The Chinese Zodiac – The Dragon

The fifth animal in the Chinese zodiac is arguably its most iconic member: the noble and illustrious Dragon. During the Jade Emperor’s great race across the river, the Emperor was shocked when the Dragon did not come first. After all, the Dragon could simply fly over the river. It turns out the kind-hearted Dragon had noticed a village that was on fire, so he rushed over to douse out the flames before returning to the race. In this way, he landed fifth place and became the fifth animal of the zodiac. 

Years of the Dragon

If you were lucky enough to have been born in the year 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012, or 2024 then you belong to the sign of the Dragon. It’s important to note that the Chinese zodiac follows the Chinese lunar calendar, which begins in late-January or early-February. For example, Chinese New Year fell on February 5th in 2000, so anyone born before that date actually belongs to the Year of the Rabbit and not the Year of the Dragon. In short, you’ve just become a little more grounded!

Lucky Signs and Symbols

Dragon people should take heed of the numbers 1, 3, 6, 7, 8, and 9. One, six, and seven are sure to bring you good fortune, but three, seven, and eight will usher in disaster! Gold, silver, and greyish white are your lucky colours, while misfortune comes in the form of blue and green.

Characteristics of the Dragon

Among the Chinese zodiac, the Dragon is the only mythical beast, but it is also considered the most powerful. Those born under the sign of the Dragon are said to be courageous, tenacious, highly intelligent, ambitious, confident, enthusiastic, magnanimous, decisive, romantic, and inspiring. Yet all of these positive attributes come with a price! They can easily drive people away with their arrogance, hot-headedness, tactlessness, intolerance, aggressiveness, and impatience.

Romantic Compatibility

The Dragon’s cantankerous and dominant nature means they can be hard to establish a romantic relationship with. Dragons should ideally look for love with the Rat, the Tiger, and the Snake, while the Pig and other Dragons are best off as good friends. They can form complementary matches with the Monkey and the Rooster, but matches with the Rabbit and the Horse will be average at best. They should avoid matches with the Ox, the Sheep, and the Dog at all costs, as they are bound to end in heartache.

Job Prospects

The Dragon’s willingness to challenge themselves and take risks means they are well-suited to careers in journalism, education, management, law, engineering, architecture, brokering, and sales.

How to Manage Your Relationship with the Dragon

When searching for romantic partners or even friends, Dragons are often hesitant to commit themselves and move forward when it comes to deepening the relationship. Once they have firmly decided to make a permanent commitment, however, it is not a decision they take lightly, meaning they intend for that relationship to last potentially for the rest of their lives. When they are in a romantic relationship or close friendship, the Dragon will reveal their warm-hearted nature and they are known for being incredibly generous to their loved ones.

The Elemental Cycle

As we mentioned in our introduction to the Chinese zodiac, the 12-year animal cycle is part of a much wider 60-year elemental cycle, meaning that each year of the zodiac is also assigned an element. People born in 1964 or 2024 belong to the Year of the Wood Dragon, making them more introverted, less enthusiastic, but nonetheless very talented. The Fire Dragons, who were born in 1976, are known for being smart and easy-going, although they are distinctly unreliable.

Anyone born in 1928 or 1988 is an Earth Dragon, meaning they are exceedingly smart, ambitious, and hardworking. Those born in 1940 or 2000 are Metal Dragons, who are renowned for being sincere and straightforward, but can also be unpredictable, changeable, and moody. Finally, the Water Dragons of 1952 and 2012 have a vigorous, determined, and perceptive disposition.

So, if you were born in the Year of the Dragon, try not to let your fiery temper burn too many bridges!

The Chinese Zodiac – The Rabbit

During the Jade Emperor’s great race across the river, the Rabbit could not swim, but used its ingenuity and strong legs to hop between stepping stones and floating logs on the water. This is how he earned his admirable place as the fourth animal in the Chinese zodiac. 

Years of the Rabbit

If you were born in the years 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, or 2023 then you belong to the sign of the Rabbit. It’s important to note that the Chinese zodiac follows the Chinese lunar calendar, which begins in late-January or early-February. For example, Chinese New Year fell on January 25th in 1963, so anyone born before that date actually belongs to the Year of the Tiger and not the Year of the Rabbit. In short, you just got a very rapid promotion up the food chain!

Lucky Signs and Symbols

Rabbit people should be vigilant when it comes to the numbers 1, 3, 4, 6, 7, and 8. Three, four, and six will usher in prosperity, but one, seven, and eight are sure to bring you misfortune! Red, pink, purple, and blue are your lucky colours, while dark brown, dark yellow, and white should be avoided at all costs. 

Characteristics of the Rabbit

People born under the sign of the Rabbit may not be as bold as the Tiger or as strong as the Ox, but they make up for it with their gentle and likable character. They are known for being quiet, elegant, alert, quick, kind, scholarly, intelligent, patient, and responsible. The male Rabbit is a true gentleman, while the female Rabbit is demure and pure of heart. Their enduring loyalty makes them great companions, although they are often overly-discreet and rarely reveal their minds to others. Catch them on a bad day and you’ll find them melancholy, stubborn, and superficial. Their excessively cautious and conservative nature means that, if they hesitate for too long, they can miss out on profitable opportunities. 

Romantic Compatibility

The Rabbit’s friendly disposition means they can get along with most other signs, but should look for love in the Rat, the Sheep, the Monkey, the Dog, or the Pig. They can form respectable matches with the Ox, while matches with the Tiger, the Horse, the Dragon, and other Rabbits will simply be quite average. When it comes to romance, they should avoid the Rooster and the Snake completely. 

