Our host has been taking us on trips over the past few weeks, hoping that we will get a well rounded perspective on Chinese life and culture. Last night he told us we were going to see some Chinese castles. My understanding of where we are going and what we are going to see is pretty minimal. This is due to a combination of things including my absence of Chinese language skills, my host’s limited English and my inability to use Google here in China. (Later I found out that these castles were located in Kaiping, China in the Guangdong Province.)
After about a two hour ride from Foshan we arrived at the Dialou Castles. We found out last minute that our host would not be coming in with us. Since they have toured the area before we would be going in solo. We gave the attendant our ticket and headed through the entrance.
I’m going to be straight with you, I have never heard of Chinese castles.
Historically speaking I was under the impression that the Chinese focused the majority of their architectural efforts on the Great Wall. Never having heard of a Chinese castle before I thought I was about to be shown a long lost gem of China. While I don’t consider myself well versed in the history of castles I don’t believe that these structures would fit the bill. They did not much resemble any castle that I am familiar with. Which to be honest is mostly of the Disney princess variety.
While I didn’t consider them very castle-y the history behind these structures were extremely interesting.
These “castles” were made as a lookout and protection against pirates and bandits! They were primarily constructed during the Ming Dynasty (1920’s and 1930’s) when many Chinese from this area were emigrating to the US and Canada during the California Gold Rush and the construction of the North American railway system. Many of these emigrants had great luck financially in the Western world and became quite wealthy. They would send money back home to their family to help support the construction of these buildings. Western architectural designs were sent along with the money as well to act as inspiration for the castles. That is how these castles became a fusion of Western and Chinese influences.
While I certainly appreciate museums and historical sites as much as the next person…
Walking around the grounds in over 100 degree fahrenheit temperatures and 80% humidity makes one weak. Back in the US I sweat a ridiculous amount with minimal physical exertion, but here in Southern China I start sweating by just breathing. Literally, all I have to do is sit on a bench and be alive and little salty rivers form and slide down the unmentionables. I won’t even talk about what a mess I am when we have to climb 5 flights of stairs to dinner. The Chinese like steps.
My host, God bless him, is extremely proud of his Chinese culture and consequently obsessed with Chinese museums and history. So not spending an ungodly amount of time immersing ourselves in the history of the Dialou is borderline disrespectful. We did our best to spend what we thought would be an adequate amount of time. We dawdled, read all the signs, took way too many photos, and walked in a circle (literally). An hour and a half seemed like an acceptable time to become knowledgeable on the Dialou. However once we arrived back at the entrance we were greeted with “Back so soon?”.
If you are ever in the Foshan area I would recommend checking out the Dialou castles. They are a unique contribution to Chinese history.
Has anyone else heard of or visited these Chinese castles before?