decomposed sufficiently they are exhumed and the remains placed in an urn to be re-buried. Presumably the coffins here had been used once and were to be used again. There were also some examples of old bathtubs and a trunk, made in England for Ezra Samuel & Co, Rangoon.

Generally the housing, pinned to the inside of the wall is of timber construct reaching up to the tiled roof. In most cases the first floor is used for the kitchens, equipment storage, washing facilities, etc. The second floor provided a dry area, presumably for longer term storage of basic foods. The third floor and above are the living quarters; the only rooms to have windows in the external wall.

The rear of each dwelling is the massive circumference wall. The front wall, the dividing walls and the flooring are made of wooden planks, supported by a series of round-section posts and rectangular-section beams. They would have provided visual privacy but would prove less effective as regards noise and vibration. Normally four wooden stairways provide access to the corridors, which loop around the front of the living chambers. Theoretically each family occupied a vertical slice of the tulou, thus having their own living, cooking and storage spaces.

Much is made of the fact that the tulou clans operated communally and that they each lived in the same sized space. As a guiding principle this is fine, but observation indicates that this was not always the case; some rooms, particularly at the cardinal points, appear larger and different in design, although these could have been community rooms. In the case of Huaiyuan Lou, which was built 1905-09, the mansion style home (Phoenix Building) in the centre could easily have been the residence of the wealthiest man in the village, who possible funded the construction of the whole tulou in fear of the forthcoming downfall of the Qing Dynasty. It is also one of the most effectively fortified of the structures having four observation posts, three water channels over the gate and a three metre stone wall at the base.

One of the greatest fears for a tulou resident must have been that of fire. Either an attack by burning arrows or a simple accident in the kitchens would have led to a conflagration that would have proved difficult to escape; the presence of only a single door in these circumstances could be seen as foolish. However, the earthen walls are virtually fire proof and getting sufficient arrows over the tops of the roof and into the wooden structures would have proved difficult, although not impossible; it is likely that the reason for the height of the tulou was to prevent just such an attack. As previously stated, in times of trouble, supplies of water and chutes above the main gate would have facilitated dowsing. The possibility of accidental damage would have been assisted by the nearby presence of the wells and the use of fire resistant wood.

Earthquakes are relatively common in the area. The earthen walls are far less likely to suffer damage from this source than ones made entirely from stone or brick and the self-supporting mechanism of the inward sloping walls, particularly in the circular tulous would have further strengthened the structure.

A further advantage of the circular tulou is that each section of the circle was constructed to a standard plan. In the rectangular tulou different designs are required not only for the corner wall and dwellings but also for the residences abutting them on either side.

It is difficult to understand the advantages of a rectangular tulou over a circular one. A possible consideration would be that it is only possible to extend a circular tulou by either going upwards or by destroying the structure and starting again. The consideration of land availability, terrain and the clan’s architectural knowledge may also have influenced decisions in this respect. The Tianluokeng cluster in Shuyang Township has a central square tulou, Bunyoun Lou dating from 1796, which is surrounded by four much later tulous, dating from this century, the latest having been constructed in 1966. At this site a choice was made of the circular over the square, even though they had a square example to use as a template. All five tulous are of similar size, each having three floors and between 26 and 32 rooms. It is highly likely that in this particular case the choice was dictated by terrain, as they perch on a ledge half way up a steep hillside. This cluster is one of the most photogenic as a group as not only are the tulous huddled together they are overlooked by an excellent vantage point.

By the C21st UNESCO had recognised 46 Fujian tulou sites as being exceptional examples of building tradition and function. The term “Hakka tulou” is in common usage; a Google search will turn up four times as many entries as “She tulou” and only marginally less than “Fujian tulou”. In future the term Hakka will become even further imbedded into the architecture of fortified earth buildings; yet it is impossible to ascertain whether the tulou is in fact of Hakka origin and, in all likelihood, it is not.

Personal Conclusions

I have headed this piece “personal conclusions” because there is a degree of subjectivity in their construction. In researching the Hakka and the tulou it has been exceptionally difficult to find articles that have been written from an entirely objective viewpoint yet, in these articles, many theories are stated and upheld as either fact or accepted truth. I would be delighted to have my own conclusions proved incorrect as this would lead to greater enlightenment as to the actual histories involved.

Key to my conclusions is the question, “What is a Hakka?” and there is certainly a distinct difference in what a Hakka is today and what a Hakka was in the first and early second millennia.