Job Prospects

Loved by those around them for their warm-heartedness, those born under the sign of the Rabbit are well-suited for careers in health care, medicine, politics, art, education, and judiciary work.

How to Manage Your Relationship with the Rabbit 

Managing your relationships with the Rabbit couldn’t be easier, as they are kind-hearted and make for easy friends. Their gentle and considerate nature means they often have a wide circle of friends who value them highly, while their great sense of humour means they can bring people together and break the tension when there are disputes. The main problem, however, is that the Rabbit often has an excess of kindness, which can lead to conflicts of interest. Their universal love and respect for all of their friends means they are frequently manipulated and taken advantage of. 

The Elemental Cycle

As we mentioned in our last post, the 12-year animal cycle is part of a much wider 60-year elemental cycle, meaning that each year of the zodiac is also assigned an element. People born in 1975 belong to the Year of the Wood Rabbit, lending them the extra qualities of cleverness, quick-wittedness, selfishness, liveliness, and a discerning eye. The Fire Rabbits, who were born in 1927 or 1987, are known for being open-minded, smart, and flexible, with unique opinions and views.  

Anyone born in 1939 or 1999 is an Earth Rabbit, meaning they are frank, straightforward, ambitious, hard-working, but slightly reserved. Those born in 1951 or 2011 are Metal Rabbits, who are renowned for being kind-hearted, old-fashioned, lively, and enthusiastic. Finally, the Water Rabbits of 1963 or 2023 have a gentle and amicable disposition, with an ability to adjust easily to different situations, although they suffer from a generally weak mind-set.

So if you were born in the Year of the Rabbit, don’t feel Watership Down! With your bright eyes and fluffy tail, you’re sure to have a prosperous future.

The Chinese Zodiac – The Tiger

The third animal in Chinese zodiac is also one of its most formidable members: the noble and ferocious Tiger.

Years of the Tiger

If you were lucky enough to have been born in the years 1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010, or 2022 it seems you have the Eye of the Tiger (and all of the other attributes too)! Please be sure to note that the Chinese zodiac follows the Chinese lunar calendar, which begins in late-January or early-February. This means that Chinese New Year fell on January 23rd in 1974 so, if you were born before that date, you actually belong to the Year of the Ox and not the Year of the Tiger. In short, you become the prey, and not the predator!

Lucky Signs and Symbols

Tiger people should look out for the numbers 1, 3, 4, 6, 7, and 8. One, three, and four are sure to bring you good fortune, while six, seven, and eight may prove to be disastrous! Blue, grey, and orange are your lucky colours, but beware of brown, as it may bring trouble.

Characteristics of the Tiger

The Tiger is known in China as the “King of Animals”, so it should come as no surprise that those born under its sign make capable leaders. People born in the Year of the Tiger are said to be brave, loyal, trustworthy, self-confident, charming, well-liked, resilient, intelligent, authoritative, and hard-working. That being said, their capacity to lead is often hindered by their arrogance, impetuousness, short-temperedness, and overindulgent nature.

Romantic Compatibility

When it comes to finding love, the Tiger should look to the Dragon, the Horse, and the Pig for a harmonious match, although they are also reasonably well-suited to matches with the Rooster and the Dog. They are better off as friends with the Sheep, while matches with the Rat and the Rabbit will be average at best. They should avoid the Ox, the Snake, the Monkey, and other Tigers, for those matches will be riddled with troubles and disagreements.  

Job Prospects

Those born under the sign of the Tiger are renowned for their indomitable spirit and ability to deal with anything that comes their way, which makes them well-suited for careers in management, travel, advertising, hospitality, art, acting, writing, music, and comedy.

It is believed that they will struggle early in their career, but will hit their stride once they reach their thirties or forties. 

How to Manage Your Relationship with the Tiger

When it comes to all of their personal relationships, the Tiger always seeks to take the dominant role. Due to their natural distrust of others and their over-confidence in themselves, they do not like having to listen to others and are thus not particularly good at networking in social situations. Their relationships are often strained by the commanding language and attitude with which they address others. This means that, while they might be acquainted with a lot of people, they have very few, if any, close friendships. If you want to get closer to someone born under the sign of the Tiger, you will need a great deal of patience and sensitivity. 

This unfortunately has a negative impact on romantic relationships as well, as those born in the year of the Tiger are believed to be incapable of showing deep levels of affection towards their partner, as they lack any sense of romance. Anyone who wishes to engage in a romantic relationship with them will need to keep up with their high octane lifestyle and adventurous impulses. 

The Elemental Cycle

As we mentioned in our introduction to the Chinese zodiac, the 12-year animal cycle is part of a much wider 60-year elemental cycle, meaning that each year of the zodiac is also assigned an element. People born in 1974 belong to the Year of the Wood Tiger, lending them the extra qualities of compassion, self-righteousness, and openness. The Fire Tigers, who were born in 1926 or 1986, are known for being optimistic and independent, but lack self-control. 

Anyone born in 1938 or 1998 is an Earth Tiger, meaning they are adventurous, ambitious, and practical. Those born in 1950 or 2010 are Metal Tigers, who are renowned for being peaceful, considerate, and caring, although not terribly talkative. Finally, the Water Tigers of 1962 or 2022 have a powerful sense of self-esteem and an exceptional capacity to learn new skills.

So, if you’re lucky enough to have been born under the sign of the Tiger, embrace your fearful symmetry and burn bright!

