A a couple years ago, we had the opportunity to visit the famous tulous (pronounced two lows) of Fujian province. The name Tulou literally means earth wall which is what these structures are. They are circular buildings made of packed mud and bamboo which house small communities with the largest accommodating around 2,000 people. These structures were designed to be a fortress against marauding bandits (which they were) while allowing the community to live inside not inconvenienced by the closing of the compound. Additionally, the structure is said to keep the dwellings cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.
It was quite the cultural experience and our first time out in the countryside. There are many different places where one can see tulous, but this is probably the most popular site for our area. This particular place is referred to as "four dishes and a soup" with the four tulous being the dishes and the square building being the soup.
The tulous represent past civilizations in China, and until recently, this area was going the way of many of the small, traditional areas of China, which is moving into obscurity. The young people move away for education and then never move back because there is no industry, no jobs for them to move back to. As the story goes, some time in the 1980s US satellite images of China aroused some concerns. The images of the tulous looked suspiciously like missile silos. So, wanting to know if China had missiles near their coastline, the US military sent in some Green Berets to assess the situation. The soldiers made it in and checked out the tulous, then returned laughing. China found out about what happened and spread the story and the popularity of the houses that fooled the Americans grew until they became a famous tourist site, and remain so today. This notoriety saved the villages which now have an industry--tourism.
People still live in the tulous, and when you visit them, you feel like you are walking into someone's front yard. It almost feels like a violation of privacy. But this is how life works.
We also stopped by a little village that resembled a small European village (at least in my conception). It was very quaint and naturally beautiful, which was a pleasant change from the noise, pollution, and industry of the city.
Here is a site in case you would like to learn more.