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Hakka History, Culture and Dwellings

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 2564 words Published: 18th May 2020

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Introduction  1

Historical era of Hakka  4

Settlement  5

Cultural Practice 4

Chinese Social culture 5

Feng Shui 5

House of Heaven, Earth and Man  5

Climate Impact on Design Detail 4

Adequate ventilation 5

Skylight 5

Moisture control 5

Wall insulation 5

Material Resources 4

Local sources 5

Craftmanship  5

Conclusion 4

Bibliography  4

Final Draft


Among the most distinctive dwelling types in South China are the multi-storey building complexes of the Hakka, a Han subethnic group distributed principally in southwestern Fujian and adjacent areas of Guangdong, called “Tulou”,  meaning “earthen builings”, are constructed of tamped earth more than 1m thick, impose fort-like structures with Chinese traditional fenestration result in space organized vertically into rural multi-family dwelling. While various shapes and forms are developed due to different adaptation use, social pattern and cultural belief, seen as square and rectangular shapes abound, yet round, some reach a dimeter of 75m and provide residence for upwards of 150 people. The Hakka Tulou often accommodate as many as three hundred to five hundred people in a single house, varying from three to six storeys (Oliver 908). This communal house type is in keeping with Chinese clam traditions, and serves the important function of defence, given the historical background and social status of the Hakka people. It contains great historical value, yet through its unique architecture features the native Hakka culture is strongly reflected. This study focuses on these features through three aspects on cultural practices, climate and material resources, while how these significantly impact on the development of designed environments in traditional Chinese Hakka culture.

Cultural Practice


Date back to the late Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) when a group of people from north China migrated to the south and settled down. Called the Hakka, literally meaning “guest families”, they adapted to the local environment and developed their own language, customs, and the unique architecture.

Hakka people gradually migrated from the Central Plain (中原) of the Huanghe River to the southern province border regions of Fujian (福建), Jiangx (江西), and Guangdong (広東). This migration took place over 1600 years and covered a distance of 1000 Km. Furthermore, they spread beyond Hunan and Hubei to Sichuan to the west end of Guangxi, a distance of about 1000 Km; then jumped over the Taiwan Strait to Taiwan and many locations in South East Asia.

The majority of the Kejia people settled in the hills in the southwest of Fujian province where the area is typified by lowland hills forming long and narrow river valleys. There are heavy seasonal rains in the spring, cool summers and cold winters with snowfall above 400m. Historically, this area was densely covered with large pine forests, but much of this has been felled for construction purposes. As the settlers arrive, they had to innovate and create new social forms to meet practical needs. One of the most important innovations was the early form of collectivity based on egalitarian principles which directly affected not only social relations, such as the status of woman in society, but also the structuring of space based on new orders of family relations(Spatial Order And Typology Of Hakka Dwellings 2).

-Social culture

Tulou evolved with the development of society. Tulou not only witnesses the migration of the Central Plains to southern China for refuge, but also can be regarded as a historical footprint, which is of great significance to the study of human sociology, especially Chinese culture. From a sociological point of view, earthen buildings are usually composed of a large family of generations. This reflects the importance of group nature to traditional Chinese families. They face risks together and protect each other. Tulou provides effective base space for families. At the same time, as a model of equal community housing, it has its own unique characteristics. A vertical earth building from the first floor to the top floor is used as a living unit. Each family not only maintains its own privacy, but also enjoys the opportunity of social communication with others. At present, the dependence of Chinese society on private property is gradually weakening, while the emphasis on private property is strengthening. Tulou makes the needs of public life and privacy fully met.

-Feng shui

The principles of Feng shui, the science of creating harmony and balance between the forces of nature and influences of man, play an important role in the creation of the Hakka dwelling environments of power. Feng Shui’s fundamental rule in determining location for settlement is a landscape with abundant clear water and fertile land with good environmental conditions to provide good production, life and prosperity of descendants. A row of mountains is assumed to be a dragon. It is believed that if the settlement is built on the point (点穴) at the mouth of the dragon, the inhabitants could thrive. Translated into the actual landscape, a place surrounded by mountains, protected from winds, with clear and abundant water is the best place(Bramble 17). When looking at the distribution of Tulou there are great influences by Feng shui, yet seen geographically. By focusing on the river system, a relationship appears between the distribution of Tulou and their locations. Even mountainous areas have a mesh patterned river system. The traffic and logistics on the river system have sustained Hakka livehood.

-House of Heaven, Earth and Man

As location for settlement seen in landscape are determined by Feng shui. Other influences are Chinese traditional philosophy, known as Confucianism. The Confucian thinking that heaven is round and earth square天圆地方 has profound impacts on the design of Chinese vernacular architecture. It is contended that the “circle” implies the unpredictable, ever-changing and non-static nature of the universe while the “square the fixed pattern of the earth”. The idea is extended to rule and family. The relationship between the ruler and the ruled, father and son, husband and wife, the elder and younger brother are clearly defined. Ceremonies and rituals are performed to manifest the hierarchal relationships. As a result, cities and religious and dwelling complexes have traditionally been modelled on the square chessboard form of the earthy realm(“The Cultural Meaning Of Hakka Architecture In Hong Kong And Guangdong” 44).

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Yet in the Confucian world, axiality, symmetry, balance and spatial hierarchy are essential to the regulation of family relationships, proper ordering of society, and above all, control of society. The traditional virtues of orderliness and balance implied by the symmetry are also attributes essential to the proper discipline and management of the family and society. These Confucian social values were widely adopted in traditional buildings. Hierarchy increased from the outer hall to the inner hall with an ancestral altar in the middle and side rooms for the senior generation. Young children resided in the side chambers perpendicular to the main hall. Hierarchy was also indicated by increases in the height of floors, steps and roofs as one progressed from front to back, from exterior to interior space.


