In the sleepy countryside of Yongding County, surrounded by lush green forests and misty mountains, the village of Hongkeng may not be the liveliest place in Fujian, but its certainly one of the most unique. This village is home to over 100 tulou of various shapes, styles, and sizes; of which 13 were built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and 33 were established during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912).

These tulou are gigantic, fortress-like buildings made of packed earth that were initially designed to protect inhabitants from bandits and wild animals. They resemble fortified villages and come in a variety of styles, from those of a square or rectangular shape to round and oval ones. With all of these unusually shaped buildings, Hongkeng must surely feel like a square peg in a round hole!

The first of these tulou were constructed by the Lin family during the 13th century but tragically several of the originals, including Chongyu Lou and Nanchang Lou, have since collapsed. Yet it seems the Lins were trendsetters, because it wasn’t long before other branches of the Lin clan started building their own tulou in the village. Of the many earthen structures that rise up out of the village grounds, Zhengcheng Lou, Fuyu Lou, Kuiju Lou, and Rusheng Lou have garnered the most fame.

Zhengcheng Lou was built in 1912 according to the Eight Diagrams of Bagua theory. The two wells within this tulou represent Yin and Yang, while its three gates symbolise heaven, earth and human beings respectively. The external ring of the compound is a four-storey building that has been divided into eight units or “gua”. The branch of the Lin family that established Zhengcheng Lou had also studied abroad in Europe and thus incorporated many Western features into their tulou to make it stand out. It seems T. S. Eliot’s famed proverb “good poets borrow, great poets steal” can also be applied to architects!

Fuyu Lou, on the other hand, is a completely different style of tulou known as a “Wufeng” or “Five Pheonix” tulou. Built in 1882 by three brothers, it was designed to look like a phoenix spreading its wings and its appearance was heavily influenced by Han-style architecture. The exterior supposedly looks like three mountains rising towards the sky, as the brothers wanted to imply that they were as magnificent as mountains. Modesty evidently wasn’t a family trait!

From mountains to mansions, Kuiju Lou is a large, square-shaped tulou that was built to resemble a palace, earning it the alternate name “Potala Palace”. Unlike many of the other earthen buildings, the interior is bedecked with sculptures, colourful murals, and complex architectural features. After all, a man’s house is his castle, and a family’s tulou is their palace!

Size may have mattered to the owners of these first three tulou, but Rusheng Lou is famous precisely because it is the smallest tulou in existence. It was built sometime between 1875 and 1908, and is just 17 metres in diameter, with only three-storeys and 16 rooms to house its inhabitants. The name “rusheng” means “as if to rise”; perhaps because the optimistic owner hoped it would grow over time!

Hakka Performance

Hakka Performance

The Hakka people have become known for a type of folk song known as Hakka Hill Songs. These rural songs are sung exclusively in the Hakka language and many of them are over 1,000 years old! Originally they were designed as a method of communication over distance. Since the Hakka people mostly live in mountainous regions, singing was a better means of communication than the spoken word because the higher pitch of sound would carry further. Some people even believe that in the past they were used as a method of flirtation between young men and women. So next time your mobile phone has no signal, just try singing instead!

The theme of the songs can vary from love to personal etiquette, although some focus on more sombre topics such as hard work and poverty. Nowadays many Hakka Hill Songs are improvised on the spot and convey a specific message or express the singer’s feelings. The lyrics may also contain puzzles as a way to entertain or challenge the listener. Other singers will then answer the puzzle in the form of another song with a similar tune. Guangdong’s Meixian Prefecture is home to many Hakka people and they frequently hold Hakka Hill Song competitions, where they invite competitors from across China to participate in battles of wit and melody!



Hakka Cuisine


Hakka cuisine

The cooking style of the Hakka people, also known as Hakka or Kuhchia cuisine, originated mainly from the provinces of Guangdong, Fujian, Jiangxi, and Guangxi. It is marked by its emphasis on the texture of food rather than the flavour, so they are masters of stewing, braising, and roasting meat. Their skill lies in their ability to cook meat thoroughly without making it tough and to naturally bring out the umami or meaty flavour of their ingredients. The simplicity of their signature dishes is matched only by how delicious they are!

The Hakka who settled near the coastal areas of Hong Kong have also developed an almost entirely seafood based cuisine. Instead of using expensive meats, their dishes tend to incorporate an abundance of vegetables with only mild seasoning to preserve the original flavour of the ingredients. Hakka-style restaurants can be found throughout Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore so, if you come across one, be sure to give it a try!

