Diaolou Buildings and Villages for Tibetan and Qiang Ethnic Groups

Date of Submission: 29/01/2013
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
National Commission of the People's Republic of China for UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Sichuan Province
Ref.: 5815

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


The North End: N 32°17′, E 104°10′

The South End: N 30°04′, E 101°38′

The East End:   N 32°17′, E104°10′

The West End:  N 31°29′, E 102°12′

The Diaolou Buildings and Villages for Tibetan and Qiang Ethnic Groups are located in the alpine valleys in the east of Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, and include 225 Diaolou buildings and 15 villages distributed in Barkam County, Jinchuan County, Wenchuan County, Li County, and Mao County in Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Region, and in Kangding (known as Tatsienlu in the Western World) County, Danba County, and Daofu County in Ganzi (known as Garz, or Garze, or Kardze in the Western World) Tibetan Autonomous Region, in Sichuan Province in the upper reaches of the Dadu River and the Min River in the Hengduan Mountains. The nominated property includes: Buwa Diaolou Buildings and Village of Qiang in Wenchuan County, including 6 Diaolou Buildings; Luobo Village of Qiang in Wenchuan County; Taoping Village of Qiang in Li County, including 3 Diaolou Buildings; Heihu Village of Qiang and Yingzuihe Village in Mao County, including 7 Diaolou Buildings; Diaolou Buildings and Tibetan Villages in Danba County, including 151 Diaolou Buildings distributed in Kegeyi Village, Xiarenyi Village, Boselong Village, Han'eyi Village, Zuobi Village, Moluo Village, Dongfeng Village, Gongbu Village, and Jiaju Village; Diaolou Buildings  and Tibetan Villages of Zhibo, in Songgang  Village and Zhibo Village of Barkam County, including 4 Diaolou Buildings; Group of Diaolou Buildings of Zengda Pass, in Jinchuan County, including 2 Diaolou Buildings; Ancient Diaolou Buildings of Kangding, including 23 Diaolou Buildings in Kangding County; and Ancient Diaolou Buildings of Daofu, including 21 Diaolou Buildings in Daofu County.

The altitudes of the area where the Diaolou Buildings and Villages for Tibetan and Qiang Ethnic Groups are located are mostly between 1500 to 5000 meters above sea. From west to east, there lie the Great Snowy Mountains, the Dadu River, the Qionglai Mountains, and the Min River. With several parallel valleys in the north-south direction providing passages as part of the Tibetan-Yi Corridor for migrations of the ethnic groups, the area is important in the exchanges between  ethnic groups in West China. The Qiang people is one of the most ancient ethnic groups in China, according to the inscriptions on bones or tortoise shells (Oracle) of the Shang Dynasty (1600BC - 1046BC), and have lived in this region for a long time. The Tibetan people migrated into the region after the 7th Century, and developed into a branch different from that in Tibet through the ethnic fusion with the local people, for example, the Jiarong (Rgyalrong) Tibetan and Zhaba Tibetan Ethnic Groups living in the nominated property are included in this branch. The Qiang and the Tibetan people live together in this region. The folk worship of deities of heaven and mountains, and religions of Bonpo and Tibetan Buddhism prevail in this area. The mode of production is mainly farming supplemented by animal husbandry, which forms a three-dimensional agriculture in the vertical mountainous climatic environment. The Diaolou buildings and residences, farmlands, meadows, and alpine valleys finally compose the cultural landscape of agricultural settlements in the plateau.

The Diaolou buildings are some high watchtowers mostly built with stone, with only a few built of adobe in the areas where Qiang people live. A Diaolou building is usually 10 to 60 meters high and covers an area of 25 to 100 square meters. On each floor, it is designed with openings, floor slabs and a single wooden ladder. There are often embrasures on the exterior wall. Besides the square plan, the floor plans of the Diaolou buildings of Qiang are often in form of equilateral polygons with extra ridges masoned on the outer walls, while the plans of the Diaolou buildings of Tibetan are often star-shaped with 5, 6, 8, 12, or 13 corners. The techniques used in the construction of the Diaolou buildings include the outward masonry, the batteredwall and the use of wooden bars for reinforcement etc., all of which represent the highest level of traditional Chinese stone tower building techniques. The earliest historic document mentioning the Diaolou buildings was the Book of the Later Han written in the 5th Century. However, among extant Diaolou buildings so far, the earliest constructed one dates back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907AD) and the others constructed in later dynasties until the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911AD). The origins of the Diaolou buildings are associated with the nature worship and the defensive demands of the ancestors of Tibetan and Qiang people, with functions of residence, religion, ostentatious display of wealth, and geomancy (Fengshui) emerging later. They finally developed into various types of architecture in combination with folk residences, temples, and military camps (fortresses of tribal leaders).

