Haikou is tropical touristic destination in Southern China. It is located on Hainan island and is has long history. Records tell that a fortification was there at least since 13th century. An old legend tells that five dragons had grown up in lakes of Hainan. Now Haikou is proud with traditional Qiong opera that was established 17th century and puppet theatre.

One of architectural typology curiosities is Haikou Qilou houses that were built in commercial districts between late 19th – early 20th century. It is an architectural style that merges traditional building layout with then popular European style facades. Qilou have residential and commercial functions, and resemble row houses with beautiful facades and arcades to hide from sun and narrow long exteriors with succeeding rooms. While ground floor of Qilou is used for commerce and storage, first and second floors could be residential, with shopkeeper’s family living there.


European colonial culture had influenced tastes of rich Chinese merchants who travelled to Europe. When they returned home they would order to build visually similar houses in coastal cities. Local construction techniques with bamboo were combined with a mix of Western styles facades.  The craftsmen were usually trained in Europe as well. Richly decorated facades bear a blend of Western decorations and Chinese traditional patterns, if one gets closer to observe.

In 1924 the government had demolished an old city wall and there appeared opportunities for Haikou expansion. In two years 800 Qilou houses were constructed and special regulations on how to build them were introduced. Height and width of buildings depended on street width. Typically Qilou has two to three storeys and are three to six meters wide. Behind the first room, in the middle of the building Qilou have courtyards, in accordance to Chinese housing tradition, but Qilou courtyards are typically smaller.

Not reconstructed view of Qilou

Middle of 20th century brought a decline of Qilou construction, the were not as successful anymore and were rented to fit several families inside. But by the 21st century the tradition of Qilou is experiencing small revival, especially with more tourists coming to visit Haikou. Old houses are restored and turned into popular shopping spots again. But some of families decide to reconstruct the building completely, leaving only a typical for Qilou long narrow footprint.  Many of the buildings are turned into touristic sight spots and hotels, serving tourist based economy of the island. The return of interest in Qilou is coming along with accepting that style as cultural and historic heritage, developed under specific historical circumstances as a mixture of Western and Eastern building traditions.


Chen, J. 2013. Haikou QiLou Historical and Artistic Value. Applied Mechanics and Materials, 409, pp. 404-409.

Haikou China official website. Available online at <http://www.haikou.gov.cn/pub/haikou/gyhk/>

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