Whereas a Taiwanese student of mine baulked at the idea of being descended from a Hakka group, and quite clearly wished to be thought of as Han, many people claiming Hakka descent do so because it makes them feel different. The growth of this concept of wishing to belong to a minority group has distorted what that group is and was, particularly when the main thrust has come from outside mainland China.

Here are my personal conclusions:

  • The She people are part of the ethnic Miao group which moved out of northern China some two thousand years ago. In the late C13th and early C14th they moved out of Guangdong to escape land-grabbing by Han (or Hakka) Chinese.

  • The Hakka are a group of the Han who had maintained some traditions dating back to the C3rd BC. They had once been part of the Imperial set up in which the Hakka language was utilised as the language of court. Whilst they moved from their original home areas close to Xian, this was for economic and political reasons; they were not a tribe pushed out by hostilities, they were a group of wealthy citizens looking for an area to dominate.

  • The dates for these movements are unclear as the Hakka still identified themselves with the Imperial court and would still have had relationships with it throughout their migrations.

  • If the Hakka settled in the Chang Jiang or later the Zhu Jiang (Pearl River) floodplain it was still as “lords” of each area. They enjoyed the support of single centralised Chinese rule but received no such support whilst the nation was fragmented.

  • In each of their migratory moves the Hakka interbred with the local populations, be they Han or ethnic minority groups.

  • The Tang Dynasty was the last to use Hakka as its prime language, from this point on the Hakka were on their own as a group and had to start to use their personal wealth to protect themselves.

  • The Hakka fought against the Mongols of the Yuan Dynasty beginning their retreat into the more mountainous areas of Jiangxi, Fujian and Guangdong.

  • The She people had already established farming communities in the mountains and had started to develop fortified villages.

  • The Hakka, as overlords in the areas they commanded, used and continued to promulgate their language and continued to build elaborate housing.

  • Hakka funds and She manpower led to the design and construction of the tulou as can be seen today, drawing from both Hakka and She knowledge, to protect themselves from bandits, pirates and Mongol control.

  • The Hakka supported the Ming, even though the language of court had changed, but were still beset by problems with piracy and bandits.

  • As the Ming Dynasty collapsed the Hakka helped finance the attempt to bribe the Manchurians to leave China.

  • By this stage the wealth of the ruling Hakka had been considerably eroded and as a bloodline they were indistinguishable from the local Han

  • The Manchurian’s Haircutting Order was particularly unpopular amongst the Hakka and led to a further withdraw into the mountains.

  • The Hakka, with both She and local Han assistance, joined the forces of Geng Zhongming when he supported Wu Sangui in rebellion against Qing rule and supported Zheng Chenggong (Coxinga) in his continued defiance of the Manchurians.

  • The Hakka objection to the Qing continued representing itself but only as a withdraw from mainstream politics and the establishment of a Han sub-culture based in the Wuyi Mountains including their distinct early Chinese language, Hakka.

  • In the tough times of the early nineteenth century the Hakka speaking mountain folk migrated from their limited and marginal lands, both to other areas of China and overseas.

From time to time, encapsulated by the Taiping rebellion, groups of Hakka speakers continued to rebel against the “foreign” Qing.


General. Much information was derived from the signage at each of the tulou sites, which is in excellent English and our guide and driver, Jiang Hua Feng.

“Ethnic Groups”, Atlas of China, SinoMaps Press, 2007, ISBN988-98630-2-2, Kunyu Publishing Co. Ltd.

“Farm Economy in the Pumao Area, 1823-34 - A Case Study of Agricultural Labour Productivity of Late Imperial China”, by Bozhong Li, published 2002

Huang Hanmin in: "Chuugoku minkyou no kuukan o saguru", Keiichirou Mogi, Kenchiku Shiryo Kenkyusha Co. Ltd., 1991 (Attempts have been made to request permission to use the diagram from this source but it has not been possible to make contact. If there is any objection to its use the diagram will be withdrawn from the article).

“Fujian”, Lonely Planet – China, Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd, 2007, ISBN978-1740599153

“Architecture in Fujian”. Sikong Xiaoyue, China National Geography, Volume 1, Issue 3, Sept 2009, ISSN 1009-6337

“The Genographic Project”, National Geographic/IBM, 1996-2010,, accessed 7-12/1/2010

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