Chikan 赤坎 Home to the Grandmaster and Qilou Buildings


Kaiping, Guangdong Province

 Home to the Grandmaster and Qilou Buildings

Rows of historic Qilou buildings and old world charm await the traveler in the Guangdong Village of Chikan

Chikan 赤坎 River Front  Qilou Buildings
Chikan 赤坎 River Front Qilou Buildings

Arrival in Chikan 赤坎 is quite spectacular. The town’s unique riverine setting, and it’s unbroken line of Qilou style buildings strung out along the entire Tanjiang River front, is one of Southern China’s most impressive sights.

Qilou Buildings Chikan
Qilou Buildings Chikan

The town invites exploration, but at the same time there are the small, appealing restaurants under the Qilou arcades. This poses a dilemma for the traveler; exploration first, or a cold beer; we chose the latter, but both options are great. Chikan is a place to linger.

Qilou Buildings Chikan
Qilou Buildings Chikan

Qilou buildings are a construction style that developed in the late 19th and early 20th Century in Guangdong Province. As city streets were widened, Qilou buildings began to spring up. They combined 18th Century Western architectural styles with traditional Cantonese styles.

Qilou Buildings with Wooden Shutters and Coloured Glass
Qilou Buildings with Wooden Shutters and Coloured Glass

The most prominent features are the pillared columns that provide shoppers and shopkeepers’ alike with shelter from the merciless sun and the torrential downpours. The upper floors, usually three or four, are characterized by their European influenced wooden shutters or stained glass windows.

Chikan Backstreets
Chikan Backstreets

While some of the river front houses have been turned into Continue reading “Chikan 赤坎 Home to the Grandmaster and Qilou Buildings”

Majianglong 马降龙: The most beautiful village in China???

Majianglong 马降龙

Kaiping / Guangdong Province

Majianglong 马降龙

Majianglong 马降龙  is a must when exploring the Diaolou in the Kaiping region. The local tourist propaganda calls it the most beautiful village in China and one of the 50 places that can’t be missed. Heard that one before? Actually, while I’d take some of the hype with a pinch of salt, Majianglong is undoubtedly very pretty and makes for a fascinating visit.

Majianglong 马降龙

Majianglong is not one village, but a collection of 5 small hamlets: Yong’an永安, Nan’an 南安, Qinglin庆临, Hedong河东 and Longjiang龙江,linked together by bamboo- shaded stone paths along the shores of the Tanjiang River 潭江.

Majianglong 马降龙

The buildings in Majianglong are sturdy, grey- brick constructions with beautiful roofs and lovely paintings above and around the doorways, showing scenes from classical China: beautiful maidens, song birds, flower arrangements, etc. The vernacular buildings mostly date from the Qing dynasty, while the Diaolou are early Chinese Republic edifices.

Majianglong 马降龙

Obviously, the number one activity around here is ‘spot the Diaolou’ (Click here for a definition of a Diaolou). Given that these are rather tall buildings, you’d be surprised how challenging this can be. Many are hidden by the dense vegetation and the tall, swaying bamboo trees, or concealed down blind alleys.

Majianglong 马降龙

The best way to get your bearings is to climb to the Continue reading “Majianglong 马降龙: The most beautiful village in China???”

Kaiping Diaolou / Guangdong Province (Visiting the Diaolou)

Kaiping Diaolou

Guangdong Province: China

Diao Lou in Jinjiangli Village 锦江里的碉楼

The Diaolou

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.

Dialou everywhere

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.

Abandoned Diaolou

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.


Kaiping is Continue reading “Kaiping Diaolou / Guangdong Province (Visiting the Diaolou)”