Fujian’s hilly southwestern border with Guangdong is an area central to the Hakka, a Han subgroup known to locals as kejia (客家, kèjiā; guest families) and to nineteenth- century Europeans as “China’s gypsies”. Originating in the Yangzi basin during the third century and dislodged ever southward by war and revolution, the Hakka today form large communities in Guangdong, Fujian and Southeast Asia. They managed to retain their original languages and customs by remaining aloof from their neighbours in the lands in which they settled, a habit that caused resentment and led to their homes being well defended. Traditional villages and hamlets sport fortress-like mansions (tulou, literally “mud building”), of which there are more than thirty thousand spread across the countryside. The largest are four or five storeys high, circular, and house entire clans.
Entry to the area is at YONGDING (永定, yǒngdìng), a heavily built-up city around 120km west and inland from Xiamen, from where local transport heads out to the sights.