The Chinese Zodiac – The Ox

According to legend, when the Jade Emperor held his great race across the river, the Ox was assured to win first place, as he was a natural-born swimmer. However, out of kindness, he agreed to carry the cunning Rat on his back. Just before they reached the finish line, the Rat jumped off his snout and landed on the bank in first place. Having been so rudely tricked, the Ox had to settle for second place in the zodiac.  

Years of the Ox

If you were born in the years 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, or 2021 then you belong to the sign of the Ox. That being said, the Chinese zodiac follows the Chinese lunar calendar, which begins in late-January or early-February. For example, Chinese New Year fell on February 20th in 1985 so, if you were born before that date, you belong to the Year of the Rat and not the Year of the Ox. Just don’t go gloating to other Ox people about your last minute victory!

Lucky Signs and Symbols

If you’re an Ox person, be sure to look out for the numbers 1, 4, 5, and 6. One and four are your magic numbers, while five and six are sure to bring you woe! White, yellow, and green are your lucky colours, but blue will herald only misfortune.

Characteristics of the Ox

Those born in the Year of the Ox are said to be diligent, dependable, strong, determined, honest, patriotic, and ambitious, with strong ties to their family and traditional values. Much like their beefy counterpart, they are no stranger to hard work, making them well-suited for careers where they can get their hands dirty! 

While they excel at physical tasks, they struggle in social situations, as they are poor communicators and can be very set in their ways. Though they have plenty of friends, their inarticulate and stubborn nature means they prefer solo activities and do not work well in groups.

Romantic Compatibility

When it comes to the nebulous world of romance, the Ox is most compatible with the Rat, the Snake, and the Rooster. Evidently the Ox got over the Rat’s betrayal after all! The Rabbit and the Dog can also make for suitable matches, while matches with the Monkey or another Ox will prove to be distinctly average. The Pig can either be the perfect match or the Ox’s worst enemy, but the Ox should absolutely steer clear of the Tiger, the Dragon, the Horse, and the Sheep!

Job Prospects

The Ox’s love of manual labour and their excellent work ethnic means they are well-suited to careers in carpentry, agriculture, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, politics, mechanics, craftsmanship, interior decorating, and engineering. 

How to Manage Your Relationship with the Ox

Those born under the sign of the Ox are said to be notoriously poor at communicating with others, so they are markedly introverted and prefer solitude to engaging in group activities. They take the few friendships that they have very seriously and thus make for loyal, dependable companions. 

When it comes to romantic relationships, the Ox is similarly dedicated and tends towards long-term relationships, as frequent break-ups or new relationships make them feel deeply uncomfortable. They may not be particularly passionate or enthusiastic partners, but they more than make up for it by being especially honest and reliable. 

The Elemental Cycle

As we mentioned in our introduction to the Chinese zodiac, the 12-year animal cycle is part of a much wider 60-year elemental cycle, meaning that each year of the zodiac is also assigned an element. People born in 1925 or 1985 belong to the Year of the Wood Ox, lending them the extra qualities of restlessness, decisiveness, straightforwardness, and a capacity to always defend the weak and helpless. The Fire Oxen, who were born in 1937 or 1997, are known for being short-sighted, selfish, narrow-minded, impersonal, but practical in nature.

Anyone born in 1949 or 2009 is an Earth Ox, meaning they are honest and prudent, with a strong sense of responsibility. Those born in 1961 or 2021 are Metal Oxen, who are renowned for being hardworking, active, always busy, and popular among their friends. Finally, the Water Oxen of 1973 are hardworking, ambitious, tenacious, keen observers who are able to endure hardship and have a strong sense of justice.

So next time you call someone a dumb Ox and they don’t respond, it’s probably because they’re too busy ploughing their way to the top!

The Chinese Zodiac-The Rat

The Rat is the first sign in the 12-year zodiac cycle because, according to legend, he tricked the Ox into carrying him across the river during the Jade Emperor’s great race and jumped off his snout at the last minute, landing him the coveted first place. 

Years of the Rat

Anyone who was born in the years 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, or 2020 belongs to the sign of the Rat. However, it’s important to note that the Chinese zodiac follows the Chinese lunar calendar, which officially begins in late-January or early-February. For example, Chinese New Year fell on February 19th in 1996 so, if you were born before that date, you belong to the Year of the Pig and not the Year of the Rat. Not that either option sounds particularly tempting!

Lucky Signs and Symbols

If you happen to be a Rat person, be sure to look out for the numbers 2, 3, 5, and 9. Two and three are your lucky numbers, while five and nine may potentially herald disaster! Your lucky colours are blue, gold, and green, while unlucky colours include yellow and brown.

Characteristics of the Rat

Those born in the Year of the Rat are said to be quick-witted, charismatic, resourceful, versatile, kind, and smart. However, much like their furry counterparts, Rat people are thought to be devious, cowardly, picky, opportunistic, and narrow-minded. They work well alone, but do not make particularly good leaders or co-operative team members.

Romantic Compatibility

When it comes to love, the Ox, Rabbit, and Dragon are the best matches for the Rat, while the Monkey, Dog, and Pig are also considered suitable. The Tiger or another Rat will form an average match, and the Snake is better off as just a friend. The Sheep may prove to be the perfect match, but is more likely to end up as a sworn enemy. Matches with the Horse and Rooster are to be avoided at all costs! 

