The Qiang people’s diaolou

By By Jiao Husan / 08-02-2013 / (Chinese Social Sciences Today)


Diaolou in Taoping, a Qiang village built in 111 BC

Seen from afar, numerous diaolou (watch towers) dot the North Sichuan landscape in Maoxian, Wenchuan, Lixian and Beichuan, the areas that are home to the Qiang people.  Up close however, the Tibetan-Qiangdiaolou are grand structures that guard their builder’s rich cultural heritage, and the heritage of China’s Southwestern Region.


These dwellings of the Qiang—unique edifices in various shapes—transcend their utilitarian function, becoming living fossils embedded with their residents’ historical patterns.  The old name for diaolou is “qionglong,” places where Qiang people lived when they finally settled and began an agrarian lifestyle, breaking with a nomadic past. Qiang construction techniques, passed down through the generations as a tangible inheritance of ethnic spatial features, are surely a miracle of world architectural history.


Qiang diaolou are generally built by the steep terrain of mountains, though their foundations are usually not erected on the steeper parts of the slopes. Constructing their towers entirely by hand, the Qiang used mostly natural stones and clay as building material, creating two distinct, respective categories of diaolou. Taoping, a Qiang village built in 111 BC, enjoys the name “oriental old castle.” Viewed from a distance, its layout resembles a bagua, an octagon composed of eight trigrams used for divination in the classic The Book of Changes. Houses adjacent to each other in neat rows, the entire structure is clearly organized and harmoniously displayed.


Styles of diaolou vary across dialect regions; diaolou culture even varies in different villages. In the southern part of the Qiang-dialect area, the diaolou in Buwa village along the Zagunao river are known as “huangnidiao(or yellow clay tower)”, while those in Longxigou village as referred to as “shidiao (or stone tower).” These differences reflect the richness of Qiang culture.


Diaolou are a symbol of group dwelling; they are also a foundation for the survival and flourishing of Qiang village culture. As witnesses of Qiang history and civilization, they merit great effort in protection and preservation.


Jiao Husan is from Chinese Academy of Intangible Cultural Heritage.


The Chinese version appeared in Chinese Social Sciences Today, No. 416, Feb, 18, 2013.



Translated by Feng Daimei
Revised by Charles Horne