Kaiping – located 140 kilometres away from Guangzhou – is home to a noteworthy collection of watchtowers known as diaolou, which have resulted in it being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These European-style watchtowers served two purposes during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Chinese villagers who made their fortune in California, brought their wealth home and built these ornate houses to showcase their prosperity and also to protect their kith and kin against forays by bandits and Japanese troops. The Chinese émigrés constructed these buildings with sturdy walls, iron gates and ports for defence and observation.
Kaiping Diaolou & Villages
Kaiping – a major source of emigrants to the West at the turn of the 20th century – is significant due to its many ‘diaolou’, multi-storeyed defensive village houses. These buildings – which display a complex blending of Chinese and Western architectural structures – reflect the important role of the Kaiping émigrés in the progress of several countries throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The stone, pise, brick and concrete diaolou structures were primarily used for three purposes – as temporary refuge, fortified residences and watchtowers. The diaolou structures of Kaiping blend in admirably with the surrounding verdant landscape; the largest collection is in the village of Zili, 11km northwest of Kaiping. This diaolou cluster is spread across three villages and plays host to a collection of 15 well preserved towers that straddle a beautiful rice field. Built in the 1920s, two of these towers – the Mingshi Lou and the Yunhuan Lou – were once homes of the prosperous Fang clan and are now open to the public.
Approximately 20km south of Kaiping, behind the Jingjiangli Village is the 92sqm Ruishi Village which merits a stopover; this nine-storey tower with a Byzantine –style roof and Roman dome is privately owned and is the highest diaolou in Kaiping.
Also worth a visit is the Bianchouzhu Lou – located in Nanxing Village; also known as ‘The Leaning Tower’, it was built in 1903 and its central axis tilts severely off-centre. There are a host of other collections of diaolou, including the old tower, Yinglong Lous, in Sanmenli Village and the fortified houses in Majianglong Village.
Kaiping is also noteworthy for the charming old town of Chikan; a subtle reminder of bygone China, it is located two kilometres southwest of Kaiping and houses a series of quaint old buildings called qilou that straddle the Tanjiang River. Considered unique due to their pillars and enclosed balconies, they were built by foreign Cantonese merchants in the 1920s.
Meanwhile the Li Garden in Tangkou County – located in Beiyi Xiang – is only a 15-minute taxi ride from Kaiping; once the home of a Chinese emigrant to the United States, these days this 1936 structure is a park for tourists. The 11,000sqm garden with artificial waterways, bridges, pavilions and corridors also features fantastically decorated buildings that are hauntingly beautiful.
Highlights and Features
- Bianchouzhu Lou: Also known as ‘The Leaning Tower’ and located in Nanxing Village this structure – built in 1903 – has survived numerous earthquakes and typhoons.
- Chikan: An inhabited village with many mansions built with western and eastern influences of the 19th century.
- Liyuan: About an hour away from Kaiping Town, Liyuan is the best preserved and renovated of all the villages and hosts a museum themed on overseas Chinese culture.
- Mingshi Lou and the Yunhuan Lou: These two towers were built to commemorate the wealth and prosperity of the Fang clan back in the 1920s.
- Ruishi Village: The highest diaolou in Kaiping definitely merits a visit as this privately-owned nine-storey tower with a Byzantine –style roof and Roman dome has spectacular architecture.
- Zili: About three kilometres from Liyuan, this village hosts historical ruins with a giant watch tower.
Good to Know and What Not to Miss
- The diaolou outing makes a good day-trip adventure but it’s also a good idea to spend a night in Kaiping so you can explore the villages thoroughly.
- Due to the fact that the most important diaolous are scattered across the counties, its best to either rent a car or hire a taxi to visit the various sites.
Kaiping Diaolou & Villages
- Opening Hours: 08:00 – 17:00 Daily
- Price Range: Ruishi Lou: Y20; Li Garden: Y60; Each village: Y50
- How to get there: There are a few ways to get to Kaiping; from either one of Guangzhou’s long-distance bus stations, buses leave every 30 minutes between 06:20 and 20:00. The bus leaves from Fengcun bus station at Kengkou Metro Station – the journey takes approximately two hours and should cost around Y57. From Hong Kong there is a 'limousine' bus that departs from Portland Street – the four-hour journey will cost roughly Y130. There is also a bus that leaves from Zhuhai that costs between Y52 to Y71 for the 2 ½ hour journey. Additionally a bus leaves from Shenzen to Kaiping City – the 2 ½ journey will cost you Y90. Kaiping City has two long-distance bus stations, the modern central Yicizhan station and the provincial Lechongzongzhan station; the former is the best starting point for your exploration into the surrounding villages. At these stations you can switch to a local bus that will take you to the contiguous villages. A cab to Zili will cost you approximately Y90 while a trip to Li Garden will cost you Y26; alternatively if you’d like to hire a taxi, its best if you charter one for the whole day – it’s cheaper than hiring a taxi for each destination.