The Arts



Hakka Architecture



Hakka architecture is a building style in southern China unique to the Hakka people. They are typically designed for defensive purposes and consist of one entrance and no windows at ground level.


A Hakka house in southern Fujian.
Fig 1

There are about 30,000 earth buildings, dating mostly from the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, in the Fujian Province, southern and eastern China.

Many are still occupied but modern life and work in distant places have caused many to move into modern buildings. As this Hakka architecture is unique in the world, the State Bureau of Cultural Relics of China has applied to UNESCO for the Earth buildings to be placed on the World Cultural Heritage List.

The Hakka were originally immigrants from northern China who settled in the southern provinces. From the 17th century onwards, population pressures drove them more and more into conflict with their neighbors (called punti in Cantonese). As rivalry for resources turned to armed warfare, the Hakka began building communal living structures designed to be easily defensible. These houses, sometimes called tulou, were often round in shape and internally divided into many compartments for food storage, living quarters, ancestral temple, armory etc. The largest houses covered over 40,000 m and it is not unusual to find surviving houses of over 10,000 m.


Examples of Hakka tu lou buildings in Fujian with terraced rice fields in back.
Fig 2

The materials used for Hakka architecture vary between brick and stone. The external wall is typically 1 meter in thickness and the entire building could be up to three or four stories in height. Often turrets were also built to extend the range of defensive power and to cover otherwise indefensible points. Battlements were also constructed on the top floor for muskets. The gate was the most vulnerable point and it was usually reinforced with stone and covered with iron. A number of smaller gates followed, in case the outer one was breached. With the exception of a few excessively large forts, Hakka houses usually only had one entrance. The round shape of the walls, which became popular in later stages, added to the defensive value of the fortifications and reduced the firepower of artillery against it. A Hakka fort could withstand a protracted siege, since it was well stocked with grains and had an internal source of water. They often also had their own sophisticated sewage systems.

The architectural style of Hakka forts is largely unique in China and around the world. The typical Chinese house contains a courtyard and other than pagodas, does not often contain any structures higher than two stories. The origins of Hakka architecture have been traced to older forms of fortifications in southern China, as seen in Han Dynasty and Three Kingdoms tomb models unearthed in Guangzhou, Guangdong and in Ezhou, Hubei.

There are three types of Hakka dwellings:

1. Phoenix house 五鳳樓
2. Round house 土樓, 圓屋
3. Piang Fong 平房 (Ping Fang in Mandarin= flat house)

Tu lou

The interior of a Tu lou.
Fig 3

The Hakkas who settled in mountainous south western Fujian province in China developed unique architectural buildings called tu lou, literally meaning earthen structures. Because of the undesirable mountainous regions, the Hakkas set up these unique homes to prevent attack from bandits and marauders. The tu lou are either round or square, and were designed as a large fortress and apartment building in one. Structures typically had only one entranceway and no windows at ground level. Each floor served a different function- the first hosts a well and livestock, the second is for food storage and the third and higher floors contain living spaces.

As well as providing a defense from enemies, the tu lou has the additional advantages of being quakeproof, fireproof, theft proof, having good ventilation and day lighting. Also due to their thickness, the earthen walls help to provide thermal insulation and preservation, which makes the building warm in winter and cool in summer.

Tu lou can be found mostly in south western Fujian and southern Jiangxi provinces.


The the largest communities of Hakkas worldwide, live mostly in eastern Guangdong, in particular the so-called Xing-Mei (Xingning-Meixian) Area, whereas most the oversea descended Hakkas came from Huizhou. Unlike their kin in Fujian, the Hakkas in the Xingning and Meixian area developed a non-fortress like unique architectural styles, most notably the weilongwu (围龙屋; wilngwū) and sijiaolou (四角楼; sjǐaolu).



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