Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Kaiping.
Kaiping city is located in the southwestern part of the Pearl River Delta. It is 100 km away from Guangzhou in the northeast.
Kaiping is one of the renowned homes to overseas Chinese. It is famous for the multifunctional houses with their own style. Shall I spare a few minutes to give a brief background of these constructions? Yes. Ok.
Chinese people, especially overseas Chinese, have long been known to have a strong homesick complex. Many of them sent their savings back home. Quite a lot returned to hometown to buy a piece of land, build their own house and get married. In the late Ming and early Qing dynasties, they started to build multi-storied, defensive houses called Diaolou. Do you have any ideas why they made their houses in that way? Here come two main reasons. One is that floods frequently struck this city as it was in a relatively low-lying place. The other is that the city used to have bad social order. Those returned overseas Chinese or those who had relatives abroad were pretty well-off. They suffered a lot from the rampant bandits or gangsters. Diaolou, or watchtower, to put it in the other way, was constructed to solve the aforementioned two problems.
A combination of Chinese and exotic architectural styles is one of the features of this kind of building.
Diaolou in Kaiping appeared on a large scale. The total number of buildings reached 3,300 in its peak time. Nowadays, the number of registered houses is 1,833.
Diaolou is well recognized. Some titles were awarded to it. One is Classic Works Representing the Culture of Overseas Chinese. The second is Showcase of World’s Architectural Art. Diaolou are inscribed upon the list of the National Protection Cultural Relics by the State Council of China. On June 28th, 2007, Kaiping Diaolou and Villages were inscribed on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List, and it is the first heritage from Guangdong.
[Architectural Style of Kaiping Diaolou]
Kaiping Diaolou enjoys its diversity in function, building materials and styles. When we talk about it function, buildings of this kind take three forms. Firstly, they are residential towers built by individual rich families and used as fortified residences. Secondly, they are communal towers built by several families and used as temporary refuge. Thirdly, they are vigil towers used for time telling and neighborhood security watch. Four kinds of building materials have been used. They are mainly stone, pise, brick or concrete. As I just mentioned, Kaiping people had migrated to live in different parts of the world. Those returned overseas Chinese brought back home exotic ideas and applied them to village house building. This is reflected in the architectural styles of Diaolou. Their watchtowers not only boast ancient Greek and Roman flavors, but also blend Gothic, Ialamic, Baroque and Rococo styles. These buildings feature the harmonious integration of varying foreign architecture patterns and the preference of the house owners.
I have been talking quite a lot about the diversity of these watchtowers in terms of function, building materials and architectural style. What is their shared part, then? Do you still remember the problems the local rich people suffered hundreds of years ago? “Yes”. “Good”; “No”. “Oh, no”.
To fulfill its function to defend against bandits, all the watchtowers have narrow iron doors, small steel windows, and solid walls with embrasures. In some watchtowers, hornworks, locally called “swallow nests”, thrust outward on the four corners of the top floor. Those “swallow nests” exert omni-directional control over the surrounding areas. On the top floor of the watchtowers often stand observation posts, equipped with primitive firearms, electric generators, sirens, searchlights, stones, gongs and other defensive devices. From their similar looks and styles, we may say that those watchtowers were mainly used to guard against bandits’ attack.
Kaiping watchtowers have played different roles in different historical periods. In the later stage of China’s War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression, some were used as military strongholds. The most famous one was South Watchtower in Tengjiao Village, Chican Town. In the 1920s and 1930s, Kaiping Diaolou were served as secret sites for the Chinese Communist Party to take up underground revolutionary activities. The most renowned two were Shilou and Zhongshanlou.
With my long-winded introduction to Diaolou, I am now guiding you to see watchtower clusters. One thing I have to point out is that they differ quite a lot in styles, as towers of this kind were built in different periods of time.
[Diaolou Clusters in Zili Village]
A showcase of Diaolou Clusters is in Zili Village. This village lies in Tangkou Town, about 12 kilometers from Kaiping city center. It enjoys the most exquisite, best-preserved, densely located buildings of such kind. Fifteen houses in existence in this village are all ranked as cultural relics of national importance under the protection of the state. Mingshilou, a five-storey residential house, is the fanciest. It was built in 1925, made of armored concrete. At its top stands a hexagonal observation tower, displaying a fusion of Chinese and western structural and decorative forms. On every corner of its fifth floor rises a hornwork. Local people called them “Swallow nest”. As you can see, this house has a massive body, solid iron doors and windows. It has quality designed furnishings and complete living facilities.
[Yinglonglou in Chikan Town]
The oldest is Yinglonglou (Dragon Meeting Tower) in Chikan Town. It was built in the period of Jiajing, Ming Dynasty (1522-1566). The design and construction of this house was free from the exotic architectural influence.
[Ruishilou in Xiangang Town]
The highest and most luxurious Diaolou in Xiangang Town is Ruishilou. The nine-storey tower is 25 meters in height, made of armored concrete. The indoor elegant furnishings are arranged in a traditional Chinese style. It is ranked as No 1 tower in Kaiping.