-Adequate ventilation

Most of Hakka earth buildings in Southwestern Fujian are distributed in mountain valleys such as hills or in beads-like on both sides of streams, this is to be close to the water source, as well as obtain materials from local resources. Most of the Tulou buildings are sitting in the north and facing the south, back facing shades and front facing the sun. This is due to most of China is located north on the Tropic of Cancer, thus north facing back of the sun during most time of the year, yet the cold northerly wind from Siberia, Mongolia, blows in winter, results in its low temperature climate. While South faces sun and is constantly sunny and warm in summer. Southwestern Fujian has a southerly wind from the ocean, thus by placing houses at the north while facing south, on one hand, it is conducive to ventilation, on the other hand, it can produce an environment that is fairly mind in winter and rather cool in summer, as well as effects of heat preservation and moisture-proof, prevent from bacteria breeding and diseases.


Southwestern Fujian is located in the vicinity of Tropic of Cancer, open to the mountains, hilly areas, so the sunshine time is relatively short, yet most of the earth buildings are closed with no balcony placed in space. In the he first and second floors of Tulou, it generally not contains windows, which prevents from burglar intrusion in terms of security. Due to this lack of openings natural lighting is considered based on its unique structure layout, that is making use of self-contained skylight feature. Because of the earth building faces south and the sun rises in the East and sets in the west, the sun can shine to the entire courtyard at noon, which let sufficient amount into the space. Especially seen in round Tulou, the larger the space is, the more abundant the sunlight goes in, making the most to every corner, at the same time achieve its role of moisture-proof and moisture-proof.

-Moisture control

Most of the Hakka Tulou adopt the “man”(人)liked double-slope roof, since it is located in the humid subtropical climate of Southwestern China, with abundant amount of rainfall and uneven spatial distribution. When the rainy season comes, its “man”(人)shaped roof performs as to prevent collapse caused by rain seeping into the earth wall due to outer slope of the roof is designed longer than the inner slope, in addition, its corners are often made of stone, which is helpful to prevent room corners from being washed out when flood. Because of Tulou is made of earth which water can cause terrible damages yet Hakka ancestors solved this problem through real life experiences.

-Wall insulation

Once again the complex subtropical climate in Southwestern China yet locate at mountainous area and the hinterland along southeast coast are greatly affected by typhoons. In order to protect against heat and wind, during the construction of earth buildings, with the help of formwork splints, through repeated process of kneading, tamping, pressing and tamping, the walls of Tulou are firmly built. They perform well prevent from typhoons, invasion, attack of guns and earth cannons from enemies during old times. Most importantly they act as insulation. The earth materials create living environment that occupants feel warm in winter and cool in summer yet not hot, as perform as natural air conditioner, providing a comfortable environment for Hakka ancestors to live and multiply.

Material resources

-Local resources

Tulou is one of the most ecological green buildings in the world. It is mainly made of abundant amount of local soil, wood, stone and bamboo. It is made of local materials and recycled according to local conditions. It reflects the green building pursued by modern people in the most primitive form. The heavy rammed earth construction, reinforced with split bamboo rods and strengthened by the circular geometry, makes this type of structure especially durable. The exterior walls are very thick at the base, sometimes over 1 m in thickness. On the upper floors the walls become thinner. The interior structure consists of rammed earth walls as room dividers, wooden floors, decks and fronts of each room, and the roof which is topped with clay tiles. The construction is carries out by a work team composed of one or two skilled builders and selected members of each family which is part of the collective.


Craftmanship plays the huge role in this process. First of all, the soil used for the walls of earth buildings must be formulated with other materials. Pure red loam without humus is chosen, proportionally mixed with fine river sand, bottom mud and old wall mud, and then add in water, repeatedly mixed and hoed to make it ferment evenly. The mud mixture needs to contain the right amount of moisture, that the mud scatters when it’s thrown out to the ground. The making of clay is a key process and requires rich experience as this process determines the quality of the whole earth building process and its success or failure. The more fully the soil is fermented, the better, otherwise the rammed wall will be fermented again due to change of temperature and humidity, as well as shrinkage and cracking, which will eventually lead to tilt of wall, or impossible to continue the project.

While the other three materials, brown sugar, egg white and glutinous rice, are added to the wall-building soil in proportion. These three materials are also treated carefully. Brown sugar must be melted completely with no tiny clump, egg white should be stirred repeatedly and evenly, foamed and fermented, and glutinous rice should be cooked till no rice grain and almost soup-like. When building walls, bamboo chips are embedded in the walls, or even large stones are placed as wall bones to enhance resistance. Long before cement existed, the earth builders invented this method for making strong walls prevent from water immersion, but also the older they are the harder they become, almost firm as stones.


  • Oliver, Paul. Encyclopedia Of Vernacular Architecture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Print.
  • Spatial Order And Typology Of Hakka Dwellings. Xiamen: Xiamen University, 2011. Web. 5 Aug. 2019.
  • Bramble, Cate. The Architect’s Guide To Feng Shui : Exploding The Myth. Oxford : Architectural, 2003. Print.
  • “The Cultural Meaning Of Hakka Architecture In Hong Kong And Guangdong.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society Hong Kong Branch 49.21-55 (2009): 44. Web. 5 Aug. 2019.


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