Movie: Fujian Tulou – Round houses in South China – UNESCO
So, my first movie ever is finally finished and online. It is a short movie (10 min.) Fujian Tulou – Round houses in South China – UNESCO Heritage, which are located in South China. I have invested a lot of work into that, but it was a great fun. It is my first movie so it is not perfect. I promise I will get better :) I am also attaching script for those who love to read. And please help me share :)
For many years, I have been fascinated by tulou, circular buildings of Hakka people, which are scattered throughout southern China. I finally got a chance to visit them. My destination is Xiamen, around 1000km away from Shanghai, located in Fujian Province. It is just a few hours’ drive on a high-speed train, since it goes 300km/h. Today traveling around China is really convenient; their infrastructure is on a very high level. There are three main zones of Fujian tulou: Nanjing, Dongjing and Hua’an. I have visited a small fraction of the Nanjing zone.
There are thousands of Tulou in China; they are mostly circular or rectangular buildings spread around the south of China. Their history dates back to the third century. Of course, these buildings didn’t exist at that time, but their future builders who were expelled by constant wars began to migrate from central and northern China more to the south. Over time, more and more people decided to stay in the province with a pleasant climate and lots of fruit. In the seventh century, the first simple buildings started to appear. They were not decorated and did not even have any foundations. In the 17th century, tea and tobacco businesses made many families rich. With the increasing wealth of the people, the richness of tulou architecture started to take place. They grew not only in size but also in beauty. The windows had beautiful carvings, the doors and beams were more luxurious, the altars had beautiful statues, and decorations were hanging on the walls. At the time of their greatest glory, 30 families consisting of hundreds of people, could live in one big tulou. In 2008, they became part of the national heritage protected by UNESCO.
Tulou are built with almost with no iron. The nails are made of bamboo, and the walls are made from a fermented mix of three types of local soil blended with black sugar, eggs whites and sticky rice. The bases are made of stone. The construction of tulou required for the builder to organize several large receptions, where he invited builders, villagers and Taoist monks. The monks then selected the appropriate location and time when they should start the construction.
There is something very special about tulou. It maintains a strict equality among citizens. Each family always owned a vertical strip of rooms, and all rooms along a horizontal line were the same. Therefore, each family owned an entirely identical space; no one could have something more than the others.
Some of these tulou are so huge, it is impossible to frame them in one picture. The only way to catch them is a panoramic photo. There used to be hundreds of people living inside them. The village I am visiting is called Four Dishes and One Soup. The name is derived from their shape. Four round tulou surrounding one square-shaped tulou in the middle reminds me of a dining table. All tulou usually have three floors, although some may have up to five floors. The first floor served as the kitchen since it is the wettest. The fire for cooking dried it and dried the floor above it; therefore, the second floor was used as a warehouse. The third floor was residential. It was also the only floor that had windows.
When I was wandering between the various buildings, I could not help but notice the small temples that were built in the middle of the tulou square with open space inside. Sometimes, they are literally buildings inside of a building, sometimes it’s just a little altar on the wall opposite the door. It served for the worshiping of ancestors and it was also a place where important matters were discussed. It was also used for private celebrations, especially weddings. I noticed two red characters of double happiness there, so I asked if somebody got married. They told me that they are always hanging there, just until the next somebody gets married. Then they just replace them with new ones.
When Fujian Tulou become UNESCO protected, tourism took off. The buildings are now beautifully repaired, and they installed lighting to light up the place both inside and outside. In the open space inside the tulou, they installed stalls of souvenirs and restaurants. Young local people no longer leave this place to go look for a job in the city; instead many of them returned home and started their small businesses.
Life here got faster; there is supply and demand on every corner. People are not working in the fields. They are sitting at the ticket counter, taking pictures for tourists, or working as local guides. The products of local consumption have been converted into souvenirs. People offer homemade honey, either liquid or stone honey, which must be chopped. You should try the local tea. The famous Fujian tea is one of the reasons why these magnificent buildings emerged. Black tea and halfoxidated tea wulung are typical for this province. Friendly locals will invite you for a drink before you make a decision to buy.
Many locals have opened small restaurants or hostels. For ten euros or less, one can stay for a night and try out authentic tulou life. However, be prepared for the fact that there is not much privacy. Toilets are not built. As the locals say, earthen walls are afraid of water. It is therefore necessary to either go out or wait until night to use the potty, which is prepared in front of each room. The walls are thin and the bustle of the yard enters every room, mostly the sounds of kitchen. Women are cooking not only for their husbands now but also mainly for tourists. If you have a sensitive nature, do not order chicken. It will be caught and slit right in front of you; unfortunately, I experienced it. But it is BIO fresh. Vegetables are also grown at home. In the morning, you can see how the elderly go up on the hills to pick them. The butcher is a motorbike with loud Michael Jackson music to attract people. After no more clients are coming, he just drives to the next village.
Visitors will not find any culinary specialties, just good local village food. As the Chinese would say “like the grandmothers”. In addition to the food, everybody should try a local sweet rice wine. It’s a great desert after a meal. Locals also sell cold beer everywhere, but that is not local. In short, they are prepared for tourists. Not all visitors spend a night here; most of them are just passing through. During the day, there is a constant flow of tourists, but in the evening, just the “lonely dragons” will wish you a good night. The silence and peace of Fujian Tulou can be fully enjoyed after dark.
Not everyone got used to modernity. The older generation sits in the backyard, sipping a breakfast rice porridge and there is a constant flow of tourists around. They try to be bystanders, but their loneliness and naivety seems comical and sad at the same time. But tourism has brought something very important to these areas. Salvation.
The villages without tourism are desolated. Dozens of them are around. They are not easy to find, and are often hidden in the hills. You have to ask locals to take you there. The buildings have cracked walls, and many of them are uninhabitable. You can still see some old Mao posters and slogans from the Cultural Revolution. Only old people live here. They have no strength to repair them, or to even just clean up. Therefore, it is a mess everywhere, dusty and a mess. Young people go to work outside the village. Schools are closed. They have no students. Even the little children are now going to better schools outside; their parents do not send them to village schools. All recognize the importance of education and they seek to give the best to their kin. But they do not recognize the importance of cultural heritage. Rare pieces of Tulou decorations, carvings and statues were sold to disrespectful tourists, many were foreigners. Leaving only the clay frescoes on the walls that cannot be removed and sold.
In the villages, you can find only emptiness. There are empty stages where the rush of the Cultural Revolution was once happening and later various celebrations, entertainment, opera, village performances… Sometimes they are still organized, but only when the young return home for the holidays and pay some actors from outside.
Some people are trying to be active until the end, working in the fields or cooking the rice wine:
I ask: What is your local dialect?
What dialect are you speaking here? Fujianhua?
How do you say ‘hello’?
Henghou, I repeated.
The rice smells good.
Smells good? Truly, sir. Rice! Rice!
Your own rice?
No, it is bought. Old people do not farm anymore.
For the others, it’s just been about survival in peace and quiet; they didn’t have much of that during the recent Chinese history. They are staring at the sunset, sitting on the porch, basking in the sun, listening to the radio, watching dogs or chickens walking on the sidewalk. They do not have much interest in what will happen. Will tourism save their village as well? Or will these amazing tulou buildings leave this world together with last people living inside of them? They seem like they do not care.
So, my first movie ever is finally finished and online. It is a short movie (10 min.) about amazing Fujian Tulou, which are located in South China. I have invested a lot of work into that, but it was a great fun. It is my fist movie so it is not perfect. I promise I will get better :) I am also attaching script for those who love to read. And please help me share :)