Note: 围屋 (surrounded houses) a generalized term for Hakka defensive houses.
围屋 ( surrounded houses) is the heritage of the migratory Hakkas. They reside in the mountainous area and would have to defend themselves from the nature and the local indigenous people. Due to to these threats, they have fortified their houses into fortress like structures. Thus, these 围屋 ( surrounded houses) is the combination of Hakka’s civil and military qualities,slowly and independently evolved structures. Its a easy to guard hard to attack place, a communal , simple contended place to live in.
Due to the the little farming economy, the Hakka living in the structures, either of the same family or same race, came to help each other, thus generated as self reliant and self sufficient living community. To stay permanent in a foreign land, the hakkas will need to keep a close bond to each other for survival. No wonder that these house have a close family astmosphere and strong racial culture .
The design, construction and usability of the of 围屋 ( surrounded houses) shows hakka forefathers as a extraordinary and skillful people. As time passes, they formed into different house styles. The Hakka believe in “fengsui” , the structure and formation of the building is building accordance to the surroundings. Thus, these structures will blend nicely with nature.
The 围屋 ( surrounded houses) began during the Tang and Song dynasty but proliferate during the Ming and Qing dynasties. The building method of the Hakka use are from the most advanced from the Hans, using roof beam 抬梁 and combined with the penetrating pillar 穿斗 method. The building material consists of sand, stones , soil and clay. The usual area for these structures is 8-10 hectares , but the biggest can used up to more than 30 hectares.Building of these structures could use up to 5 years , 10 years or even more.The material for the mud wall is usually clay and “yellow soil ” (黄土) which is “stickier” and higher in sand content. The mixture cannot be used in its direct form, but it have to go over a process of continuous turning and hoeing until a mature form. Some used the mixture of yellow soil, white ash and sand, a few even put sugar water and sorghum sauce into these mixture to make the walls stronger. The foot of these structures are made up by cobblestones, to prevent soaking of flood water. The thickness of the wall decreases as it goes up.
Below are some type of 围屋 (surrounded houses).
五凤楼 (five phoenix building)
This type of house is the most widespread and most in amount. The cultural content is the most complicated. It is the Hakka’s most related structure with the central plains building form. The courtyard formed by the side walls , are plain but elegant, the repeating windows gives a sense of rhythm. If richer families reside, they will adorn the building with colour patterns and cravings.
方形土楼 ( 四角楼) rectangular earthern building
This buildings are the 2nd most widespread buildings followed by the 五凤楼 (five phoenix building). This structure combines the central plains cultural quality of the 五凤楼 (five phoenix building) and the round earthen houses explorative spirit, forms a equilibrium.
圆形土楼 circular earthern building
This building haev defense function. It is built in later periods, populated at the rims of explored land of the forefathers. The inside of the building feels like a maze, rings followed by rings seems neverending. However, this structure makes uses of the moving spaces and communal spaces , though living in the enclosed area, it doesn’t give the feeling of stuffiness. Also neighbours could see each other from side to side, brings a sense of security.
围龙楼 (encompassing dragon builfing)
By shaping the side buildings of the 五凤楼 (five phoenix building) into shape of a horseshoe forms the building. It is commonly seen in the Guangdong area. The Backyard is taller than the front yard by 1 metre, sloping at around 30 degrees. The Hakka believe this is a dragon. the cobblestones are seen as scales of the dragon, it is to remind themselves as descendants of the dragon.
translated from book 广东客家博物馆陈列