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  Chinese Way>Life
At Home with Hakka Legacy


Zhencheng Lou, a Hakka tulou in Fujian province, was added to the World Heritage List in 2008.

To Lin Rigeng, his house had only been a home.

Until the tourists kept showing up.

"I didn't realize that it was in fact a world historical treasure until I found more people coming to visit it," Lin said.

The building is a prime example of tulou architecture, a large circular communal building representative of Hakka culture in Fujian province.

Though there are 23,000 such buildings in Yongding county, Lin owns one of the most famous, Zhencheng Lou, also known as "The Prince of Hakka Tulou".

Lin's grandfather, who became the richest businessman in Yongding selling tobacco cutters, built the tulou in 1912. It took the family nearly five years and the equivalent of 10 million yuan ($1.6 million) today to complete the design and construction of the four-story building.

It consists of 208 rooms around a central courtyard, covering nearly 5,000 square meters.

It made the World Heritage List in 2008.

"It's one of only two structures in China following the design of the Eight Diagrams, the other being the Temple of Heaven in Beijing," said Lin, 61, proudly.

But Lin didn't know details like this back in the 1980s even though he had lived in the building since birth.

"I'm the least educated person in my family," said Lin, who only finished primary school, while his siblings are all university graduates.

"We Hakka people pay great attention to education. But my father said he named me Rigeng, literally meaning 'farming every day', because he hoped for me to stay with the house."

Lin has followed his father's hope, staying with the building even when all his siblings have moved to big cities or overseas.

Back in the early 1980s, Yongding was still a landlocked mountainous area where people had little connection with the outside world and its tulou attracted only a few backpackers.

At that time, Lin, like most of his neighbors, spent most of his time growing rice and tea in the mountains.

The tulou was nothing more than home, he said.

At first, he often volunteered to give visitors directions.

"The village was a poor, isolated place back then with no roadways," Lin recalled. "Visitors had no choice but to walk to our village to see the tulou, and they easily got lost."

Then he started to encounter many questions from visitors that he couldn't understand, or answer.

"My father told me that for our Hakka people, every visitor is a distinguished guest, and we should do our best to serve them," Lin said. "As owner of the house, I felt ashamed not being able to introduce my home to others."

So he started to learn, collecting facts and stories first from the elder generation in the family and the village, then from visitors who happened to be experts in history or architecture.

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