Job Prospects

When it comes to job prospects, people born under the sign of the Rat are known for their insight, good judgement, and cautious nature. They take their careers very seriously and are meticulous when it comes to accomplishing tasks. For this reason, they are said to be suited to careers in business, law, performance, and politics. In particular, those born in the Year of the Rat are well-equipped for careers as administrators, directors, managers, entrepreneurs, broadcasters, writers, musicians, stand-up comedians, politicians, lawyers, researchers, and even racing car drivers!

How to Manage Your Relationship with the Rat

Those born under the sign of the Rat are active in all aspects of their life, including socially. They often have a broad, flexible social circle and are attracted to wide range of social occasions. Their innate charm and charisma means they are capable of attracting others with ease. Be forewarned: while Rats enjoy forging new friendships, these friendships oftentimes remain superficial and they seldom invest the time to further or deepen their relationships. 

This similarly applies to romantic relationships, as they easily start relationships but often break them off just as quickly. They are unsurprisingly rumoured to be prone to infidelity, putting paid to the term “love rat”!

The Elemental Cycle

As we mentioned in our introduction to the Chinese zodiac, the 12-year animal cycle is part of a much wider 60-year elemental cycle, meaning that each year of the zodiac is also assigned an element. People born in 1924 or 1984 belong to the Year of the Wood Rat, lending them the extra qualities of being independent, self-confident, virtuous, and talented, with a strong sense of teamwork. The Fire Rats, who were born in 1936 or 1996, are known for being energetic, brave, quiet, cordial, and easy-going with their friends, but very strict with themselves. 

Anyone born in 1948 or 2008 is an Earth Rat, meaning they are amiable, honest, flexible, modest, serious, and have a strong sense of self-esteem. Those born in 1960 or 2020 are Metal Rats, exhibiting intelligence, skill, hot-temperedness, a jealous nature, and a strong sense of self-awareness. Finally, the Water Rats of 1972 are talkative, shrewd, conservative, and wise.

So remember: next time you call someone a rat, you might just be paying them a compliment!

The Chinese Zodiac


Have you ever spent hours pondering over your horoscope, wondering who that “unexpected visitor” might be or what “you will receive a cosmic gift” might mean? If you thought that was complicated, be thankful that you never grew up in China! While some regard it as an antiquated pastime, the Chinese zodiac still plays a focal role in the lives of numerous Chinese people. It is based on a 12-year cycle with 12 different animals representing each year. 

The 12 Zodiac Animals

In order, the 12 animals assigned to the Chinese zodiac are the Rat, the Ox, the Tiger, the Rabbit, the Dragon, the Snake, the Horse, the Sheep/Goat, the Monkey, the Rooster, the Dog, and the Pig. Therefore, if you were born in 1990, you belong to the Year of the Horse. Anyone born in 1974 is a Tiger, and those born in 2016 are all a bunch of Monkeys! It is believed that you take on the characteristics of your animal sign. Those born in the Year of the Rat are shrewd but also cunning; a Pig is sluggish and lazy but will make up for it with their warm-hearted nature; and Rabbits are as timid as they are gentle and compassionate.

But how did these animals end up in this specific order? To answer that question, we’re going to have to delve into one of China’s oldest legends.

The Great Race

Long ago, the Jade Emperor, the highest ranking deity according to the traditional Chinese pantheon, decided to create a new way of measuring time by splitting it up into a 12-year cycle. As he pondered over his creation, he couldn’t help but feel that a certain earthly element was missing. He surmised that, to fix this problem, he would dedicate each year to a specific animal. 

On his birthday, he announced to all the animals across China that there was to be a swimming race. The first twelve animals to cross the fast-flowing river would become the fabled animals of the Chinese zodiac. 

The morning of the race arrived, and all of the animals waited tentatively on the banks of the river. Realising that he was not a strong swimmer, the cunning rat took advantage of the kind ox and convinced the ox to carry him on his back. The ox was accustomed to water and, while the other animals struggled against the strong current, he made it across easily. However, right before he reached the other bank, the rat leapt from his nose and into first place.

“Well done,” said the Jade Emperor to the proud rat, “thanks to your craftiness, the first year of the zodiac shall be dedicated to you.”

The poor ox, who had been so cruelly tricked, had to settle for second place and thus the second year of the zodiac. 

Shortly after, the tiger clawed his way onto the bank. Strong though he was, swimming against the powerful currents had been an enormous struggle and he was exhausted. His efforts were greatly rewarded, as he became the third animal in the zodiac. 

The rabbit, who was not a capable swimmer, used his muscular legs to jump on stepping stones and floating logs. In this way, he crossed the river and came fourth. However, when the dragon finally arrived in fifth place, the Jade Emperor was deeply bemused.

“Why didn’t you just fly across the river?” the Emperor asked, “Surely you should have won the race.”

“Before the race started, I noticed there was a village on fire,” the kind-hearted dragon replied, “so I flew to it instead and doused the fire out with rain. This is why I was so late.”

As the sound of horses hooves echoed in the air, the Jade Emperor was certain that the horse would be the next animal. However, just as he was about to cross the finish line, the sneaky snake wriggled out from under his hoof where he had been hiding and scared the horse so badly that he leapt back. Thus the snake came in sixth place, and the horse in seventh. According to traditional Chinese culture, this is cited as the reason why horses will always stamp snakes to death!

The next three to arrive were the sheep, the monkey, and the rooster. They had worked together, with the sheep swimming steadily, the monkey clearing the reeds away with his hands, and the rooster keeping time with his mighty voice. They became the eighth, ninth, and tenth animals of the zodiac respectively.

