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Diaolou, Kaiping

Proposed World Heritage Classification: Cultural Site
Location: Kaiping City, Guangdong Province
 

The diaolou or fortified watchtowers found in Kaiping, Guangdong Province, were first constructed in the early Qing dynasty (1644~1912). They reached their peak in the 1920s and 1930s when there were estimated to be more than three thousand of these structures and according to a recent survey carried out by the Kaiping City Government, there are over 1800 diaolou still standing. In 2001 the State Council declared the Kaiping Diaolou a Protected Cultural Relic in view of their special significance in China’s vernaculararchitecture.

The Diaolou were fortress-like buildings constructed with a dual function in mind: for housing and as a defensive structure to provide protection against forays by bandits. The multi-storey towers had thick walls with slits for surveillance and their solid structure meant that they could withstand both enemy attacks and inclement weather such as flooding.

Diaolou can be divided into three basic types: genglou, zhonglou, and zhulou. The genglou were strong plain structures built near a village to provide communal defence. The villagers would contribute money collectively and each family would be entitled to a room.

At the other end of the range, the zhulou were built in the country and were the epitome of the dual Diaolou function. The zhulou were high and spacious with exquisite sculpted details and offered tasteful, comfortable living quarters.

Since the fourteenth century, Kaiping has traditionally been a region of major emigration abroad, and a melting pot of ideas and trends brought back by overseas Chinese made good. This is also reflected in the plethora of influences seen in the architectural styles of the watchtowers, with the interesting feature that western details are produced with local bricks and materials.

Outstanding Feature: Fortified watchtowers incorporating architectural features from China and the West.

 

The Main Scenic Spots:


Ruishi Diaolou

Ruishi Diaolou

Ruishi Diaolou is located behind Jinjiangli Village, Lianggang Township. It covers an area of 92 square metres, and was constructed in 1921 at the peak of the style’s popularity. It has nine floors and is the highest diaolou at Kaiping. Each floor has square windows in alignment with the top three floors of pavilions and winding corridors. The Byzantine style roof and Roman dome supported by walls and pillars are quite unique.

 

Diaolou cluster, Zili Village

This diaolou cluster is spread across three villages (Anhe li, He’an li and Yong’an li) and has 15 well preserved diaolou and houses. The Mingshi Lou(1925), with all its original furnishings inside, is an excellent example of a diaolou.

 


Diaolou Custer, Zili Village

 

Li Garden

Located in Beiyi Xiang, the Li Garden was constructed in 1936 by Mr. Xie Weili, a Chinese emigrant to the United States. Li Garden occupies 11, 000 square metres with artificial waterways, bridges, pavilions and corridors.

There are several yellow brick blue-tiled buildings in the garden, which demonstrate the fusion of western and Chinese designs, and the gardens flourish with a variety of flora, including the Chinese redbud, kapok, cypress and other precious flowers and plants. This exquisite combination of architecture and wildlife makes Li Garden both idyllic and panoramic.

 

Fangshi Denglou

Built in 1920 after contributions from villagers, this denglou is five storeys high. It is referred to as the “Light Tower” in reference to the fact that it had an enormous searchlight as bright as the beam of a lighthouse.

 


Fangshi Denglou

Bianchouzhu Lou (The Leaning Tower)

Bianchouzhu Lou in Nanxing Village was constructed in 1903. It has seven floors built over a period of two years due to financing difficulties. By the time the third floor was under construction, the house was already leaning, and currently the central axis is over two metres off centre. Nevertheless, it has survived numerous earthquakes and typhoons in the past century, making it the most famous leaning diaolou in Kaiping City.


The Leaning Tower