The residences of the Tibetan and Qiang people are often 2 to 4-storey flat-topped Diaolou buildings with rectangular plans, stone-wood structure and earthen roofs. People rear livestock in pens on the ground floor, live and store on the upper middle floors, and use the top floor as the drying platform. The main living room is equipped with a fireplace and the area of each floor is gradually reduced upwards. White stones are piled up at the four corners of the roof, reflecting the local worship of snowy mountains and white stones.

The villages of Tibetan and Qiang ethnic groups are the agricultural settlements on the plateau, which are usually located on the terraces or gentle slopes between the alpine valleys, abiding by the principles of facing the sun, situated close to water, avoiding the winds, and occupying less arable lands. They are often surrounded with sacred mountains, divine woods, religious and entertaining places. The settlements are diverse in scale, with the different distribution: concentrated, dispersive, or along the mountain ridges. The Diaolou buildings are distributed inside or outside the village or close to the strategically important places according to their various functions. The number of Diaolou buildings varies in different villages, with that of the Tibetan villages relatively larger.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The Tibetan and Qiang ethnic groups, with a long history and rich associations, live together in the areas of the Hengduan Mountains in the east of Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Their buildings and settlements strongly feature the local and ethnic characteristics due to the influences of their production modes, religious beliefs, plateau landforms, alpine climates, etc. The numerous and extensively distributed Diaolou Buildings and Villages for Tibetan and Qiang Ethnic Groups are represented by those in Aba and Ganzi areas in the west of Sichuan Province.

The architectural tradition of the Diaolou buildings originates from the local stone buildings and tombs in the Neolithic Age. Incorporating religious elements such as the nature worships, Bonpo and Buddhism and meeting the defensive and residential demands, construction techniques and rich forms of vernacular architecture were developed, and Diaolou buildings, the tower-form buildings containing both spiritual and physical functions were erected, representing the unique achievements of the traditional architecture of the Tibetan and Qiang ethnic groups.

The production mode in Tibetan and Qiang areas is mainly farming supplemented by animal husbandry. The locations and layouts of their villages not only manifest the rational use of land and other natural resources, but also express the respect of nature, which create the beautiful landscape and a sustainable relationship between human and land.

The Diaolou Buildings and Villages for Tibetan and Qiang Ethnic Groups display the great adaptability and creativity of the local people, as well as their cultural traditions, in the severe natural environment of the Qinghai- Tibet Plateau, which bear a unique testimony to the Tibetan and Qiang societies and history.

The Diaolou Buildings and Villages for Tibetan and Qiang Ethnic Groups meet World Heritage criteria (i), (ii), (iii), (iv), and(v). In the meantime, in consideration of the backgrounds of the agricultural societies on the plateau and their diversity in ethnic groups, the nominated property fall into the category of the cultural landscape the organically evolved one, which testify the multicultural traditions and their continuity.

Criterion (i): The Diaolou Buildings and Villages for Tibetan and Qiang Ethnic Groups are the masterpiece of architecture created by the local ancestors restrained and inspired by the severe natural environments, which take stone, earth and wood as the constructing materials, and have fulfilled remarkable achievements in the aspects of stability, height and scale of architecture through the unique, sophisticated and consummate techniques. The Diaolou buildings are 60 meters high at maximum, and the largest height-side-length ratio can reach 10:1. The architectural floor plans have patterns of 4, 5, 6, 8, 12, or 13 corners. Of the large number of Diaolou buildings, the spiritual functions such as nature worship and religious beliefs are integrated with the practical residential and defensive functions. In the combination of folk residences, military camps, temples and others, they developed into various types of buildings. Most of the Diaolou buildings survived the Sichuan Earthquake in 2008, which demonstrate their great aseismatic capacity.

