Friday, March 21, 2008

from abode to roots – the hakka dwelling– 围龙屋 – weilong wu

Perhaps most of us would have seen or read the circular earth dwelling of the Hakka People (客家圆楼) in Yongding County - 永定县 - Fujian Province – 福建省 - China.

It has became a legend of sort that during the cold war in the 1970/s , the US reconnaissance satellite found these huge circular complexes in the mountainous region of south-eastern China & mistook them as a new type of missiles launch pad by the Chinese army. As Fujian Province is located directly opposite Taiwan across the sea, all the more it was a thing to belief in.

Last Sunday afternoon 15Mar, from 2 to 5pm, the Singapore Ying Fo Hakka Association - 应和会馆- located at the junction of Telok Ayer Street and Cross Street - organized a talk on another different type of Hakka earth dwelling – 客家土楼 – known as - Wei Long Wu - 围龙屋 .

In recent years much information on the Hakka earth dwelling -客家土楼 - has been loaded onto the web, and in particular the circular earth dwellings of the Hakka’s from the Yongding County.

According to the author of the book – Kejia tulou jumin - 客家土楼民居 – above photograph - the Hakka earth dwelling is differentiated by a complex of buildings build with earth material packed together as the only supporting structure and linked with a common corridor or passage way. Other builds that where structurally of wood and the wall partition is patched of earth is not considered into this category of Hakka earth building.

The talk last Sunday was focused on dwellings of the Hakka in the Meizhou - 梅州- County in particular, and their earth made dwellings are known as - 围龙屋- Wei Long Wu – or literary translated as Dragon encompassed dwelling – a sort of a semi-circular complex of linked rooms build against a slope.

Unlike the circular earth dwelling of the Hakka living in Yongding County - 永定县- the speaker hypothesized that the Wei Long Wu - 围龙屋 - might not be build with the same intent on heavy defense, as it was not fortified in the same manner. The whole complex of the - Wei Long Wu - 围龙屋- is fairly open with multiple free gateways and passage ways thro the building.

Its primary purpose was to facilitate communal living and with a heavy dose of fung sui – 风水- the geomancy of wind and water - the relation between environment and man - influencing its planning. The building complex has a semi-circular elevated sloping gound in the inner part of the building behind the main hall – an open air enclosure known as - huatai – 化胎. This structure is supposedly to represent the female womb and genders fertility to the occupants in begetting plenty of children.

What is so unique about the Wei Long Wu - 围龙屋- is that the dwelling of the living and the grave of the ancestors are design on the same formation and plan. It would be akin to the Egyptian Pharaohs building their palaces in the same architectural concept and style as their pyramid. However, it is the dwelling of the living that came about first that influences the style of the graves.

The visit to the ancestral villageSongkou - 松口 镇 - Meixian County -梅县

Well, that was 10 years ago in the throe of the Asian financial storm in the December of 1997. It was also the year of the bird flu scare in Hong Kong and south China.

The ancestral home in Songkou is build on a - Wei Long Wu- architectural concept - albeit on a much modest scale. Another unique feature of the - Wei Long Wu – which is a must have – is a semi circular pond in front of the house. It serves as a source for rearing fishes, water to put off fire and of providing a cooling effect to the environment.
Well , water brings good luck and fortune too, and the pond serves in the similar fung sui function as the - aquarium or the little water fountain that one often sees in modern offices and homes in the city.

So much for the facts and fallacies of the architectural style of the ancestors – the Hakkas, like other immigrants have brought along their cultural habits and heritage to the distant lands in the South Seas - the Nanyang – 南洋. The Wei Long Wu -围龙屋- architectural planning and concept can be found in the Hakka ancestral shrine on the island.


1) This is the first of a series of a Sunday afternoon talk to start the first session of the ‘Hakka Cultural Season - 客家文化季 – organized by Ying Fo Hui Kun - 应和会馆– junction of Telok Ayer Street & Cross Street – from March to May 2008.

Title of talk - 走进客家 – 以梅州围龙屋为重点分析 –
A venture into Hakka – a focal view thro the analysis of the Meizhou Wei Long Wu -earth dwelling .

The speaker was a lecturer from the Jiaying University - 嘉应学院 , Dr Fang Xuejia - 房学嘉教授.

2) Ying Fo Hui Kun ––应和会馆 – a Hakka clan association is one of the earliest clan associations established in Singapore, and will be celebrating the 186th year of its foundation in June 2008

That would make it in 1822, barely three years after Raffles landed in Singapore when the Hakka immigrants from the Jiaying district - 嘉应州-organized themselves as a self help group.  

3) The names & places in Chinese characters are mainly rendered in pinyin, instead of in the Hakka pronunciation

1) Kejia tulou jumin - 客家土楼民居 -客家文化丛书
黄汉民 – 1982年获清华大学建筑 学硕士学位- 福建教育出版社, 1995年.10月

On of a series of books on Hakka Culture - Kejia tulou jumin – Hakka Earth Houses

Publisher: Fujian Jiaoyu chubanshe, 1995 Oct
Author: Huang Hanmin, obtained his Masters in Architecture in from Qinghua University in 1982
Purchased on: 1996.Nov.16, @ Hua Dong book exhibition, Chinese Chamber of Commerce; 中华总商会, 华东书展 ; $4.75

2) Links
Ying Fo Hui Kun – 应和会馆 -
Jiaying University - 嘉应学院 -