When the dog arrived in eleventh place, the Jade Emperor once again found himself in a state of confusion.

“You are one of the strongest swimmers in the animal kingdom,” the Jade Emperor said, “why have you arrived so late?”

“The water was so clean,” said the simple dog, “I had to stop and take a bath first!”

After a long time waiting, the Jade Emperor became frustrated. He wondered when the twelfth and final animal of the zodiac would finally arrive. Suddenly he heard a grunt, and saw the pig emerging from the river.

“You took your time!” said the Emperor.

“I was hungry, so I stopped to eat,” the pig responded, “Then I became sleepy, so I took a nap.”

Thus the last year of the zodiac was dedicated to the pig. 

But what about the cat?

The cat and the rat had supposedly made a pact to go to the race together. The cat decided to take a quick nap to boost his energy, and asked the rat to wake him up before the race. When the time came, the sly rat realised that the cat represented more competition, and so left him to sleep. Thus the cat never made it to the race, never became part of the Chinese zodiac, and to this day cats still hate rats because of it!

The Zodiac System

While it is relatively easy to figure out which animal sign your birth year belongs to, the zodiac system isn’t quite as simple as it may first seem. While the year you were born in denotes the animal that people perceive you as being or how you present yourself, there are also zodiac animals assigned to the month, day, and hour of your birth. Your month animal is your “inner animal”, your day animal is your “true animal”, and your hour animal is your “secret animal”. The closer to the time of birth, the more characteristics of that animal you will truly have. 

Therefore a person could be born in the Year of the Dragon, but they might also be a Snake internally, an Ox truly, and a Dog secretively. This means that they appear to be like a Dragon, but deep down they are actually much more like a Dog.

As if that wasn’t complex enough, the 12-year animal cycle is also part of a wider 60-year elemental cycle, revolving around the Five Elements of Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, and Wood. For example, while you and your mother may have both been born in the Year of the Dog, people born in 1970 are Metal Dogs, while those born in 1994 are Wood Dogs. 

In essence, you take on the characteristics of not only your animal sign, but also your elemental sign. Metal Dogs will exhibit more firmness, rigidity, persistence, strength, and determination than other Dogs, while Wood Dogs have strength but also flexibility, alongside warmth, generosity, co-operation, and an idealistic nature.

If you want to know more about what zodiac sign you belong to and what that means, be sure to check out our individual articles on each of the 12 zodiac animals. You’ll find everything you need to know about your sign’s characteristics, compatibility, suitable occupations, and future prospects. That being said, it is important not to take your zodiac sign too seriously. After all, no matter what any fortune teller might say, you are in control of your own destiny!

The Rat / The Ox / The Tiger / The Rabbit

The Dragon / The Snake / The Horse / The Sheep/Goat

The Monkey / The Rooster / The Dog / The Pig



Qilou, also known as Tong Lau, are a unique style of architecture that became hugely popular throughout many regions in southern China, such as Guangdong province, Fujian province, Macau, and Hong Kong, during the late 19th century. The style originated from the bustling city of Guangzhou, which was a commercial port used frequently for foreign trade. The foreign influence on this style of architecture is palpable, as it resembles a perfect intermingling of traditional Chinese and Western styles of architecture. Earlier Qilou tend to exhibit more Edwardian or Neoclassical characteristics, while the later Qilou, particularly those in Hong Kong, were heavily influenced by the Bauhaus movement. 

In terms of structure, the majority of Qilou are two to four storeys in height and have a balcony on the upper floors that extends into the street. The balconies of neighbouring Qilou join together in order to form a shaded corridor over the sidewalk itself. From the exterior, the upper floors are supported by a series of brick pillars and the windows are generally French in style. They were initially designed for both commercial and residential use, with the ground floor being used by small businesses and the upper floors typically occupied by the shopkeepers’ family. 

Guangdong Province and Fujian Province


The history behind the early Qilou in the provinces of Guangdong and Fujian is far from glamorous. Following a series of invasions by foreign powers, such as the First and Second Opium Wars, certain parts of China were forced to open for trade, in particular the coastal areas of Guangdong province and Fujian province. In 1759, Guangzhou in Guangdong province became home to the first official foreign trading port, while the city of Xiamen in Fujian province established maritime trading with British Singapore in 1821 and the provincial capital of Fuzhou opened to foreign trade in 1842. That being said, it seems that every cloud has a silver lining!

The foreign trading paths opened in these areas allowed thousands of local Chinese people to emigrate overseas, which meant they could escape the impoverished regions where they lived. This provided them with access to untold business and employment opportunities, which led to several emigrants becoming extremely rich. These emigrants then invested in their hometowns by building lavish and luxurious Qilou for their families. 


The earliest Qilou were masterminded by these wealthy businessmen to serve as stylish shops, so you’ll find many of them in the old business sector of Guangzhou, Chaoshan, and Zhangzhou. While the Qilou in Guangzhou and Chaoshan of Guangdong province exhibit more Western features, the ones found in the city of Zhangzhou in Fujian province were built in a far more traditionally Chinese style, since Zhangzhou was not subjected to as much Western influence. The town of Chikan in Guangdong province is particularly famous for its beautifully preserved Qilou, most of which line the banks of the Tan River. 

Hong Kong

While early Qilou in Hong Kong generally resemble those found in the provinces of Fujian and Guangdong, the ones that were built after World War II are far simpler in design. They were primarily intended to deal with the post-war baby boom and sudden influx of immigrants from mainland China. The elaborate iron balconies that were typical of older Qilou were replaced by cheaper concrete ones and the roofs were often flat with an open terrace, which provided additional residential space. In a similar vein, delicate wooden French windows gave way to less aesthetically pleasing but infinitely more cost effective stainless steel windows.

