Guangdong Province: China
Diao Lou in Jinjiangli Village 锦江里的碉楼
These amazing buildings sprout like giant mushrooms from the pretty paddy fields around Kaiping. Some structures are simple and plain affairs, others elaborate and ornate, the best are jaw droppingly beautiful.
Diao Lou near Kaiping
The Diaolou were mostly built by returning Chinese emigrants in the early years of the 20th Century, especially in the 1920s. Many reflect the styles of the countries where the émigrés went, like Malaysia, Indonesia, Europe or North America. Some of the Diaolou are a mix of different styles. Building a Dialou was a returning émigré’s way of showing the homeland that he had made it. However, at the same time, one of the principal functions of a Diaolou was defensive. China in the 1920’s was in the midst of the Warlord era. Internal conflicts and instability were rife.
Bandits and remnants of warlord armies roamed the countryside, pillaging and looting. The Diaolou were used primarily as night watch-towers and as a way of sealing off and protecting the family from potential intruders and kidnappers. This was done by providing the towers with heavily fortified entrance gates, as well as the means of closing off each floor separately.
The more elaborate Diaolou were also built to display their owners’ wealth and prestige. Some have commemorative plaques, documenting the family’s history. There are stories of great patriotic heroism, others are of personal tragedies and incredible hardship. When the Japanese invaded China, many of the Diaolou owners fled abroad and never returned.
After the Chinese Revolution in 1949, the Diaolou fell into disuse and were all but forgotten until the 1990s. However, after a long campaign by Chinese history scholars, the Diaolou of Kaiping were listed as UNESCO heritage in 2007. Slowly, the descendants of some of the emigrants have been returning to restore the buildings. There are still over 1,800 Diaolou in the Kaiping region.
To visit the Diaolou, you first have to get to Kaiping, which is some two and a half hours by bus from Guangzhou.
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