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Unique Hakka houses draw visitors to village

By CAO DESHENG, HU MEIDONG | China Daily | Updated: 2022-07-28


The Zhengcheng Building, a tulou in Longyan, Fujian. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Every time he tells visitors stories about his special house, Lin Rigeng beams with pride.

Lin, 72, owns the Zhencheng Building in Hongkeng village, part of Longyan city in Fujian province.

Born in the circular building with faded yellow clay walls and a dark-brown wooden roof, Lin enjoys working as a tour guide, telling visitors about the architectural wonders of the Hakka tulou-or "earth building"-a type of rural dwelling in Fujian that combines accommodation and fortification.

"I never get tired of it. Actually, I enjoy it," he said of his work.

The Zhencheng Building was built in 1912 by Lin's grandfather, who became a wealthy business owner by selling tobacco cutters. It took the family nearly five years and a large sum of money to complete the design and construction of the four-story structure, which consists of 208 rooms around a central courtyard and covers nearly 5,000 square meters.

It is known as the "prince of Hakka tulou" and is one of 46 such buildings placed on the World Heritage List in 2008.

For locals who grew up in tulou, the structures are just normal houses, but through his conversations with visitors, Lin came to realize that each of the structures is an extraordinary piece of architecture.

Throughout history, tulou residents have mostly been Hakka migrants to southern China who originated from lands adjoining the Yellow River.

Population pressures created conflict between the Hakka and their neighbors, so they built their homes to double as fortifications. There are now more than 23,000 tulou in the Yongding district of Longyan.

"What surprised me most is that visitors were really interested in our communal lifestyle as well as our Hakka culture. They thought it was incredible that so many people could live together in harmony," Lin said. "Only then did I realize my house was such a treasure."

As tourist numbers soared, Lin sensed a business opportunity.

He gave up farming to enter the tourism industry in the late 1990s, working as a guide, and he leads around 300 groups of visitors each year. He also runs a souvenir shop and a homestay with 10 beds.

Li said that tourism has changed the lives of his family members, and without it, they wouldn't be living as well as they do now.

"My son quit his job as a teacher and brought his family back to help me manage the business. I am a third-generation tulou owner, and I'm protecting our heritage so that more people will have the chance to see the architectural treasures of the Hakka people."

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