The upper floors of these Qilou were partitioned off so that they could house more than one family or several tenants, which resulted in increasingly smaller living spaces. During the 1970s and 1980s, air conditioning units and clothes racks were added in order to accommodate the needs of a modernising society. It was during this period that the emblematic neon shop signs of Hong Kong were also added to these Qilou.  

Nowadays, the largest concentration of Qilou can be found on Wing Lee Street, which is known as the last remaining Qilou street in Hong Kong. There are 12 Qilou that line this street and they all date back to the 1950s. The street’s greatest claim to fame is that it was used as a set for the Chinese film Time, the Thief, which won the Crystal Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival in 2010. Don’t worry; although this street may be a superstar, the crowds along it are far from unbearable!

the Blue House

There are a number of individual Qilou in Hong Kong that have also skyrocketed to fame, thanks predominantly to investment from various businesses. The Lui Seng Chun, for example, is a Qilou that was converted into a popular traditional Chinese medicine clinic in 2008 and became the Hong Kong Baptist University School of Chinese Medicine. It is now home to a delightful herbal tea shop on its ground floor, as well as a small exhibition that contains photographs of the old Lui Seng Chun.

Similarly, a four-storey Qilou housing cluster known as the Blue House, which was built during the 1920s, has recently been renovated. You may be surprised to hear that its distinctive blue colour was not a deliberate aesthetic choice by its designer, but was simply the only colour of paint that the decorators had left! In the 1950s and 1960s, it served as the kung-fu studio for Lam Sai-wing, a student of the nationally renowned Cantonese folk hero and kung-fu master Wong Fei-hung. 


The majority of remaining Qilou in Macau can be found on Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro near the Largo do Senado. They are generally considered to be better preserved than the ones in Hong Kong, as they were regularly restored rather than being demolished to make way for newer buildings. Since Macau was a Portuguese colony, these Qilou unsurprisingly exhibit a number of features that are typical of Portuguese colonial architecture. Nowadays, these Qilou are no longer occupied and have instead been entirely repurposed for commercial use. 

Hainan Province

While many of the Qilou on the island of Hainan have fallen to ruin, the ones located in the cities of Haikou and Wenchang have been beautifully preserved as a result of renovation campaigns supported by the local government. In Haikou, the most famous area to visit Qilou is along the historic Bo’ai Road at the heart of the city, which is often referred to locally as “Qilou Old Street”. Much of the road has been converted into a pedestrianised zone, meaning visitors can admire the Qilou at their leisure without the fear of the tumultuous inner city traffic! At night, the stunning facades of these buildings are illuminated by a series of lights, which adds to the vibrant atmosphere of the area. Similarly, in the city of Wenchang, all of the Qilou along Wennan Old Street have been restored to their former glory. Unlike Haikou, however, their facades have not been repainted and still maintain their traditional grey colour.

Explore more about Qilou with us on the unique travel: Explore the Ancient Fortresses of Southeast China

Kaiping Diaolou

Looming over the countryside of Guangdong province, the Kaiping Diaolou have a certain haunting grandeur that is undeniably captivating. These fortified watchtowers are located mainly in Kaiping County and are part of an architectural tradition that dates all the way back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Their unusual mixture of Western and traditionally Chinese architectural features, coupled with their seamless integration into the natural landscape, make them unique among historical attractions in China. Yet it seems their initial purpose, to keep bandits and strangers away, has worked a little too well! In spite of being collectively designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007, they still see very little tourist traffic and represent one of the country’s most underrated hidden gems. 

While multi-storeyed defence towers were a staple feature of Kaiping County towards the end of the Ming Dynasty, the first proper diaolou weren’t built until the start of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912). They reached their peak popularity during the 1920s and 1930s, during which time there were over 3,000 of these magnificent fortresses spread across Guangdong province. Nowadays approximately 1,800 diaolou remain in Kaiping, with a further 500 being found in Taishan. 

They can be roughly separated into three different types depending on their function: communal diaolou, which were built by several families to be used as a temporary refuge during times of disaster; residential diaolou, which belonged to wealthier, individual families and acted as homes; and defensive diaolou, which solely functioned as watchtowers to guard the local community. They are mainly built of stone, pisé (compressed earth), brick, or concrete and have characteristically narrow windows and doors, thick walls, and reinforced structures.

Historically speaking, the residents of Kaiping County were well-known for emigrating abroad, as their proximity to the coast made maritime travel much easier. After amassing a substantial fortune, many of these overseas Chinese would often return and settle back in Kaiping. However, their wealth made them a target for roving bandits, so they began building the diaolou as a form of protection. As an area of rice production, the region was also subject to frequent flooding, so the diaolou provided the perfect refuge during times of inclement weather. 

Since these returning émigré had travelled throughout the West, they wanted to imitate many of the Western architectural trends they had witnessed, and this is reflected in the Baroque, Roman, and Gothic exteriors of the diaolou. In some cases, the local builders would work simply from images on postcards that were sent from abroad, adding their own unique twist to their constructions. However, the interiors of the diaolou remained distinctly Chinese, resulting in a rare and beautiful fusion between Western and Eastern architectural styles. In many ways, these flamboyant designs were a way for the returning businessmen to show off their immense wealth, and families would often compete with one another over who could afford the most lavish diaolou.

