Monday, August 6, 2007

Fujian Clan Houses

My passion for tea has always been a marriage of my mutual interests in culture and history. As much as I enjoy the taste of tea, in the end I think it is the intellectual, not culinary, experience that I crave more. After my last post in which I mentioned how many of the teas I enjoy come from Fujian, I thought I would do some research and write about it. Instead I found these and fell in love.

*No two sources I found on the Internet offered information that meshed as well as I would like, or cited sources that looked legit (I don't trust Wikipedia as much as I used to), so I'm going to try to stick to the details that they agree on. I apologize if any of the information turns out to be incorrect.

These clan homes, also called Tu Lou (earth building) are large, some are 90 meters in diameter, round or rectangular buildings that can house as many as four generations. The architecture is centuries old and attributed to the Hakka (guest family), a sub group of the Han. They are found in the southern and western parts of Fujian, as well as Guangdong. They include an open courtyard at its center that can house out door kitchens, stables, guest houses, and an ancestral shrine, with the outer walls housing the numerous rooms.

Perhaps it is because I grew up with a small family that has since evaporated, but I find the idea of clan houses enchanting. In a land as vast as China, with so many people, to have a clearly defined place where you belong, where you fit, must be grand. Perhaps I am overly romanticizing them, and children dreamed of growing up and getting away, but I'd like to think I'm not.

For some reason these remind me of Kung Fu Hustle.

Unfortunately, Tu Lou, while still occupied by families, are no longer being built. A stronger government in China decreases the involvement of clans in politics, and makes fortified structures like this unnecessary and/or illegal. Also more people are leaving the rural areas to seek employment in the cities. As a part of this, clans are breaking up into single family homes, and the Tu Lou eventually fall into disrepair. I am sad to see them go and to think that they wont always be a part of China, but I think this site said it well:
"China is not and should not be an open-air museum. Understandably, the country’s development proceeds without much regard for the conservation of archaic social structures and the corresponding architecture. The tulou are no longer built, and in a few generations they will have disappeared entirely, only to be found in literature."
China is criticised frequently, and though I do not agree with many of the practices of its government, I remain ever respectful it, of its age, its culture, of its numerous accomplishments, past and yet to come.

I am glad that my pursuit of tea has led me to another discovery that I would otherwise have remained ignorant.


Bill said...

Thanks for another wonderful post. I also agree the more you learn about the culture; the more you know, the better the taste seems to be.

Bill said...

I also agree with you that that the culture is paramount. It seems to me that the more I know about a particular place the more I can appreciate their cuisine, teas, wines or what have you! Thanks again for a great post!

MarshalN said...

Part of the reason they needed these is because sometimes there are nasty turf wars with Han people, fighting for land and other things, and this is as much a self-protection thing than anything else.

Han lineages in Southern China also built walled encampments that the whole lineages lived in. In New Territories in Hong Kong there are some that are still filled with residents. They're not round like this, but they're walled and everybody living in them belong to the same family.

You're right that this is a place where they belong, but especially for the Hakka, this is because they don't belong anywhere else... it's a sad story, really.

Space Samurai said...

Thanks for the information. I feel a little naive being so up beat about them. It is sad. But I guess the world is sad place, and part of dealing with it is seeing how even the things that make us hurt can be beautiful.