Dongjiang Salt-Baked Chicken Dongjiang Salt-Baked Chicken (东江盐焗鸡)

This signature Hakka dish originally involved baking a chicken over a heap of hot salt, but nowadays most restaurants will simply cook it in brine or cover it with a salty mixture before steaming it or baking it in an oven. The chicken is served alone without any seasoning but, once you try a slice of its delectably moist meat, you’ll see why! It’s an incredibly simple dish but is irresistibly tender and packed full of natural flavour.

Ngiong Tew Foo or Stuffed Tofu (酿豆腐)

Ngiong Tew Foo or Stuffed TofuThis dish has deep Hakka origins and is one of the most popular in the Hakka community. It consists of tofu cubes that have been stuffed with a meaty paste made from minced pork, salted fish and herbs. The tofu is then fried until it turns a rich golden brown, although it can be braised. There are several variations of the dish that include eggplants, mushrooms, and bitter melon in place of the tofu cubes. Traditionally the fried tofu is served in a clear, yellow-bean stew along with bitter melon and mushrooms. Nowadays even more modern variants on the dish have appeared where the tofu is replaced with fried fish or chilli peppers. It’s an unusual dish packed full of multiple flavours that are sure to both perplex and delight your palate.

Kiu Nyuk (扣肉)

Kiu NyukThere are two versions of this sumptuous dish; one where preserved mustard greens are used and one where yam is used. The first, which is by far the more popular, is made by taking thick slices of pork belly and layering preserved mustard greens between each slice. The pork is first marinated in soy sauce and sugar while the greens are being boiled. They are then stir-fried together along with the marinade until thoroughly cooked. The other, less popular version involves shallow-frying the yam and pork belly together until it is nicely browned and then steaming it with five-spice powder and yellow rice wine. The resulting dish is quite fatty but deliciously indulgent.

Pounded Tea or Ground Tea (擂茶)

Pounded Tea or Ground Tea A mixture of tea leaves (usually green tea), peanuts, mint leaves, sesame seeds, mung beans and other herbs are ground into a fine powder and then added to hot water to form a refreshing tea. It is thought to have several medicinal properties and is often served with rice, vegetables, tofu, and pickled radish, which can be added to taste. In this way it actually resembles more of a soup than a tea!



Try some authentic Hakka cuisine on our travel: Explore the distinctive Tulou(Earthen Structure)


Hakka History


The Hakka people have unfortunately been subject to much calamity in their time, yet in spite of this adversity they appear to have triumphed. Most scholars agree that their ancestors originated from northern and central China. They came from an area somewhere near the Yellow River in what is now modern-day Shanxi, Henan, Anhui, and Hubei but were forced south in five successive waves of migration.

The first migration is believed to have taken place sometime around the Jin Dynasty (265-420), when social unrest and frequent invasions prompted the Hakka’s ancestors to move towards Jiangxi. The second migration took place during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) for similar reasons and the third happened as the Song Dynasty (960-1279) was overthrown by the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). The fourth was caused by the Manchu conquest of China, which resulted in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), and the final migration took place during the 19th century due to conflicts between the Hakka people and other ethnic groups. With all this moving around, it’s amazing the Hakka have managed to keep track of anything!

The term “Hakka” was coined during the reign of the Kangxi Emperor (1661-1722). At the start of his reign, he had many of China’s coastal regions evacuated by imperial edict as he believed that members of the Ming court who had fled to Taiwan may still pose a threat to the area. They were left this way for over a decade, until he issued another edict to re-populate these regions. The newcomers were given monetary incentives and were registered as “Kehu” (客户) or “Guest Households”.

The resident Cantonese-speaking inhabitants, who referred to themselves as “Bendi” (本地) or “Original Landholders”, were fiercely protective of their fertile lands and pushed the newcomers into the outer fringes, where they were forced to farm barren, mountainous regions. The term “Hakka” or “Guest Families” became a derisive term used by the Bendi for these newcomers, implying that they did not belong there. Over time the newcomers miraculously adopted the term “Hakka” for themselves and took great pride in their ability to migrate and adapt. After all, the best way to stop people insulting you is to make their insults into compliments!

Since the Hakka were often left with little fertile land to farm, many of their men turned to careers in public service or in the armed forces. Education became a focal part of their lifestyle, and this would lead them to great success later on. Considering their relatively small size, the Hakka have had a hugely disproportionate influence on the course of world history. They started the Taiping Rebellion, the largest uprising in modern Chinese history. Four of the six key Taiping leaders were of Hakka descent and together they eventually established the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom (1851-1864), which at one stage occupied one-third of China!