Li Garden

The largest is known as Ruishi Diaolou and can be found behind the village of Jinjiangli. It was originally constructed in 1921 and is a staggering nine storeys high, with a Byzantine roof and a stately Roman dome. While it is technically the tallest, the most luxurious diaolou is to be found at Li Garden. This colossal complex is made up of one diaolou, six villas, two gardens, several waterways, and a number of bridges, and was the brainchild of a wealthy Chinese businessman named Xie Weili. After returning from the United States, Xie set about building his extravagant new home and even imported materials from overseas to add a touch of authenticity. 

At the time of its construction in 1936, it came equipped with several modern Western features, such as flushing indoor toilets, sinks, marble tiles, and fireplaces. Bear in mind, the typical residence in those days was usually a small cottage with an outdoor toilet, so Xie’s home was nothing short of revolutionary! Its finest features include a 20-metre-tall (66 ft.) golden pavilion shaped like a birdcage, a green pond for turtles, and a private canal that links the complex to Hong Kong, over 133 kilometres (83 mi) away. Every window of every building was reinforced with four panes of glass to protect it against firearms. After all, when you’re rich enough to afford your own human bird-cage, you’re bound to attract fowl play!

Other diaolou of note include Fangshi Denglou, which is nicknamed the “Light Tower” because of its enormous searchlight, and Nan Lou, where locals in the town of Chikan famously fought off the Japanese invasion for 7 days before tragically being captured and killed. While they may not be among the oldest historical attractions in China, the Kaiping Diaolou provide an invaluable insight into the country’s modern history and the intermingling of culture between the East and the West.  

Explore more about the unique Diaolou with us on the exclusive travel: Explore the Ancient Fortresses of Southeast China

The Yellow River

Known simultaneously as “China’s Pride”, the Yellow River has occupied a controversial space in the country’s history. At an estimated length of 5,464 kilometres (3,395 mi), it is the third longest river in Asia and the sixth longest in the world. It originates from the Bayan Har Mountains in Qinghai province of western China and crosses through nine provincial level regions before finally emptying into the Bohai Sea near the city of Dongying in Shandong province. While ancient Chinese civilisation would have been unable to develop without it, its turbulent waters have led to some of the most devastating natural disasters in human history.

The Yellow River’s long and winding path through the country can be roughly separated into three sections: the segment northeast of the Tibetan Plateau; the Ordos Loop; and the North China Plain. Characterised by clear waters and shimmering lakes, the upper reaches of the river flow mainly through pastures, swamps, and knolls between the Bayan Har Mountains and the Amne Machin Mountains of Qinghai province. As the river leaves Qinghai province and enters Gansu province, it passes through a series of 20 narrow gorges. A number of hydroelectric plants have been established in this region in order to take advantage of the river’s extremely fast and turbulent waters.

The river continues in a roughly northeastern direction until it reaches the town of Hekou in Inner Mongolia, where it turns sharply south and forms the Ordos Loop. From there, it travels south through the Loess Plateau, creating a natural border between the provinces of Shaanxi and Shanxi. It is in this section that the riverbed suddenly tapers down from 300 metres (984 ft.) in width to 50 metres (164 ft.), forming the magnificent 15 metre-high (49 ft.) Hukou Waterfall. As the river winds through the Loess Plateau, it causes substantial erosion and thus accumulates a vast amount of mud, sand, and silt. It is in this section that it takes on its iconic ochre hue, earning it the name of the Yellow River. In many ways, this sediment is both its blessing and its curse.

The Yellow River in Ordos Loop

As the river heads east towards the Gulf of Bohai and meanders through the North China Plain, it provides a colossal 140 million people with water for drinking and irrigation. The mineral-rich sediment makes the surrounding farmland incredibly fertile, which frequently results in an abundance of crops. For this reason, agricultural societies were able to survive along the rivers’ banks over 7,000 years ago, and it has been vital to the survival of people in northern China. The myriad of Neolithic, Bronze, and Iron Age archaeological sites found within the river’s drainage basin attest to the major role it played in the development of ancient Chinese civilisation.

However, in the slower reaches of the river, the sediment is deposited at random in large heaps and eventually forms small subaqueous dams, which in turn elevate the riverbed. This has created the infamous “river above ground”, as high levees are now required to keep the river within its banks. Historically, during times of flooding, the river has broken out of its levees and changed its course entirely, causing mass devastation to the surrounding countryside in the process. The rushing waters would burst forth and inundate everything in their path, including farmland, towns, and even cities. From the year 595 BC to 1946 AD, before the advent of modern dams, it is reckoned that the river shifted its course 35 times and flooded a shocking 1,593 times!

In its darkest hours, the Yellow River has been either solely or partially responsible for three of the deadliest floods in recorded history: the flood of 1332, which killed an estimated 7 million people; the 1887 flood, which caused the death of anywhere from 900,000 to 2 million people; and the 1931 floods, which resulted in the death of between 1 to 4 million people. While the floods themselves caused a substantial number of deaths, it was the ensuing famine and pestilence that drove the death toll to such staggering heights. In spite of the incredible danger that the river posed, a surprising number of these floods were actually manmade.

From the Warring States Period (c. 476-221 B.C.) onwards, sabotaging levees, canals, and reservoirs became a standard military tactic to deliberately flood areas and cause problems for the opposition. In fact, the devastating flood of 1938 was caused by the Nationalist Government, who blew up the levees at Huayuankou and flooded the provinces of Henan, Anhui, and Jiangsu in a vain attempt to halt the progress of the advancing Imperial Japanese Army during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945). The plan tragically backfired and resulted in the loss of vast tracts of farmland, the death of approximately 800,000 people, and the displacement of nearly 3 million refugees.

