A two-hour drive inland from Xiamen, the verdant mountainsides of Yongding County, in southwest Fujian Province, are renowned for their extraordinary clan houses, belonging to the Hakka and Minnan minorities whose heartland this has been since the 12th century.
Known as ‘tulou’ in Mandarin, these circular, Colosseum-like structures are made of earthquake-proof rammed earth, and formerly accommodated up to eight hundred people each. Their residents occupied small rooms ranged in concentric rings around a central courtyard, entered via ironclad doorways. The larger tulou incorporate clan shrines, school rooms, communal kitchens and animal stalls into their layout, as well as granaries and wells.
Outmigration to nearby cities has left many of these venerable old buildings half empty, as younger clan members opt for the conveniences and comforts of modern apartment living. But a few have recently been renovated as visitor destinations, including one of the largest and most warrenous at Chengqi Lou, which measures over 60m (200ft) in diameter and boasts an amazing 402 rooms.