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围屋 (surrounded houses)

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


Hakka behaviour and personality

Excerpt form The Hakka Search for a Homeland by Clyde Kiang, on behaviour and personality, pg 60

George Campbell, a wel-known English missionary in China made a careful study of the behaviour and personality of the Hakkas. He mentioned the qualities of the fearlessness, self reliance, and love of liberty as characterizing the people. Evidence of the Mongolois stain is highly visible in many Hakka’s behaviour abd personality. To observe Hakka’s behaviour abs personality, Hsieh Ting-yu, a Haaka researcher, offers the explicit interpretation:

The character of the Hakkas is shown quite clearly in their name and history. They are a strong, hardy, energetic, fearless race with simple habits but a very contentious and litigious disposition. Self reliant and active, their rapid expansion and fondness of property have often brought  them into conflict with their neighbors.

As a minority, they are prone to defend themselves and usual the bravest in battle with indomitable courage. Probably because of this behaviour, the native Chinese regard them as a barbaric people. To Hakkas, the self-defense against attack from outside is their cultural virtue that they cherish generation after generation. George Kerr, the Vice Consul of the American Embassy in Taipei and long-time resident of Taiwan, describes “the  Hakka people, physically a larger, tougher type with bolder, more aggressive character” Chinese regard them as the social “out group” and their different language, habits and mode of life made it difficult to mix or assimilate with the majority. Men with deep ethnic roots. Hakkas are on the whole more independent, daring and prone to act than native Chinese.

On the other hand, to distinguish the Chinese character by contrast, according to the Confucianist, these qualities include “pacifism, contentment, calm and strength of endurance.” In reviewing the national characteristics of the Chinese race, Lin Yutang, the formost interpreter of ancient and modern China, finds that “Of the noble vitues of the West, of nobility , ambition, zeal for  reform, public spirit, sense for adventure and heroic courage, the Chinese are devoid. In this respect,  Hakkas are definitely  different from the Chinese race. To have a peace of mind often comes with the quality of Chinese characters while the temperament of Hakkas is restless and fiery.

It is evident that Hakkas have a highly developed national and ethnic consciousness. Their intense clannishness (groupism) and patriotism have undoubtedly been furthered by the fact that their villages have usually been surrounded by hostile environments – native Chinese or other ethnic groups. This segregated or insular position, whether in the continent or on the island, has encouraged common unity, individuality and continuity in their cultural development . Since the original, prehistoric migrations of their ancestors to the central plains in North China, they have coped with constant interruption from the natives along with latter invaders from Mongolia and Central Asia. They are apprehensive of a hostility or possible attack by outside forces that would stifle their economical or territorial expansion.

Further, it is appropriate to state the essentials of ethnic clannishness (groupism) and national patriotism as conceit, arrogance, and egotism. Hakkas who were born in some particular villages would likely consider themselves better, grander, noble, and more intelligent than the other ethnic groups inhabiting the region or any other community. It is therefore, the duty of Hakka people living in that chosen society to fight, kill, and die in the attempt to expand their power for survival and to impose their ethnic superiority upon all others if possible.

Viewing the Hakka race as a whole, they are not so placid, so contented, or so happy-go-lucky as the Chinese, similar to the Japanese, they are busy and bustling, determined to achieve their dreams, and welded together like granite. This dynamic granite may become explosive sometimes. Many Hakkas and Japanese support the view they both have the characteristic traits of boldness, obstinacy, peevishness, perseverance and tolerance. Both have courage in war, a sense of loyalty in their communal life. In much the same behaviour pattern of Hakkas, Professor Herbert Gowen had this to say of the Japanese traditional character qualities:

The Japanese have acquired certain easily recognizable psychological traits. They are cheerful and courteous, exceeding courageous, and capable of great restraint and composure. They are frugal in their habits, industrious in labor, artistic beyond most nations of the West, obedient to recognized authority, ready for sacrifice… they have also great respect for detail … It is well to remember that the Japanese characteristics have been much the same for at least a thousand years…

Hakka cuisine

Hakka cuisine is the cooking style of the Hakka people, who are primarily found in southeastern China (Guangdong and Fujian), but also may be found in many other parts of China, as well as in the Chinese diaspora. Hongkong, Malaysia and Singapore have numerous restaurants serving Hakka cuisine.

Famous dishes

Salt baked chicken (東江鹽焗雞)

Famous Hakka dishes include:

  • Dung Gong Yam Guk Gai – Salt baked chicken (東江鹽焗雞) [tuŋ44 kɔŋ44 jam11 kuk5 kai44] – originally baked inside a heap of hot salt, but today many restaurants simply cook in brine, or cover it with a salty mixture before steaming it or baking it in an oven. [1]
  • Noh Mi Ap – Duck stuffed with rice (糯米鴨) [nɔ53 mi31 ap1]- a whole duck is de-boned while maintaining the shape of the bird, the cavities being filled with seasoned sticky rice.
  • Beef ball soup – very simple clear broth with lettuce and beef balls.
  • Fried pork with fermented tofu: this is a popular Chinese New Year offering which involves two stages of cooking. As previously mentioned, fresh food was at a premium in Hakka areas, so the marinated pork was deep fried to remove the moisture in order to preserve it. When a meal of pork was desired, the fried pork was then stewed with water and wood’s ear fungus. It is a Hakka equivalent to canned soup.