In its time, the Yellow River has been responsible for the rise and fall of dynasties; the reaping of bumper harvests and the absolute devastation of crops; the birth of a civilisation and the death of millions of its people. It is the lifeblood that runs through the country, as important to China as the Nile is to Egypt. Yet its power should never be underestimated. After all, as the old Chinese proverb goes: “Water can not only float a boat, it can also sink it”.

The Yellow River in Shanxi Province

Explore more about the Yellow River on our tour: Explore “the Good Earth” in Northwest China

Sichuan Opera

There are numerous differences between Western and Chinese opera, the most notable of which is that Western opera tends to follow one long plotline, while Chinese opera is usually made up of several separate components, including circus-like stunts, short dramas, and story-telling portions. This difference is never more obvious than in Sichuan opera, which thrives on its magnificent spectacles and outrageous comedic skits to keep the audience wholly entertained. Employing expert clowns, illusionists, and acrobats, it’s a performance art that represents a true feast for the eyes!

This style of opera originated from Sichuan province sometime during the end of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and is actually comprised of five other, much older styles of opera. These five styles are known as Gaoqiang, Kunqiang, Huqing voice, Tanxi, and Dengdiao or Lantern theatre. Some of them date all the way back to the Three Kingdoms Period (220-280 AD) and represent some of the oldest styles of opera in China. As their popularity began to wane, a revival movement was begun during the early 20th century. In 1912, a reformer named Kang Zhilin established the Sanqing or “Three Celebrations” Company, which came to be known as one of the most prominent opera troupes in China.

It was Kang who combined these five historic styles to form traditional Sichuan opera. Many of the trademark physical movements and tropes of this style were masterminded by Kang himself. Over time, the style not only absorbed features from the other styles, but started to incorporate elements of the province’s local languages, customs, and folk songs. In this way, it is inextricably linked to Sichuan and its heart will always remain in the provincial capital of Chengdu.

Nowadays Sichuan opera is said to boast over 3,000 stories, most of which date back to the Three Kingdoms Period, the Tang Dynasty (618-907), and the Song Dynasty (960-1279). Many of them are comedies and the style itself is renowned for its vivacity, good humour, and breath-taking stunts. The singing is usually in a higher pitch than Beijing opera and is also known for being less constrained. Unlike more dramatic styles of Chinese opera, the face paint is subtle and typically limited to the colours black, red, white, and grey. It’s missing the archetypal jing or villain character, so normally an evil character is simply indicated by a small patch of white paint in the middle of the face.

While the traditional formula for the opera is quite systematic, it is punctuated by lively acts of face-changing, beard-changing, fire-spitting, rolling light, and puppetry. The art of face-changing is unique to Chinese opera and has been a closely guarded secret for centuries. It is said the practice originated when ancient people would paint their faces to scare away wild animals, but has since been perfected into a performance art of the highest order. The act involves one performer changing their face mask within the blink of an eye, with masters of the art switching between a staggering 10 masks in less than 20 seconds!

No one knows exactly how it is done, as the secret is only passed down among theatre families, but there are roughly three methods: the wiping mask, the blowing mask, and the pulling mask. During the wiping mask routine, the actor hides cosmetic paint in his eyebrows or sideburns. At the opportune moment, he will turn away from the audience and swiftly wipe the paint into a pattern on his face. Similarly, the blowing mask routine involves the actor holding a box of powdered cosmetics and blowing on it. Since the actor will have oiled his face beforehand, the powder will naturally fly up and adhere to his face.

The pulling mask routine, however, is by far the most popular and the most complicated. The masks are delicately painted beforehand on silk fabric, which is cut, attached to a silk thread, and lightly pasted to the face. Each one is gently laid on top of the other and the silk threads are hidden somewhere within the actor’s costume. With a sharp flick of his cloak, the actor is able to pull away each mask one by one, although the exact method is still a tantalising mystery. In short, we may never know what secrets are hidden behind the mask!

The different coloured masks are used to represent the actor’s characteristics and function to tell a simple story, much like a one-man monologue. For example, red represents someone who is steadfast, black signifies the character is righteous, green or blue symbolises that they are strong or violent, and white implies the person is treacherous. This veritable rainbow of traits is the ideal way for the performer to reflect their character’s hidden feelings without speaking, since the face-changing act contains no dialogue whatsoever. In some simplified versions of the act, the performer will simply pull on his beard and have it change colour from black to grey to white, in order to show displeasure or confusion.

In many cases, face-changing is combined with the fire-spitting act to add an extra dimension of complexity. While fire-spitting is not uncommon in performances throughout the world, actors in Sichuan opera are capable of spitting a fire column that is up to 2 metres (6.6 ft.) in height! In a similarly fiery display, the act known as rolling light involves the actor performing a series of complicated acrobatic moves while balancing a bowl of fire on is head.

The character is typically a clown and the set-up is normally that of a woman angry with her husband. For example, one skit involves a married couple arguing about the husband’s gambling. Throughout the course of the argument, the wife demands that the husband perform a series of increasingly difficult tasks while balancing the bowl on his head. Other highlights include the stick puppet and shadow puppet shows, which usually revolve around traditional Chinese mythology and folktales. With so much on offer, Sichuan opera is certainly one of the most diverse forms of Chinese opera and has something to suit everyone’s tastes!