Many contemporaries of Sun Yat-sen[1] were Hakka people, including the businessmen Charlie Soong, who provided financial support during the Xinhai Revolution. The Communists’ famous Long March[2] consisted of over 86,000 soldiers, 11,000 administrative personnel, and thousands of civilian porters, of which over 70% were ethnically Hakka. And the founder of the Red Army, Marshal Zhu De, was also of Hakka descent. Talk about an illustrious heritage!

Lee Kuan YewOther prominent leaders of Hakka descent include Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese revolutionary and statesmen; Lee Teng-hui, the President of Taiwan from 1988 to 2000 and the first popularly elected President in Chinese history; Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of modern Singapore and its first Prime Minister; Thaksin Shinawatra, the only Prime Minister in the history of Thailand to be re-elected; and Nat Wei, the youngest member and the first British-born Chinese person to be inducted into the United Kingdom’s House of Lords. On top of their political prowess, Hakka people are renowned for their astute business skills.


[1] Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925): A Chinese revolutionary who played an instrumental role in overthrowing the Qing Dynasty, abolishing imperial rule and founding the People’s Republic of China. He became the first president of China in 1912.

[2] The Long March (1934-1935): The famous path that the Red Army of the Communist Party took to evade the pursuit of the Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party). Mao Zedong led the retreat and his participation was instrumental in his subsequent rise to power.


Get some more stories about Hakka people on our travel: Explore the distinctive Tulou(Earthen Structure)


Hakka People

Hakka 01

It is important to note that the Hakka are not among China’s 55 resident ethnic minorities, but are in fact a subgroup of the Han ethnic majority. They are distinguished from Han people by their language, their unusual architecture, and a few other quirky cultural traits. The term Hakka or “Kejia” (客家) means “guest families” and was initially coined during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) in reference to people or “guests” who had left their homelands and settled in other parts of China. The Hakka earned this unusual title because, over a period of more than a thousand years, they were subject to a series of approximately five forced migrations. So if you thought moving house was hard, imagine moving your whole extended family five times over!

They are believed to have originated from northern and central China, primarily from lands bordering the Yellow River that now make up modern-day Shanxi, Henan and Hubei. However they were forced further and further south due to political unrest and nowadays the majority of Hakka people can be found in the provinces of Guangdong, Jiangxi, Fujian, Hong Kong, Guangxi, Sichuan, Hunan, and Hainan.

It is estimated that the population of Hakka people in China is now over 31 million, with 60% of the world’s Hakka population residing in Guangdong. They have successfully emigrated out of China and now constitute approximately 15% to 20% of Taiwan’s population, making them the second largest ethnic group in that country. They can be found not only in Asian countries such as Malaysia and Thailand but also further afield in Canada, Australia, the United States and throughout Europe.

Their language, known as Hakka Chinese, incorporates features of both Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese so many people regard it as a bridge between these two languages. It is considered one of the oldest languages in China and has remained largely unchanged for hundreds of years, although some people argue that it is a dialect of Chinese. As if that wasn’t confusing enough, there are a number of dialects within the Hakka language, of which Meixian Hakka is considered the standard. In some parts of China and Taiwan, the constituency of Hakka people is so large that some televised news-broadcasts are done in Hakka Chinese!

They have become renowned for a special type of building known as a Tulou, which can be found throughout southwest Fujian, Jiangxi, and Guangdong. These buildings are usually round or square in shape and can be several stories high. They are essentially fortresses and the larger ones resemble fortified villages! They were initially built to protect inhabitants from bandits and wild animals but are still in use today. After all, you never know when a marauding panda might come sniffing around! These earthen structures are considered so unique that a representative sample of about 10 Tulou in Fujian were made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008.

As far as religion is concerned, the Hakka people’s beliefs are almost identical to those of the Han Chinese. Their primary form of religious expression is in ancestor worship and they tend to follow a mixture of Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and folk religion, much like the Han. Politically speaking, the Hakka have had a huge impact on Chinese history and many famous political figures were of Hakka descent. Luodai Ancient Town in Sichuan even has a museum dedicated to the Hakka people and is reputed to be the greatest Hakka town in western China. Meizhou City, in Guangdong Province, is considered the largest Hakka city all over the world.

Get more stories about Hakka people on our travel: Explore the distinctive Tulou(Earthen Structure)


Encompassed by towering mountains, dense forests, and bubbling brooks, the village of Gaobei in Yongding County may seem like the most unlikely place to meet royalty. Yet here, hidden like a gem within the countryside, lies Chengqi Lou; the “King of Tulou”. Around the streams that wind through Gaobei, a cluster of these fortress-like earthen dwellings rises up and adds new magnificence to the landscape. They resemble fortified villages and were initially designed to protect the inhabitants from bandits and wild animals, although nowadays the only thing threatening them is the occasional door-to-door salesman!