Ngiong Tew Foo (釀豆腐, stuffed tofu cube)

  • Ngiong Tew Foo (釀豆腐, [ɲjɔŋ55 tʰɛu55 fu53] stuffed tofu cube or Dung Gong Ngiong Tew Fu Bao – 東江釀豆腐煲): one of the more popular foods that originated from deep Hakka roots, it consists of tofu cubes heaped with minced meat (usually pork) and herbs, then fried till golden brown, or sometimes braised. Variations include usage of various oddments including eggplants, shiitake mushrooms, and bitter melon stuffed with the same meat paste. Traditionally, Yong tao foo is served in a clear yellow bean stew along with the bitter melon and shiitake variants. Modern variations that are more commonly seen sold in foodstalls are made by stuffing the tofu with solely fish paste. Usage of oddments to replace the tofu are more noticeable in this version, ranging from fried fish maw slices and okra to chili peppers.
  • Kiu nyuk (扣肉 [kʰju53 ɲjuk1], sliced pork with preserved mustard greens): thick slices of pork belly, with a layer of preserved mustard greens between each slice, are cooked and served in a dark sauce made up of soy sauce and sugar. A variation of the recipe on Wikibooks Cookbook is available here.

Kiu nyuk (扣肉;, sliced pork with preserved mustard greens)

  • Lei cha or Pounded Tea (擂茶) [lui11 tsʰa11] : A consortment of tea leaves (usually green tea), peanuts, mint leaves, sesame seeds, mung beans and other herbs, which are pounded or ground into a fine powder which is mixed as a drink, or as a dietary brew to be taken with rice and other vegetarian side dishes such as greens, tofu, and pickled radish.
  • Poon Choi (盆菜) [pʰun11 tsʰɔj53]: A variety of ingredients served in a basin.
  • Sohn Pan Tzai (算盘子) [sɔn53 pʰan11 tsai31] or Àbacus Beads: Made of dough formed of tapioca and yam, cut into abacus-bead shapes, which when cooked, are soft on the outside and a chewy on the inside. The dish may be cooked with minced chicken or pork, dried shrimps, mushrooms and various other vegetables.

The dish is stir-fried, seasoned with light soy sauce, salt, sugar and sometimes rice wine or vinegar (depending on taste).

Hakka food also includes takes on other traditional Chinese dishes, just as other Chinese ethnic groups do.

Taken from Wikipedia : Hakka cuisine

Hakka stone pillars ( 客家石笔)

These pillars are called stone pens, they are usually erected outside the ancestral house. They are rewarded to commemorate the Hakka scholars of passing the Imperial exams . The pillars ranging from 7-8 meteres to 10 metres were inscribed with the scholar’s name and the posts in the office as well as the surname. They are usually made out of marble or granite. the motifs on the body the pillars are  auspicious beast auspicious bird design relief. These pillars erected served as glorying bringing to a family clan as well as served as encouragement for the next generation.

In a metaphorical way, the stone pencils pointing upwards, liken a brush painting , using the sky as a canvas as if to announce the noblity to the heavens above.



Extracted from , translated with aid of babel fish

More on Fujian Hakka Earth Castles Documentary (tu lou) in chinese

Part 1



on black

Often in the western, black is considered gloomy and relates to death, Black death, refers to the infamous plague. However, for the Chinese, It was regarded as “…. the colour of heaven in the Yi Jing (Book of Changes). The saying “heaven and earth of mysterious black” was rooted in the feeling of ancient people that the northern sky shows a mysterious black colour for a long time. They thought that the North Star is where the Tian Di (heavenly emperor) is. Therefore, black was regarded as the king of all colours in ancient China. It is also the single colour that was worshipped the longest time in ancient China. In the Taiji diagram of ancient China, black and white are used to represent the unity of Yin and Yang.

Ancient Chinese coloured pottery and black pottery represent the first peak in ancient China’s pottery-making technology.

(extracted from “The Role of Colours in Traditional Chinese Culture “)

BLACK – colour for young boys (who will continue the family/ ancestor lineages),
delving into the depth of something, flowing, dormant, conserving, immortality, stability, knowledge, trust, adaptability, spontaneity, power, career, will, emotional protection,  calmness vs lack of will

(extrracted from Symbolism of Colours, Asscociations of The Five Elements, Chinese Beliefs, and Feng Shui)

Thus, black symbolizes the beginning of something. Thus, they associate new born colour with black .

Hakka clothing

大襟短衫  [ 點選開新視窗看大圖 ]
“Dajin” short shirt

Hakka young women usual wear,  matches the black the trousers or the skirt. Has an axe shaped sleeve. The jacquard weave are Chinese tradition patterns examples are the pomegranate(石榴), the narcissus(水仙), the lingzhi(靈芝) , the loquat(枇杷) .

大襟短衫  [ 點選開新視窗看大圖 ]
“Dajin” shirt

The working women clothing.   The simple round collar and black strips which led to the button, brings out the beauty in the simplicity. The long clothes slightly extends to knee.

女背心  [ 點選開新視窗看大圖 ]

women’s singlet

The housewives’s singlet.  Silk woven and broad at the base, ancient china  precept said that of older women ate more meat, thus this clothing is more suitable of the aged women.
The girl unlined upper garment [spot chooses new Windows to look at big chart]
children’s singlet
Stand up collar, front, half long narrow sleeve, straight buckle. The front only then trims from the right half collar, may be clear at a glance this for the Hakkas style. 2~3 year-old female infant puts on, the black in the early time lives of the people are the important color, trims from this baby clothes may also result in proves.

Extracted from Hakka affairs Department , under hakka costumes . Translated with aid of babelfish