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Yongding, Fujian

Traveling to China’s Fujian Province, you’ll find Yongding, an ancient village with its own unique architecture. Instead of the tall, square towers of Kaiping’s diaolou, the Fujian tulou are circular in formation, built around a central open courtyard; they have only one entrance, with small windows to the outside that are only above the first floor, and they’re made of thick fortified-earth walls – all designed with defense in mind. These tulous were built between the 12th and 20th centuries to protect the families who dwelled within from attacks. Often housing up to 80 families, the tulous were large enough to include smaller interior buildings within the huge outer walls, creating a contained mini-city for an entire clan.

Yongding and the Fujian tulous are located in a beautiful mountain valley, set among rice, tea and tobacco fields. Because of this remote location, and because some of the tulous are still home to the Hakka people, a Han Chinese ethnic group, most of this area remains today as it was centuries ago. The tulous vary in size – the Zhengcheng Lou, for instance, spans 260 feet and contains 250 rooms – but all are formed around a center courtyard and contain ancestral worship halls. The Fujian tulous were named to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2008. Since the tulous are located throughout Yongding and vary in style, function, and history, visitors may hire a local guide for a good tour, information in English, and transportation around the area. Some of the tulous have been transformed into inns and you can enjoy a truly authentic experience – just be aware that these accommodations tend to be basic and bathrooms are often located outside of the tulou.

The food in Yongding follows the traditional Hakka cuisine, with dishes such as meicai kourou (steamed pork with salted mustard cabbage) and yuzi ba (sticky rice and taro wrapped in a cone of crispy bamboo shoots). Also from the Yongding area is the highly valued “tieguanyin” – oolong tea grown high in the mountains in this ancient area. “Guanyin” means “the goddess of mercy” and the tea is said to originate from a magic plant believed by Buddhists to be a gift from the Goddess of Mercy. The tea is earthy and full of flavor but smooth and light, with an orchid-like fragrance.