The grandest and largest in Gaobei is Chengqi Lou, which is four-storeys high and over 62 metres in diameter. Construction of this tulou began in the late Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) but it wasn’t completed until 1709, during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912). It took three generations of the local Jiang family to build this spectacular tulou. In three generations, my family have barely managed to pay off a house, let alone build a fortress! Chengqi Lou is a circular tulou and is renowned for its four concentric rings; one that surrounds the complex and three within it.

The first or outer ring is four-storeys high, with the ground floor made up of kitchens, the second floor acting as grain storage rooms, and the third and fourth floors being used as living quarters and bedrooms. In its heyday, this complex could support over 800 people, and nowadays it still houses an impressive 57 families and 300 people. The second ring is two-storeys high and is comprised of 80 rooms for general use. The third is only one-storey high and its 32 rooms make up a community library. After all, when you’re being besieged by bandits and the tulou is locked down, how else would you entertain yourself? Nothing like a good book to get you through a potentially hostile takeover!

The final ring is just a covered corridor that surrounds the ancestral hall, where inhabitants still worship their venerated ancestors. In total, Chengqi Lou contains a staggering 370 rooms. This means that, if you spent one night in each room, it would take you over a year to get through the whole complex!

Other famous tulou in the area include Wuyun Lou, which was built during the Ming Dynasty and is currently uninhabited, and Qiaofu Lou, which was constructed during the 1960s and acts as a hotel for tourists. So if you fancy a real tulou experience, don’t forget to book a room at Qiaofu Lou. Or perhaps just squat for free in the empty Wuyun Lou!

Buddha jumps over the wall (Fotiaoqiang)


This is the most famous Fujian-style soup. The original recipe was created in 1876 by the main chef at the Juchunyuan restaurant. It is not a simple homemade soup; it is extravagant and complicated. Up to 30 ingredients are used in the making of this soup. Among them, most of the ingredients are unusual and rare, such as abalone (a type of sea snail), Shark’s fin and sea cucumber. Other ingredients are also highly prized for this soup, including pigeons’ eggs, squid, good quality ham, scallion, chicken, duck stomachs, fish stomachs, pork, and particular types of mushroom. In fact, every restaurant has its own unique recipe for this soup and purposefully keeps it a secret.

佛跳墙02This dish is so delicious that supposedly not even Buddha could resist the temptation and so jumped over the walls of the monastery to get it. Thus it is called “Buddha jumps over the wall” and, for the same reason, is sometimes called “Buddha’s temptation”.


yunshuiyao 01

Located in the south of Fujian province, Yunshuiyao is a peaceful and beautiful village with hundreds of years of history behind it, particularly with reference to the Jian clan. It is reminiscent of the legendary “Shangri-la” in its appearance and atmosphere. Most of the buildings in the village are clay houses that were built during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), including a big Ancestral Hall for the Jian family. There are several banyan trees on the riverside that are hundreds of years old. One of them is the biggest banyan tree in Fujian Province and has branches that are more than 30 meters long.

There are two famous Tulou nearby:

huaiyuan lou 01Huaiyuan lou

Huiyuan lou was built in 1909 and is a typical example of a Tulou that follows the “connected rooms” design. Because of its short history, the whole building is well preserved and thus serves as a good example of what a circular Tulou should look like.

Huaiyuan lou is four storeys high and has a diameter of 38 meters. Each of its floors has 34 rooms. Nowadays there are still 60 people living inside this Tulou.

Hegui lou01Hegui lou

Hegui lou is a very typical rectangular Tulou. It was built in 1732 and follows the “connected rooms” design. Hegui lou was originally four-storeys high. In 1864 it was destroyed by robbers during an attack, and it was subsequently rebuilt as a five-storey Tulou. The main structure of the new compound follows that of a rectangular Tulou and it has 24 rooms on each of its five floors. A hall in the yard is connected to the Ancestral Hall in the main building. There is also now a front yard to provide more space for residents.


Yunshuiyao is one of the many wonderful stops on our travel: Explore the distinctive Tulou(Earthen Structure)



As thousands of silken-feathered egrets whip their way into the sky, the sea around Xiamen City glimmers in the sunlight and ships in the harbour creak with the rippling waves. The city centre itself is located on Xiamen Island just off the southeastern coast of China’s Fujian province, while a secondary island known as Gulangyu and four other districts on the mainland make up the rest of the city. Its relatively small population means it is rarely crowded, which only adds to the peaceful atmosphere. Surrounded by water, it’s a veritable floating Atlantis; let’s just hope it doesn’t sink anytime soon!

