The robust Tujias of south central China, one of China's 55 minority peoples, have been showing their rich local heritage to the world for many years. The Tujia mainly live in China's Hunan, Hubei, and Guizhou provinces, as well as in Chongqing municipality. Visitors traveling in Sichuan and touring Chongqing, a major port of call along most Yangtze river cruise routes, have been drawn by the Tujia people's distinctive culture, particularly by one characteristic that sets them apart from anywhere else - their unique dwellings.
As a product of their environment, the Tujia have taken to building their homes on pilings such that the structure sits 2 to 3 meters (6.5 to 10 feet) over the ground, earning them the name "hanging homes." Built on sides of steep mountain inclines or above water (creeks and rivers), these hanging homes are constructed completely from wood, made without iron or other metals to provide structural integrity, yet they stand firmly in all types of weather! Not only that, hanging homes often have 2 or more stories, adding to their striking spectacle.
One impressive fact about the Tujia's long-time construction of hanging homes is that the open space below the living quarters allows for ample ventilation, which greatly helped prevent rheumatism in the days before modern medicine, as well as protecting the inhabitants from attacks by wild animals. At the same time, hanging home dwellers can still make full use of the ground floor, housing livestock and storing sundries and firewood within close proximity and easy reach.
On your visit to Chongqing's Tujia hanging homes, one thing to keep an eye out for that you might normally overlook is the intricate craftsmanship used to decorate the homes. The main doorway and windows are usually decorated with finely engraved wooden plates or lattices, imbuing a simple yet elegant charm to each home. Sadly, though, as the Tujia are drawn more and more into the rapid development occurring around them, their traditional artistry is gradually fading away.
Plan an extra day before your Yangtze river cruise to explore these vanishing wonders, or include a Tujia village with your tour of Chongqing's exquisite old town named Ciqikou. Combined with a meal or two of world-famous Chongqing-style hot pot, you will be glad you came!