Criterion (ii): The forms, functions and techniques of the Diaolou Buildings of Tibetan and Qiang Ethnic Groups and the locations of the villages and their diversity in layout are the results of the inheritance and developments of different ethnic groups in various areas for more than 2000 years, which manifest the diversity of languages, ethnic groups and religions in the Tibetan-Yi Corridor area in Southwest China, and their ethic migrations and cultural evolutions as well, especially the transformation from nomadic to agricultural civilization, and the cultural exchanges and communications between the Tibetan and the Han people.

Criterion (iii): The Diaolou Buildings of Tibetan and Qiang Ethnic Groups reflect the unique local culture that has always emphasized the spiritual connection between the height of architecture and divinity ever since the ancient time. The continuously evolving landscape and its relative intangible heritage constituted by the Diaolou buildings and villages, as evidence to their long history and traditional societies, authentically manifest the cultural features and evolving processes of the agricultural civilization on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.

Criterion (iv): The Diaolou buildings, featuring their large scales, sophisticated techniques and various forms, represent the great achievements of the traditional architecture of Tibetan and Qiang ethnic groups, and constitute a unique landscape of agricultural settlements on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau in combination of such elements as folk residences, temples, farmlands, sacred mountains, sacred trees, valleys, rivers and others, which reflect the complicated social transitions in the Tibetan-Yi Corridor area in the large context of time and space through their rich contents and meanings.

Criterion (v):  The locations and layouts of the villages of Tibetan and Qiang ethnic groups manifest multiple functions of defense, disaster prevention and relief, production, religion, providing an outstanding example of human settlements with full respect to the natural laws and an example of the three-dimensional agriculture in vertical climatic zone in the Hengduan Mountains. At present, with the severe challenges of urbanization, energy exploitation, tourism development to the natural environment on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and to traditional cultures of Tibetan and Qiang ethnic groups, the lifestyles represented by the Diaolou buildings and villages should be properly protected.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity


Owing to the remoteness, inconvenient traffic, and low density of population in most of the nominated villages, tourism development and urbanization have exerted little influence on them, which ensures the authentic preservation and inheritance of the physical and spiritual elements of the nominated property.

The materials, forms and decorations of other folk residences and temples in the Diaolou villages of Tibetan and Qiang ethnic groups are well preserved as they were, which authentically demonstrate their own features and the differences between them due to different periods, ethnic groups and regions.

The traditional construction techniques of the nominated property have been passed down and preserved, with many craftsmen still living and working today. The restoration and new construction of the Diaolou buildings and villages all strictly adopt the traditional techniques, related rites and other customs, and use the local materials.

Most of the buildings within the villages maintain their original functions. Although the defensive function of the Diaolou buildings has been weakened while the functions of storage, residence and religions have continued, the Diaolou buildings are still regarded as important properties and the symbol of ethnic cultures by the villagers with the associated customs entirely continued.

The locations, layouts, surrounding agricultural landscape and natural environments of the nominated villages all authentically display their original appearances, and the production modes and religious beliefs have also been well preserved. The original inhabitants of Tibetan and Qiang ethnic groups still live in all the nominated villages, who highly identify with and are very proud of their ethnic cultures.


The nominated property includes 225 Diaolou buildings and 15 villages owned by the Tibetan and Qiang ethnic groups, which cover the mixed area of Tibetan and Qiang people dwell in the upper reaches of the Dadu River and the Min River in the north of Hengduan Mountains, with a cultural diversity of ethnic groups, languages, geographic conditions, religions and others. They cover all the typical features in form, material, function and layout of the Diaolou Buildings and Villages for Tibetan and Qiang Ethnic Groups in this area, and fully represent their architectural and cultural characteristics.

The tangible elements composing the integrated cultural landscape of the nominated property, including the Diaolou buildings, folk residences, temples, sacred mountains, sacred trees, farmlands, valleys, rivers etc., and the intangible elements such as languages, religions, festivals, construction techniques and production modes, have all been well preserved and inherited.

The heritage area and buffer zone of the nominated property cover all elements composing the heritage sites and and their settings, which can protect the property from various threats to the most extent.

The nominated Diaolou buildings and villages are mostly listed as protected monuments or historic sites by different levels of governments. In particular the Zhibo Diaolou Buildings and Danba Group of Historic Diaolou Buildings are National Protected Heritage Sites, Luobo Village in Wenchuan County and Moluo Village in Danba County are Historic Villages of China, and the construction techniques of Diaolou Buildings of Tibetan and Qiang Ethnic Groups have been included into the List of National Intangible Heritage, all of which are protected at the highest level of the country.