The Jinmen Islands rest just 10 kilometres (6 mi) offshore and belong to Taiwan, meaning cultural exchanges between the Fujianese and Taiwanese in the city are common. That being said, Xiamen was not always the fine, harbour city that we see today. During the Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1271-1368) dynasties, it was known as Jiahe Island and was notorious as a lair for pirates, who smuggled contraband into the country. In fact, this issue became so prevalent that the island was fortified in 1387 as a measure to defend against piracy and this was when it first came under the name Xiamen.

In 1544, the arrival of Portuguese sailors heralded the beginning of foreign trade in the city and it is believed that several English words, including “tea”, “kowtow” and even “ketchup”, were derived from the Hokkien words that these sailors would have come across, Hokkien being the dialect of Chinese used widely throughout Fujian. However, bad behaviour saw the Portuguese swiftly expelled from the city and, although it would continue to be visited by European ships, this would all end in 1757 when foreign trade was restricted exclusively to Guangzhou in Guangdong province. You have to wonder what those Portuguese sailors did that was bad enough to get the whole world practically banned from the city!

After the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) was overthrown by the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) in 1644, a Ming loyalist named Zheng Chenggong or Koxinga (1624-1662) took control of the city and ruled it throughout the 1650s. He decided to name the island Siming, which literally translates to mean “Remembering the Ming”. After all, you know someone’s loyal when they opt to name a whole island after you! However, when Zheng drove the Dutch from Taiwan and decided to move his base of operations there in 1661, it subsequently weakened his position in Siming. In 1680 it was finally taken by imperial forces and renamed Xiamen by the Qing imperials.

The city would undergo radical change once again after the First Opium War (1839–1842), when China agreed to a pact known as the Treaty of Nanking with Great Britain, France, Japan, and 10 other countries. In this arrangement, Xiamen was named as one of five seaports opened up to foreign trade. It became an eminent trading centre throughout the 19th century and, in 1903, Gulangyu Island was designated as an international foreign settlement, which allowed members of the 13 partner countries to settle, build houses, start their own businesses, and control the administration of the island. In 1956, a causeway was finally built connecting Xiamen Island to the mainland.

Having played host to visitors and residents of various ethnicities throughout the years, Xiamen is a real melting pot of architectural styles, religions, and cultures from across the globe. From traditional Taoist temples to European-style cathedrals, the city is a hectic mixture of Eastern and Western influences. The city’s Xinjie Church was the first Christian church ever to be built in China and Gulangyu Island is now littered with stunning colonial-style buildings.

The Nanputuo or South Putuo Temple on the southeast of Xiamen Island is one of the holiest Buddhist sites in China and is so-named because it’s located south of the sacred Mount Putuo in Zhejiang province, which is believed to be the legendary home of the goddess Guanyin. The temple was originally built during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and was called Puzhao or Universal Grace Temple, but was tragically destroyed in warfare during the fall of the Ming Dynasty.

It was eventually rebuilt in 1622 by a general named Shi Liang, who renamed the temple Nanputuo and made it a site primarily for the worship of Guanyin. The temple itself is backed by the misty Wulao Mountain range and faces the sea, making it the perfect scenic spot to while away a peaceful afternoon. For nature-lovers, the city also boasts a beautiful Botanical Garden, where visitors can relax and enjoy a little slice of nature within the urban jungle. In Yongding County, about 307 kilometres (191 mi) outside of Xiamen, there are a number of Tulou or fortified earthen buildings dotted throughout the countryside, which are a must-see if you’re travelling in Fujian.

Xiamen is one of the many wonderful stops on our travel: Explore the distinctive Tulou(Earthen Structure)

Fujian-style Soup



Fujian people cannot have a meal without soup. They may be the biggest “soup fans” in all of China. So Fujian chefs have a reputation for being soup experts.

fujian soup01Fujian-style soups are slightly different to Guangdong or Cantonese-style soups, which are also very famous. Cantonese-style soups are generally thicker and take longer to cook than Fujian-style soups. Since they are a staple dish in every meal for an average Fujian family, most of the homemade Fujian-style soups are easy to make. However, even the simplest Fujian-style soup has at least five ingredients. The mixture of ingredients used in any Fujian-style soup is considered by many to be a work of art. The combination of ingredients is not just chosen because of its delicious taste, but also because of its health benefits. Physical health is always the key aim for the Chinese when it comes to drinking soups.



Join our tour to taste Fujian-style Soup:  Explore the distinctive Tulou(Earthen Structure)