The diaolou (碉樓) are fortified multi-storey towers, which were constructed in the Kaiping area from the early Qing Dynasty, reaching a peak in the 1920s and 1930s, when there were more than three thousand of these structures.

Today, approximately 1,800 diaolou are still standing. The diaolou served two purposes: housing and protecting against forays by bandits. The Kaiping diaolou and villages were added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2007.

Kaiping has traditionally been a region of major emigration abroad, and a melting pot of ideas and trends brought back by overseas Chinese made good. As a consequence, several watchtowers incorporate architectural features from China and the West.
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