These are diaolou, literally meaning “stone towers.” They loom above the small villages of Kaiping, a county in China’s Guangdong province. The Diaolou were a response in the Ming period to the banditry which plagues the area, although all current towers were built in the Qing period and during some of the war-torn decades after its fall. Although they were mostly used to protect the villagers from bandits, some of them were designed to be lived in permanently. The strong but rather plain diaolou were constructed very close to a village. In times of banditry, each family would be allowed in to the tower. They usually had their own room assigned, as long as they had paid towards the construction and upkeep of this communal defense.
After the introduction of foreign concrete, the towers were built even higher and the architecture became a mixture of Mediterranean, Greek, and even Turkish styles. This came not from direct western influence, however. Kaiping and the three counties around it represented the plurality of immigration to America. Many eventually returned, and brought the familiar building styles back with them.