The threats of energy exploitation and geological hazards in the nominated property are strictly controlled and monitored to reduce the potential harm to the most extent.

Comparison with other similar properties

In consideration of the association with the nominated villages, the World Heritage sites involved in the comparative study are divided into two groups according to their physical forms: i.e. the vernacular settlements with defensive watchtowers and the traditional defensive settlements, and the other similar settlements of different cultural backgrounds and natural environments: i.e. the agricultural settlement heritage in Asia, and the Arctic Circle cultural landscape in Europe.

The vernacular settlements with defensive watchtowers include Upper Svaneti in Georgia (1996) and Kaiping Diaolou and Villages in China (2007). Upper Svaneti in Georgia contains the traditional villages and 200 watchtowers in the alpine valleys, which is similar to the nominated property. However, the watchtowers of Upper Svaneti only perform the function of defense, while the Diaolou Buildings of Tibetan and Qiang Ethnic Groups have spiritual functions and have larger scales, and also develop into various forms in combination of other architectures, with larger numbers of buildings, wider distributions, longer span of time, greater context of time and space, and more diverse meanings. The Kaiping Diaolou and Villages in China were mostly built in the 19th and 20th Centuries influenced by western cultures, with concrete and bricks as the main materials. The Diaolou Buildings of Tibetan and Qiang Ethnic Groups have had a history of a thousand years and are constructed with local materials as a result of the Tibetan and Qiang ethnic cultures. In addition, Fujian Tulou in China (2008) also carries out the defensive function, the same as the Diaolou Buildings of Tibetan and Qiang Ethnic Groups, but their forms and cultural backgrounds are totally different: Tulou are the rammed-earth settlements where the Han clans live together, and the Diaolou buildings are the watchtowers built with stones.

The traditional defensive settlements include the Old Walled City of Shibam (1982), and the Old City of Sana'a (1986) in Yemen, and the Historic Centre of San Gimignano in Italy (1990). Firstly, all these three sites are urban historic settlements, while the villages of Tibetan and Qiang ethnic groups are vernacular settlements. Secondly, the towers in these three sites are mainly located within the urban areas and were built in about the 10th Century (Shibam and Sana'a) and the 13th to 14th Century (San Gimignano) respectively. The Diaolou Buildings of Tibetan and Qiang Ethnic Groups feature a larger number and wider distribution area with a continuous history of a thousand years. Thirdly, the buildings in the Old Walled City of Shibam and the Old City of Sana'a are mainly folk residences in the form of towers, and those in the Historic Centre of San Gimignano mainly the defensive watchtowers, all of which perform a single function. In contrast, the Diaolou Buildings of Tibetan and Qiang Ethnic Groups combine both the practical and spiritual functions.

The agricultural settlement heritage sites in Asia include the Historic Villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama in Japan (1995), the Ancient Villages in Southern Anhui - Xidi and Hongcun in China (2000), and the Historic Villages of Korea: Hahoe and Yangdong in Korea (2010). All of these mentioned sites are associated with agriculture and wooden architecture, and the Confucian culture and Japanese Shintoism as well. The nominated property, however, features the plateau agriculture, defensive architecture built of stone with characteristics of nature worship, Bonpo, Buddhism and others, and represents the diversity of agricultural civilizations and architectural traditions in Asia.

The Arctic Circle landscape in Europe includes the case of Laponian Area in Sweden (1996). The Laponian Area features the traditional culture of Saami people and the Arctic Circle landscape, and shares the features of alpine traditional society with the nominated property. The Saami people live on nomadism, fishing and hunting, without fixed settlements, while the Tibetan and Qiang people live on a three-dimensional agriculture based on farming and have had time-honored architectural traditions. Both of them represent the various means of human adapting to the extreme natural environments.
From the comparative analysis, it is clear that although some of the sites on the World Heritage List share similarities with the nominated property, they are fundamentally different in architectural form, nature of settlement, and the corresponding cultural and historical backgrounds. Hence, the nominated property is a unique representation of the defensive architecture and settlement landscape of the agricultural civilizations on the plateau with outstanding universal value, which will increase the representativeness and cultural diversity of the World Heritage List through its inscription.